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You're Prediabetic: Now What?


Type 2 diabetes is a disease in which your body is unable to properly use energy obtained from the food you eat. This chronic condition can lead to a number of serious health complications, including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage and eye problems.

Produced by the pancreas, insulin is a hormone that moves glucose from the blood to the body’s cells for use as energy. Glucose is the main type of sugar found in the blood and is the most important source of energy for the body’s cells. When you have type 2 diabetes, your body either doesn’t produce enough insulin to regulate your blood glucose levels or your body’s cells do not respond normally to insulin, a state know as insulin resistance.

Prior to developing full-blown type 2 diabetes, many people go through a stage called prediabetes in which their blood sugar is higher than normal but not yet at diabetic levels.

A Valuable Wake-Up Call

Fortunately, if detected early, prediabetes is reversible. Also, lifestyle changes can help prediabetic people delay or even prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. It follows that a diagnosis of prediabetes can be a useful wake-up call to get you to improve your current health and avoid more serious health complications in the future.

How Common is Prediabetes, and Who Is at Risk?

If you’ve just found out you’re prediabetic, you’re in good company. Approximately 96 million American adults, or 1 out of every 3, has prediabetes. However, because the condition often does not cause noticeable symptoms, nearly 85 percent of people who have prediabetes are not aware they have it.

Certain people are more at risk to develop prediabetes than others. Factors that elevate the risk of developing both prediabetes and type 2 diabetes include:

  • A family history of diabetes
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Being 45 years old or older
  • Ethnicity: Hispanics, Native Americans, Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, African Americans and Asian Americans are at higher risk.
  • Living a sedentary lifestyle
  • A history of heart disease or stroke
  • Having sleep apnea or another a sleep disorder
  • Having high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol
  • Women who have had polycystic ovary syndrome or gestational diabetes.

Managing & Reversing Prediabetes

Although some people with prediabetes take medications to help control their blood sugar, no specific medical treatment for prediabetes exists. Instead, most people manage prediabetes with lifestyle changes, including:

  • Getting more exercise
  • Managing weight
  • Eating healthy
  • Making healthy drink choices
  • Getting regular sleep

Getting More Exercise

It’s not breaking news that regular exercise reduces your risk of developing a number of chronic illnesses. Regular exercise also happens to be one of the most effective ways to reverse prediabetes.

The CDC recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week. For example, this can be accomplished by doing 30 minutes of aerobic activity five days a week. Aerobic activity includes any activity that increases your heart rate and breathing rate. Brisk walking, stair climbing, bicycling, swimming and playing many team sports all count as aerobic activity.

Managing Your Weight

If you are overweight, one of the best ways to lower your blood sugar, reduce your insulin resistance and, therefore, reverse your prediabetes is to lose some weight. Losing weight may also help preserve the function of beta cells, which are highly-specialized cells in the pancreas responsible for the production of insulin.

You don’t have to reach an ideal body weight to see the benefits of weight loss. In fact, decreasing your body weight by just 5 percent may be enough to get your blood sugar levels into to the normal range.

The American Diabetes Association recommends that people who have prediabetes lose at least 7 to 10 percent of their body weight to lower their risk of developing type 2 diabetes. More weight loss can bring even greater health benefits. Consider talking with your healthcare provider about setting weight loss goals based on your current body weight, focusing on reasonable and attainable short-term goals – for example, losing 1 to 2 pounds per week.

Eating Healthy

When you have prediabetes, eating certain foods and avoiding others can help balance your blood sugar levels and even reverse the condition. Try to follow a diet centered on:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Lean proteins
  • Heart-healthy, unsaturated fats

You’ll also want to limit or exclude foods rich in added sugar, highly processed foods and foods containing trans fats. In addition, be mindful of your portion sizes, since even consuming large amounts of healthy carbohydrates in a single sitting can cause spikes in your blood sugar.

Making Healthy Drink Choices

What you drink is just as important as what you eat. Avoid soda, fruit juice, sports and energy drinks, and alcohol. Instead, drink water or unsweetened beverages such as plain coffee and tea whenever possible. Water, in particular, is the ideal drink for reversing prediabetes, as it does not contain any carbs, calories or sugar.

Getting Regular Sleep

Poor sleep can worsen insulin resistance and make controlling your blood sugar more difficult. Sleep deprivation can also increase the chance that your prediabetes will progress into type 2 diabetes. Adults attempting to reverse their prediabetes should aim to get least seven hours of restful sleep a night. Establish a regular sleep routine and follow a quiet, calm bedtime regimen while avoiding caffeine later in the day.

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Led by an experienced team of clinicians and researchers, the University Hospitals Diabetes & Obesity Center provides ongoing care, management and education for diabetes, prediabetes, obesity and related conditions.