Over the last two decades in the United States, the number of adults diagnosed with diabetes has more than doubled as the American population has simultaneously grown older and more overweight. While diabetes may top the list as one of the most common chronic illnesses, it’s also largely preventable.
Diabetes doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it takes years to develop, first appearing in the form of prediabetes, a precursory condition that often doesn’t cause symptoms. Finding out you have prediabetes can be scary, but it can also be empowering — you’ve been given an opportunity to improve your health, reverse course, and prevent full-blown diabetes.
This November, in recognition of National Diabetes Awareness Month, Tyneza Mitchell, FNP, and our seasoned health team at Comprehensive Care Clinic in Spring, Texas, want you to know that a prediabetes diagnosis doesn’t have to mark your transition into diabetes; it can be your wake-up call to educate yourself, make a few important changes, and get healthier.
Diabetes is a long-term, systemic disease that affects how your body turns carbohydrates into energy. Normally, your body breaks down the carbs in your diet into glucose (simple sugars) and releases it into your bloodstream.
Rising blood sugar levels prompt your pancreas to release insulin, a vital hormone that acts like a key to let blood sugar into your body cells for immediate use as energy. With diabetes, your body cells lose partial or full access to this vital key, causing your blood sugar levels to rise uncontrollably.
There are two main types of diabetes:
Often referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes, this condition occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin. It isn’t preventable, and family history is the only clear risk factor. Only 5-10% of people with diabetes have type 1.
This form of diabetes happens when your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin to keep up with demand; it can also occur when your body cells no longer respond to insulin normally and become insulin-resistant, meaning they can’t easily take up glucose from your blood.
Either situation (insufficient insulin production or insulin resistance) can lead to elevated blood sugar levels, or prediabetes. Unchecked prediabetes sets the stage for full-blown diabetes.
Although it’s largely preventable, type 2 diabetes accounts for 90-95% of all diagnosed diabetes cases. To put it another way, at least 9 in 10 future diabetes diagnoses could be prevented with the right information, action, and support. While we dream of a different diabetes “big picture” in the U.S., today’s big picture looks like this:
Type 2 diabetes is a lifelong condition that requires consistent management. Without proper control, it can undermine your health and damage your eyes, nerves, blood vessels, heart, and kidneys.
Prediabetes means your blood sugar levels are abnormally elevated, but they’re not yet high enough to qualify you for a diabetes diagnosis. Because prediabetes often doesn’t cause any symptoms, it’s important to have your blood sugar tested, especially if you have a higher risk of developing diabetes.
One the one hand, a prediabetes diagnosis means you have a 50/50 chance of transitioning into full-blown, type 2 diabetes in the next 5-10 years; on the other hand, it also means you have a 50/50 chance of reversing course and safeguarding your health, provided you take the right steps without delay.
You can reverse prediabetes with healthy lifestyle changes that include:
Getting your weight under control can get your blood sugar under control. Losing just 5-7% of your body weight (that’s 10-14 pounds for a 200-pound person) can make a major difference.
Regular physical activity helps your body process blood sugar more efficiently. However you can fit it into your day, aim to get at least 30-60 minutes of moderately intense exercise — like a brisk walk — most days of the week.
Implementing a healthy eating plan — one that focuses on nutrient-dense whole foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats while strictly limiting or eliminating highly processed foods, added sugars, saturated fats, and alcohol — can also help you change course.
As chronic disease management experts, we’re here to offer information, support, and guidance each step of the way. Remember, all progress is good, even if it happens slowly.