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The Importance of Paying Attention to Prediabetes

Written by Marcia Sikorski, RD, LDN, CDE; member of PMA Diabetes Education Team

Diabetes awareness is becoming a focal point to help reduce the consequences of the disease and to provide information about its management and prevention. Prediabetes is the red flag waving to tell you that you are on the path toward diabetes. There is good news about this waving flag, if you take action at this stage you may never experience the many complications of diabetes.

If you have any of the risk factors for prediabetes, you can take steps to prevent this condition.

It is estimated that 90% of people with prediabetes are not aware that they have it.

There are no obvious symptoms and a blood test may be the only indicator that there is a problem. Even when someone does know their blood sugar numbers are above normal, it is often not recognized as being important to do something about it until the numbers reach the diabetes range.

Being diagnoses with prediabetes, as some people call “borderline” means that your fasting blood glucose is between 100- 125 mg/dl or your hemoglobin A1C is 5.7 % to 6.4%. Oral glucose tolerance testing, not ordered as often, results with readings between 140-199mg/dl also qualify for the prediabetes diagnosis. Prediabetes is the stepping stone to diabetes if it is not addressed.

According to the American Diabetes Association, risk factors for prediabetes are increasing.

They include age (> 45 yrs.), overweight or obese, sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure or taking medication for high blood pressure, a history of diabetes during pregnancy (gestational), low good cholesterol (HDL) and / or high triglycerides, having a parent or sibling with diabetes, having been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or being African-American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Asian-American or Pacific Islander.

Statistics for prediabetes and diabetes are astounding.

About 86 million Americans have prediabetes. One of ten Americans has Type 2 diabetes. Besides the cost, estimated at $245 billion, other concerns related to the complications of diabetes can actually start before diabetes is diagnosed. Risk factors include increased risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke, damage to nerves resulting in numbness and tingling in hands, fingers and toes, small blood vessel damage in eyes and kidneys, leading to blindness, and kidney failure.

The good news is that 90% of the time, paying attention to prediabetes can prevent progression to Type 2 diabetes by making positive lifestyle changes. The Diabetes Prevention Program study found that lifestyle changes such at weight loss, healthy eating and sufficient exercise can delay the progression of prediabetes to Type 2diabetes by 50%.

Weight loss seems to be one of the best approaches.

Even a relatively small amount of weight loss (5-7% of current body weight) helps to reverse diabetes. Achieving a healthy weight, reducing the visceral (deep belly fat) leads to more improved blood glucose levels.

Exercise helps to reduce blood glucose by increasing insulin sensitivity. It can help with weight loss as well. The recommendation is to increase cardiovascular exercise to at least 30 minutes most days.

Exercise helps to reduce blood glucose

Healthy eating recommendations include cutting back on calories / portions, reducing saturated fat, and increasing the intake of healthy foods such as low-fat dairy, lean protein, lots of vegetables, whole fruit, beans /legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds and heart healthy oils in moderation. Sweetened beverages like soda, sports drinks, juice, fruit drinks and sweetened coffee / tea products should all be limited. Some studies suggest that high intake of fructose in table sugar, honey, high fructose corn syrup and agave, may contribute to reduced insulin sensitivity.

So, if your blood glucose levels have moved into the prediabetes range, think of it as a wake up call to make some lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of diabetes and the other health problems associated with it.

If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes or want to improve your health:

  • Work toward increasing your activity (any is better than none)
  • Reduce your weight (10 pounds is 5% of 200 pounds)
  • Make room for more healthy foods most of the time (no one eats perfect all the time!)

These few changes can help you to feel better, and reduce your risks.

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Marcia Sikorski, RD, LDN, CDE; member of PMA Diabetes Education Team