At your last wellness check, you had blood drawn – just routine, you thought. Then your doctor called and informed you that you are prediabetic. This news may very well have rocked your world. You began to think of finger pricks, insulin injections and pumps, medical emergencies, diminishing vision and amputations. Is this your future?
Dr. Tanquilut and the healthcare professionals at Vascular Specialists say not necessarily. “Prediabetes isn’t diabetes,” says Dr. T. “You can prevent prediabetes from progressing with some simple lifestyle changes.”
The Centers for Disease Control estimate that around 88 million American adults have prediabetes. Scientifically, being prediabetic means your body’s cells are becoming insulin resistant, which means your body can’t process sugar correctly. If you’re an American adult, your chance of being prediabetic are 1 in 3. Of the roughly 88 million prediabetic Americans, an estimated 84% of them are undiagnosed. About 50% of those with prediabetes will develop Type 2 diabetes within 10 years.
Early identification and lifestyle changes can improve the chances of avoiding diabetes and that’s great news; while not all of this is in your control, much of it is.
Researchers continue to search for a clear cause of insulin resistance, but because prediabetes has no obvious and consistent symptoms, many Americans have the condition and do not realize it. Diagnostically, prediabetes means your blood-sugar levels are elevated but not high enough to warrant a diabetes diagnosis. Elevated blood-sugar levels indicate a significant increase in the risk of diabetes and other related vascular and cardiovascular diseases. Identifying blood-sugar levels regularly and early is crucial to identifying prediabetic patients and improving their health outcomes.
For this reason, healthcare experts now recommend diabetes screenings for all patients over 45. As we age, our bodies’ production of insulin can slow, leading to Type 2 diabetes. For patients with a family history of diabetes or other risk factors, screenings may be ordered earlier. In a typical fasting plasma glucose test, a result between 100-125 mg/dL is considered prediabetic. On an A1c test, which measures glucose levels over time, a result of 5.7-6.4% mg/dL represents the elevated range of a prediabetic. These tests represent the best way to identify prediabetic patients and help monitor blood-sugar levels for patients trying to keep their prediabetes from developing into diabetes.
When you get the news that you are prediabetic, accept this as a positive. Now you are diagnosed, and you have time to prevent prediabetes from developing into Type 2 diabetes.
First, if you smoke, stop. Ask your physician for smoking cessation assistance as soon as possible. Stopping smoking is one of the most difficult things a person can do, so access all the help you can.
Second, talk to your physician about weight loss strategies. Losing 5-7% of your body weight – that’s just 10 to 14 pounds for a 200 lb person - can greatly reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Recent research suggests that quicker and greater weight loss early in a prediabetic diagnosis produces even lower incidence of developing diabetes.
Third, increase your activity. Moving for at least 30 minutes each day not only improves your vascular system, it also helps with weight loss. Take a 10-minute walk after breakfast, another one after lunch and then a third after dinner. You don’t have to run miles for hours – simple walking at a brisk pace will provide health benefits.
Fourth, enjoy more fresh and healthy foods. Making the bulk of your diet fresh veggies, lean proteins such as chicken, fish or beans, and whole grains such as farro and barley will give your body a kickstart to weight loss and also reduce inflammation. Eliminate ultra processed foods like chips and other snacks, sweets and baked goods, white breads and pastas.
Fifth, eliminate all sodas, both sugared and diet. Sodas and “energy” drinks are horrifically bad, full of chemicals, dyes, sugars and salts, all causing weight gain, inflammation and damage to your body. Prediabetes is a bright red flag that your body is struggling to process sugar; adjusting your diet to limit sugar and improve metabolic health just makes sense.
Dr. T says, “We know some of these changes are easy and some are very difficult. However, giving up soda pop is a very small trade for giving up quality of life. Diabetes, with the resulting monitoring, injections, emergencies and amputations, force patients to make much more serious and negative changes in life.
In some cases — patients with a family history of diabetes, and patients who experienced gestational diabetes — diet and exercise may not be enough to prevent prediabetes. In those cases, your doctor may recommend medications to help manage your prediabetes.
When you have questions about your vascular health, Dr. T is here to help. Just reply to this email or make an appointment.