Practically all of us have a family member or friend with type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, with an estimated 38 million Americans – one in every ten people – this makes type 2 diabetes the 7th leading cause of death in the United States.
But, even more, concerning is the number of people with prediabetes, a condition in which the average amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood is elevated but not at a level to be diagnosed as diabetes. There are approximately 96 million Americans – more than one in three – with prediabetes; even worse, 84% of these people have no idea (yet) they have it.
How does prediabetes develop?
Every single person who has type 2 diabetes has gone through the phase of prediabetes. Some people get diagnosed with prediabetes before it progresses into type 2 diabetes. But the majority of people, when told they had type 2 diabetes, had no idea their blood glucose levels were elevated or at what point they would have been in the prediabetes phase of the disease. This is a problem as there are necessary steps a person can take to at least slow down and, perhaps, even prevent prediabetes, to begin with.
To understand prediabetes, it’s important to understand diabetes in general. Type 2 diabetes happens when the body has difficulty using glucose for energy when cells become resistant to the action of insulin. The pancreas attempts to remedy the situation by making more insulin to get cells to respond. Eventually, the pancreas can’t keep up, and blood sugar builds up in the bloodstream. The difference between type 2 diabetes and prediabetes is how high the blood sugar levels can get.
The American Diabetes Association states that prediabetes is when the hemoglobin A1C test is from 5.7% to 6.4%, or having a fasting blood sugar level of 100 to 125 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl), or a blood sugar level of 140 to 199 mg/dl during an oral glucose tolerance test. Type 2 diabetes is when the hemoglobin A1C test registers at 6.5% or higher.
The problem of having elevated blood glucose is an increased risk for disease in several organs, such as retinopathy (eye), neuropathy (peripheral nerves), nephropathy (kidney disease), along with 2-4 times the risk of developing heart disease leading to a heart attack or stroke, and an increased risk of cognitive decline. Diabetes is essentially a disease that affects a person from head to toe.
Even having prediabetes or mildly elevated blood glucose levels can be dangerous, setting the stage for triggering inflammation that damages blood vessels, causing them to narrow, leading to blockages. Unfortunately, prediabetes has no symptoms,, so most people with prediabetes are unaware they have it. Common risk factors for prediabetes include a family history of diabetes, poor diet, lack of exercise, excess weight gain, and chronic stress.
The best way to treat prediabetes is also the best way to prevent it. There are three significant areas to focus on: Weight, exercise, and diet.
Carrying excess body weight can trigger inflammation and places a person at a higher risk for many diseases and osteoarthritis in joints. However, if you have excess weight, a slight loss of just 5% to 7% can lower your risk of prediabetes and protect you from eventually developing type 2 diabetes.
Staying active is critical for helping you reach a healthier body weight. The driving force in preventing rebound weight gain is to have a consistent, regular exercise routine. The most important thing when choosing what physical activities to engage in it to find an exercise you enjoy and will stick with long-term. These activities might include brisk walking, jogging, swimming, bicycling, weight lifting, dancing, or yoga. Remember, if you look forward to exercising and you do it consistently, it can be a tremendous boost for reaching a healthy body weight and keeping blood glucose levels within a normal range.
Your food choices are the most critical step in reducing your risk or preventing prediabetes, to begin with. Start by reducing your intake of simple carbohydrates high in sugar or white flour. These foods include white bread, white pasta, white rice, cake, cookies, desserts, and sugary beverages like soda, energy drinks, lemonade, or sweet tea. These simple carbohydrates are quickly digested, causing blood sugar levels to rise rapidly and fall. Unfortunately, eating these foods also can trigger cravings that may lead to overeating and weight gain.
Replace simple carbohydrate foods instead with complex carbohydrates with less sugar and offer more vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, substances necessary for good overall health. These foods include whole wheat bread, pasta, rice, fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds, and nuts. In addition, because of their high-fiber content, fiber slows down the absorption of sugar, helping balance blood sugar levels.
If you have concerns about having prediabetes, discuss this with your primary care physician. They can do a simple blood test called the hemoglobin A1C in the office to check your current risk of prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. Suppose you have either prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. In that case, it’s important to begin right away on steps to reduce your risk of future complications, along with learning how to lower elevated blood sugar levels.
Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911.