Turn things around before
In 2012, 86 million Americans over age 20 had prediabetes – a nearly 9 percent increase over 2010 stats, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you’re among the 86 million with prediabetes, you need to know there are steps you can take to manage your condition and avoid developing type 2 diabetes.
The risks are real
Prediabetes occurs when your fasting blood glucose, or sugar, level is above normal. Prediabetes can progress to type 2 diabetes, in which the body does not produce or use enough of the hormone insulin to turn glucose into energy. Diabetes is linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, eye problems and other serious health conditions.
“One of the biggest things to remember with prediabetes is that it does not automatically turn into type 2 diabetes or heart disease,” explained Novant Health Diabetes Center Diabetes Educator Cathy Thomas, MSN, RN, CDE. People with prediabetes are definitely at a much higher risk of developing either one or both, though. People with prediabetes have nearly double the risk of developing cardiovascular disease than people with normal glucose levels. And those who have diabetes have a two to four times greater risk of cardiovascular disease.
“The risks are very real, especially if you ignore your diagnosis,” Thomas said. “But there’s no reason to panic. Prediabetes acts as a really good early warning system for the body, signaling people to make some lifestyle changes to avoid more serious conditions.”
An “early warning system”
“I found out about my prediabetes two years ago when I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which puts me at greater risk for diabetes,” said Regan White, 33, of Charlotte. “I knew I was having some kind of blood sugar and hormone issues because I was extremely dizzy all the time – especially before and after eating.” Her fasting glucose was right on the borderline at 100 mg/dl, and her A1C was 6 percent – all indicators of insulin resistance and prediabetes.
“I was really freaked out in the beginning,” White admitted. “I was already pretty active, running half marathons regularly and I wasn’t terribly overweight. But I knew I needed to do more to get my numbers under control.”
She talked to her endocrinologist, and they established a plan to lose five to 10 pounds, continue exercising and drastically reduce carbohydrate intake. “I felt better knowing I had an action plan to take control,” White said.
What you can do
Recent studies have shown that losing just 5 to 7 percent of one’s body weight can be effective in delaying diabetes. Study participants who lost weight and exercised reduced the progression to type 2 diabetes by 70 percent. Even minimal weight loss of five to 10 pounds was shown to have an impact.
Thomas also recommended starting with small steps: having a leafy green salad before dinner, opting for water instead of soda and exercising – even walking – just 30 minutes each day. “People often feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start,” she said. “They think they have to overhaul their lives and change won’t be sustainable. It’s just not true. There are smart, healthy choices you can easily incorporate to make a big difference.”
Eating smarter is a big piece of the prediabetes puzzle. Making wise food choices is important, including lean meats and fish, eating smaller portions, reducing sweets and carbohydrates and choosing low-fat and no-fat dairy.
“Carbohydrates need to be chosen carefully,” Thomas said. “Be mindful of what kinds of carbs you eat and when you eat them. It’s important to spread them out throughout the day and pair them with protein, when you can.”
Foods to avoid include highly processed, sugary desserts and candy, soda and baked goods, and limit your intake of white bread, white rice, pasta, potatoes and pastries. Healthier carbs include whole grains, beans, lentils, fruits and non-starchy vegetables, such as spinach, carrots, broccoli and green beans.
Your doctor may also put you on medication to help regulate your blood sugar levels.
Results and long-term change
White’s dizzy spells improved quickly as she changed her diet. She regularly tested her blood sugar to check her levels. She also lost 15 pounds.
“Finding a balance that works for me took some time, but I knew it needed to be done,” she said. Over time, her fasting glucose dropped into the 80s and her A1C dropped to 5 percent, within normal range.
“I know my work isn’t done. It takes constant vigilance to keep my blood sugar within normal range, but all the changes I’ve made are healthy ones that needed to be made anyway, regardless of my prediabetes or PCOS. I’m healthier today because of it.”
“Knowledge is power,” Thomas said. “Taking your prediabetes seriously and making changes today can save you serious, long-term health problems down the road.”