Pre-Diabetes: A Wake-Up Call for Better Health
By Brian Phillips, MD, and Candace Luca, RN, CDE - Published in the Berkshire Eagle, July 20, 2015
If you’ve been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, you are far from alone. In fact, the number of pre-diabetics have increased at such alarming rates over the last generation that some experts call it an epidemic. According to the American Diabetes Association, 86 million Americans aged 20 and older were diagnosed with pre-diabetes in 2012, up from 79 million in 2010. Of that number, many will eventually progress to diabetes within 10 years.
You don’t have to be one of them. Simple, yet highly effective lifestyle changes can halt the progression of pre-diabetes, reduce, and even eliminate your chance of getting diabetes. In the process, you can also dramatically improve your overall health.
First, a few facts. Pre-diabetes is a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be called diabetes. To understand how pre-diabetes progresses to diabetes, we must first understand how insulin works in our bodies. Normally, the food we eat is broken down into glucose or sugar. This passes into the blood stream and is transported with the help of insulin to the cells, where it fuels growth and energy. To help visualize the process, picture your insulin as a doorman who opens the door of a cell so that glucose can enter and energize you.
This process breaks down when you have pre-diabetes. Your cells no longer respond well to insulin and absorb less glucose. Rather than providing your tissues and muscles with energy, the sugar builds up in your bloodstream. Without intervention, pre-diabetes is likely to become type-2 diabetes – a chronic disease with such life-threatening complications as heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and more.
Those with pre-diabetes must focus on bringing their blood sugar level back to normal. For most people, eating nutritious foods, maintaining a healthy weight, and adding more physical activity to their lives can halt the progression and even turn back the clock so that pre-diabetes doesn’t progress to type-2 diabetes.
Major research has revealed that if people with pre-diabetes eat less fat and fewer calories, exercise for 150 minutes week, and lose only 5 to 10 percent of their weight (if they are overweight, and sustain the weight loss), they will reduce their risk of developing diabetes by 58 percent. This is significant news because diabetes does not go away. Your goal should be focused squarely on preventing the disease in the first place.
Losing weight is hard. The idea of weight loss gets a little easier when you calculate how much value a 5-to-10 percent weight loss will bring to your health. For a 200 pound individual, that equates to between 10 and 20 pounds, and the potential to eliminate the risk for diabetes. It’s the same for exercise. While 150 minutes a week may sound daunting to someone who is not already active, it breaks down to just 30 minutes a day, five days a week, for a brisk walk, swim, or any exercise that gets your heart rate elevated.
Good nutrition means whole grains, lean meat, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and healthy fats such as olive oil. Healthy eating will not only help bring your glucose levels back to normal, it will assist in weight loss and overall health.
A good night’s sleep and strategies to better manage stress, such as meditation, are also part of the campaign to avoid diabetes. Taken together, these steps will improve insulin function, lower blood glucose, improve heart health, and promote weight loss and better mental health.
Generally, there aren’t any symptoms of pre-diabetes. Your risk for the disease increases as you get older, especially if you are overweight. Your physician should check your glucose level with a blood test if you are 45 and overweight, or younger than 45 if you are overweight and have other risk factors for diabetes.
Is pre-diabetes as serious as diabetes? Absolutely! One can lead to the other, and diabetes is a life-threatening chronic illness. Consider your diagnosis a wake-up call to a better, healthier future.
Dr. Brian Phillips is Division Chief of Endocrinology at Berkshire Medical Center and Candace Lusa is a Certified Diabetes Educator and Director of the Berkshire Health Systems Diabetes Education Program