Prediabetes: Don’t Sugar Coat It
What is Prediabetes?
By Tanya Munger, DNP, FNP-BC
Prediabetes is a serious health condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Approximately 84 million — or one in three — American adults have prediabetes. Ninety percent don’t know they have it. Prediabetes puts you at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It also ups your risk for heart attack and stroke.
The good news is that prediabetes and type 2 diabetes are largely preventable. About nine in 10 cases in the U.S. can be avoided with lifestyle modification. Prediabetes is your window of opportunity to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. The key to prevention? Staying lean and staying active.
What Causes prediabetes?
Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas. It acts like a key, helping to move blood sugar into cells for use as energy. If you have prediabetes, the cells in your body don’t respond normally to insulin. Your pancreas makes more insulin to try to get cells to respond. Eventually your pancreas can’t keep up, and your blood sugar rises, setting the stage for prediabetes — and type 2 diabetes down the road.
Signs & Symptoms
You can have prediabetes for years but have no symptoms. It often goes undetected until serious health problems develop such as type 2 diabetes. If you have any of the risk factors for prediabetes, it’s important to talk to your doctor about getting your blood sugar tested. Risk factors include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Being 45 years or older
- Having a parent, brother, or sister with type 2 diabetes
- Being physically active less than three times a week
- Ever having gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or giving birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds
- Having polycystic ovary syndrome
Race and ethnicity are also factors: African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, Pacific Islanders, and some Asian Americans are at higher risk.
Preventing Type 2 Diabetes
If you are at risk for diabetes, you may be able to prevent or delay getting it. Most of the things that you need to do involve having a healthier lifestyle. These changes also bring a host of other health benefits, such as lowering your risk of other diseases, feeling better, and having more energy. Consider the following to prevent type 2 diabetes:
- Lose weight and keep it off: Weight control is an important part of diabetes prevention. Being overweight increases your chances of developing type 2 diabetes seven-fold. Being obese makes you 20 to 40 times more likely to develop diabetes than someone with a healthy weight. You may be able to prevent or delay diabetes — and even reverse prediabetes — by losing 5 to 10 percent of your current weight. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, your goal would be to lose between 10 to 20 pounds. And once you lose the weight, it is important that you don’t gain it back.
- Eat healthfully: In order to lose weight and keep it off, it is important to reduce the amount of calories you eat and drink each day. To do that, your diet should include smaller portions and less fat and sugar. You should also eat a variety of foods from each food group, including plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. It’s also a good idea to limit red meat, and avoid processed meats. And, don’t forget to drink plenty of water.
- Get regular exercise: Being physically active makes your body’s insulin work better. During periods of physical activity, the sugar in the bloodstream moves into the muscles where it is used for fuel (thus lowering your blood sugar). Try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity, five days a week. Long periods of hot, sweaty exercise aren’t necessary to reap this benefit. Simply walking briskly for a half hour every day reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 30 percent. Exercise has many other health benefits including but not limited to: improved sleep, improved mood, decreased stress, increased energy, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and decreased risk for injury.
If you have any concerns about diabetes prevention — or if you have risk factors — you should discuss this with your healthcare provider. A simple screening blood test can be performed. Adopting healthy habits such as increasing physical activity and modifying diet not only helps prevent diabetes but it helps prevent other chronic health conditions.