Are You One of the 1 in 3 American Adults with Prediabetes?
Did you know that one in three American adults may have prediabetes? To make matters worse, 84% of that one-third are unaware that they currently fall into the prediabetic category.
Luckily, there are lifestyle changes you can make to reverse your prediabetes to get back on track to optimal health.
What is prediabetes?
As the name suggests, the term prediabetes describes a body in a state of health that is on the path to developing diabetes. But, prediabetes is more than just a sign of future problems, it’s an indication that your body currently has metabolic dysregulation. Prediabetes is usually diagnosed by higher than optimal levels of glucose in the blood. High blood glucose levels are typically a sign of elevated insulin and insulin resistance. Both of these conditions can lead to further chronic conditions.
As described above, 33% of American adults currently have prediabetes, yet only 16% of prediabetic American adults are aware of their condition. This is extremely problematic, as prediabetic blood sugar levels can lead to adverse health conditions like:
Increased risk of heart disease
Damage to blood vessels in the eye that can lead to diabetic retinopathy.
Prediabetes isn’t known to have many external symptoms. However, some people with prediabetes experience darkened skin on certain parts of the body, such as the neck, armpits, elbows, knees, and knuckles. If you have progressed from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes, the symptoms include:
Fortunately, prediabetes is not a concrete diagnosis. There are many lifestyle changes you can do to reverse your prediabetes and prevent it from developing into diabetes.
How do you develop prediabetes?
Prediabetes is a bodily state in which insulin is not properly assisting your cells in absorbing glucose. Consistently high levels of blood glucose can lead to the body continually pumping out insulin in an attempt to deal with it. Over time, the cells become numb to the frequently high insulin levels, this will require even more insulin to balance blood sugar, leading to a vicious and never-ending cycle. This cycle can be triggered by overeating and the over-accumulation of fat in the muscles and liver.
This cycle is known as insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can begin to develop 13 years before your glucose levels begin to show signs of irregularity. This is because it can take years for the cells to become numb to the effects of insulin. Insulin resistance usually ends in extremely high levels of blood glucose. Over time, insulin resistance can lead to chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, infertility, and more.
Other factors that can lead to prediabetes include:
Weight → being overweight is a primary risk factor for developing prediabetes; the more fatty tissue you have often means a higher likelihood of insulin resistance.
Age → your risk of developing prediabetes increases after age 45.
Lack of exercise → without physical activity, your muscle’s ability to absorb glucose without affecting insulin levels will decrease.
Family history → having one close relative with Type 2 diabetes can increase your risk of prediabetes by 26%.
Waist size → a waist circumference larger than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women is a sign of prediabetes.
Stress → both acute and chronic stress will trigger the release of cortisol, which will stimulate the production of more glucose and increase insulin resistance.
Sleep deprivation → lack of sleep results in the production and release of stress hormones, which will decrease glucose uptake and insulin sensitivity.
Gestational diabetes (GD) → women who are diagnosed with diabetes during pregnancy are 10 times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life, suggesting that GD can lead to lasting impairments to insulin sensitivity.
Tobacco smoke → nicotine has been found to increase insulin resistance.
Prediabetes will usually be diagnosed through the examination of overall glucose levels. One test may be a fasting glucose test while another may be an oral glucose tolerance test. This testing will demonstrate how much your blood sugar changes in response to a meal and how well your insulin is working.
How to reverse prediabetes:
Many studies have found that prediabetes can be reversed through lifestyle changes:
One study found that people with a high risk of diabetes who participated in a lifestyle change program had a 58% lower chance of developing diabetes.
A second study found that weight-loss and weight control interventions produced “significant improvements” in weight and the development of diabetes among people with prediabetes.
Another study demonstrated that intensive lifestyle changes in diet, physical activity, and clinical parameters reduced prediabetes and the risk of developing diabetes.
Reversing a prediabetes diagnosis will not happen overnight. Your body will have to bring glucose levels back down to a normal level and this can be a timely process. The time this takes will depend on the severity of your glucose impairment or insulin resistance, the condition of your overall health, and what steps you’re taking to reverse improve metabolic health.
One study found that 50% of participants with glucose tolerance impairment restored glucose tolerance within 6 years with lifestyle intervention. The CDC suggests that reducing 5-7% of body weight and having more than 150 minutes of physical activity per week can reduce your risk of diabetes by 58%.
Naturally reversing prediabetes:
Now that you know that you can reverse your prediabetes through lifestyle intervention, here’s exactly how to do that. These intervention methods all relate to stabilize your blood sugar and help your body get back to efficiently processing glucose. The best way to achieve these goals is to incorporate a combination of healthy lifestyle behaviors like the ones below.
Eat a clean diet:
Avoiding processed, sugary fast foods is the number one priority if you’re trying to reverse your prediabetes. Most fast foods contain high amounts of carbohydrates and little to no fiber. All those carbohydrates are easily broken down by the digestive system and released into your blood as glucose. As a result, your blood sugar will increase. Frequent spikes in blood sugar can, over time, cause your insulin response to flounder. This increases your risk for type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, and weight gain.
Research has found that following a calorie-restricted diet focused on high-quality foods for one year resulted in a 13-pound weight loss and reversed prediabetes in 38% of obese participants. Another study demonstrated that through a diet full of non-processed foods, 52% of participants reversed their prediabetes and 97% of participants with prediabetes avoided progressing to diabetes.
Studies have found that the most effective diet to reverse your prediabetes is the Mediterranean diet. This diet focuses on eating plant-based foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins. It also promotes eating whole foods and few processed foods. You could consider the Mediterranean diet to be more of an eating pattern than a diet, as it doesn't have such strict restrictions.
Emphasizes olive oil and other healthy fats such as avocados
Emphasizes nutrient-rich foods
No need to count calories or carbohydrates
Lower intake of sugar due to the amount of other fresh foods
Physical activity is the second cornerstone to reversing prediabetes. According to the CDC, 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week will decrease blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity. Moderate exercise includes physical activity like brisk walks or water aerobics. Even low-intensity exercise (like a passeggiata) can improve the way the body processes glucose.
Drop the excess weight:
Carrying around those excess pounds can result in a buildup of fat in the liver and pancreas. Fat in these important organs can decrease the liver’s insulin response and, in turn, raise your blood sugar and weaken the pancreas’s function.
Losing weight has been found to help regulate glucose production in liver cells and also reduce stress on the pancreas. This will help both organs to resume healthy insulin secretion.
One study demonstrated that weight loss is a significant factor in prediabetic patients returning to healthy levels of blood glucose and insulin sensitivity. This study examined patients in a diabetes prevention program over the course of three years. Another study found that the most significant factor in preventing prediabetic patients from developing diabetes was weight loss. For every 1kg lost, the risk of diabetes is reduced by 16%.
Get better sleep:
Research has demonstrated that a lack of good sleep can lead to the impairment of glucose processing and cause insulin resistance. This is because sleep deprivation increases levels of the ‘fight or flight’ hormones, which play a role in how the body uses and makes glucose. Click here to read our guide on how to optimize your sleep.
When you’re stressed, cortisol, adrenaline, epinephrine, and other stress hormones are released. This stimulates the liver to create or release glucose while also making the liver insulin resistant while you’re stressed. This is an evolutionary tool to give the body enough quick energy (glucose) to respond to a potential threat. But today, unless you’re running every time you get stressed, this reaction will just lead to elevated blood sugar levels.
Put down the cigarette:
Nicotine causes insulin to be less effective in the body. This results in smokers needing more insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels.
The bottom line:
Prediabetes is not a fatal diagnosis, but it should be taken as a warning sign that you need to make changes to your health today! For more information about achieving your optimal health, click here to contact us to learn more.
If you have any more questions about your path to optimal health, email our office at email@example.com or call 276-235-3205.
The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach / Norfolk locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!