3 Steps to Stop Diabetes

Written by Aimee Wharton
Posted May 31, 2016

Prediabetes, also called impaired glucose tolerance, is a medical condition characterized by blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not high enough to be considered full-fledged diabetes. 

According to 2014 CDC data, as many as 83 million American adults – that's more than one in three – have prediabetes...

But the really scary part is that 90% of them have no idea they have it, and true to its name, prediabetes can turn into diabetes if left unchecked. 

Doctor Anthony Komaroff from Harvard Medical School says, “Over the short term (three to five years), about 25% of people with prediabetes develop full-blown diabetes.”1 He also points out that this percentage increases significantly over time. 

Despite the sobering statistics, the good news is that even if you've been diagnosed with prediabetes, full-blown diabetes is NOT a foregone conclusion. It's possible to stop the progression by making simple, but significant, lifestyle changes. 

Gregg Gerety, MD, chief of endocrinology at St. Peter's Hospital in Albany, New York says being diagnosed with prediabetes is a wake-up call:

“It's an opportunity to initiate lifestyle changes or treatments, and potentially retard progression to diabetes or even prevent diabetes.” 2

The sooner you start these lifestyle changes the better. And whether you've been diagnosed as prediabetic or not, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor and know your risk. 

How to determine if you're at risk

Your doctor can determine whether you're prediabetic by conducting simple blood tests. To learn more about these tests, click here

Since prediabetes generally has no symptoms outside of elevated blood glucose levels, the American Diabetes Association recommends regular blood glucose screenings beginning at age 45, or sooner for those with known risk factors. 

Other than age, risk factors include: 

  • Weight and waist size – being overweight is a primary risk factor for both prediabetes and diabetes, especially if you tend to carry extra weight around your midsection. 
  • Inactivity – A sedentary lifestyle dramatically increases prediabetes and diabetes risk.
  • Family history – genetics plays a role in the development of prediabetes and diabetes. Having a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) who's been diagnosed puts you at greater risk.
  • Race For reasons unknown, certain ethnic groups are more prone to prediabetes. According to the Mayo Clinic, African-Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, Asian-Americans, and Pacific Islanders are more likely to develop prediabetes. 
  • Gestational diabetes – If you developed gestational diabetes while pregnant, that puts you at greater risk for developing prediabetes. Women who had a baby weighing more than nine pounds at birth are also at greater risk. 
  • Other health problems high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglyceride levels, sleep apnea, and polycystic ovary syndrome are all associated with increased rates of prediabetes and diabetes. 

If you do have prediabetes, or if you're at-risk, three simple steps can help stop diabetes in its tracks and improve your overall health. 

Top 3 Steps to stop prediabetes from progressing 

1. Get Moving – First and foremost in diabetes prevention is regular exercise. Exercise physiologist Bob Greene – best known for being Oprah Winfrey's personal trainer – calls physical activity a “one-two punch” for combating prediabetes.3

First off, it can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight, an important prevention factor. The CDC says shedding just 5-7% of your body weight, which would be 10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound person, can have a significant impact on prevention.4

Secondly, it makes the body less insulin resistant. When you exercise, your body uses glucose for energy, and that glucose is transported via the hormone insulin. “Exercise helps your cells become more receptive to insulin,” Greene says, “making it easier for the hormone to do its job.” 5

Per the American Diabetes Association's guidelines, shoot for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five times a week. Try to work a few sessions of strength training into your weekly exercise routine as well. 

2. Eat Well – Since prediabetes means you have elevated blood glucose levels, focus on foods that stabilize or lower blood sugar. The glycemic index (GI) can be a useful tool, since it rates how foods and beverages affect blood sugar and insulin levels on a 100-point scale – the higher the number, the more rapidly the food or drink in question raises blood sugar. Glucose is the reference point with a GI value of 100.

Foods and beverages like saltine crackers, Gatorade, corn flakes, and instant oatmeal, which all have a GI value greater than 70, are considered high on the glycemic index. They cause blood sugar to spike, and should be mostly avoided. 

Low GI (less than 55) foods include zucchini, leafy green veggies, walnuts, hummus, lentils and coconut. Spices like ceylon cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne pepper, and oregano can also help lower blood sugar. 

In the end it boils down to common sense – focus on fiber, vegetables, protein, and healthy fats and steer clear of simple carbohydrates, sugar, and artificial replacements like high fructose corn syrup whenever possible. 

Eating at the same time every day also helps your body regulate blood sugar. Remember, it's not just blood sugar spikes you want to avoid, but dips and crashes as well. Your eating habits should be built around controlling your blood sugar levels.

3. Sleep Tight – Last but not least, a good night's sleep is an essential part of diabetes prevention. It's a catch 22 – diabetes can cause sleep loss, but poor sleep increases your chances of getting diabetes. 

Lynn Maarouf, the diabetes education director at the University of Texas's the Stark Diabetes Center, says “People who are tired will eat more because they want to get energy from somewhere. That can mean consuming sugar or other foods that can spike blood sugar levels.”

Numerous scientific studies have shown that when you don't sleep enough, your body becomes less responsive to insulin

Kevin Wright, lead researcher of one such study, said: “We found the longer you are awake during the biological night, the worse your insulin sensitivity is.” 6 This explains why common disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia have also been linked with increased incidence of diabetes.

The Bottom Line  

“The biggest challenge for those with prediabetes is to feel motivated enough to make the necessary changes,” says Dr. Margaret Powers of the International Diabetes Center. 

But the fact remains that lifestyle intervention – or the three-pronged approach of regular exercise, eating right, and sleeping soundly –  is the most effective way to combat and reverse both prediabetes and diabetes. 7

In fact, the New England Journal of Medicine found that “lifestyle intervention was significantly more effective than metformin” (the most commonly prescribed drug for diabetes mellitus). 8

So know that when you step up and meet these challenges – when you choose a spinach omelet over a croissant, when you take a brisk walk on your lunch break – these small changes add up and do wonders for your health. 

Sources:

1) http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/many-miss-pre-diabetes-wake-up-call-201303266023

2) http://www.webmd.com/diabetes/features/prediabetes-diagnosis-what-to-do

3) http://www.doctoroz.com/article/preventing-prediabetes-and-diabetes?page=1

4) http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/prediabetes.html

5) http://www.doctoroz.com/article/preventing-prediabetes-and-diabetes?page=1

6) http://www.webmd.com/diabetes/features/diabetes-sleep-connection?page=2

7) http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMoa012512

8) Ibid.

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