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Turning Prediabetes Around

According to 2011 data from the CDC, more than 28 million people, or about 8 percent of the U.S. population, have diabetes. This puts them at increased risk for heart disease, limb amputation, blindness, and other serious health conditions. Fortunately, type 2 diabetes—the most common type of diabetes—can be prevented. You may be able to reverse its course if you make the right lifestyle choices.

Before type 2 diabetes sets in, a condition known as prediabetes usually occurs. If you have prediabetes, your blood sugar level is higher than normal but not high enough to be considered diabetes. The CDC estimates that about 79 million Americans currently have prediabetes. The condition shouldn’t be taken lightly. Having prediabetes means that you are likely to develop full-blown diabetes within 10 years. It’s not necessarily a sure thing though. Making healthy lifestyle changes can help prevent type 2 diabetes from developing, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) says.

The telltale signs

The warning signs of uncontrolled diabetes include excessive thirst and frequent urination, constant hunger, unexplained weight loss, and numbness or tingling sensations in the hands and feet. Often, diabetes and prediabetes can arise without any clear symptoms. In some cases, a person’s body shape can be a clue. Carrying an excess amount of weight around the waist, or having an apple-shaped figure, has been linked to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

According to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, women who have a waist measurement of more than 35 inches and men whose waist size is more than 40 inches are particularly at risk for diabetes.

Dark patches of skin that develop behind the neck and on the elbows or knees may also be a warning sign of prediabetes. These dark patches are the result of having excess insulin in the body. For women, excess facial and body hair, irregular menstrual cycles, severe acne, and fertility problems may also be signs of the condition.

Risk factors

The risk for diabetes and prediabetes increases with age. The ADA recommends blood glucose screening for everyone at age 45. People younger than age 45 should also talk with their health care provider about getting tested for diabetes or prediabetes, particularly if they have one or more of the following risk factors:

  • Weight. Being overweight or obese is one of the most common risk factors for prediabetes. Most people who have type 2 diabetes are overweight.

  • Inactivity. Being inactive or exercising fewer than three times a week increases your risk for diabetes even if your weight is normal.

  • Family history. Having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes increases your risk for disease.

  • Race. Although it’s unclear why, people from certain ethnic backgrounds are at increased risk for diabetes, including African-Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, and Pacific Islanders.

  • High blood pressure. People who have a blood pressure of 140/90 mm Hg or higher are at increased risk.

  • Blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. People with an HDL ("good") cholesterol level of 35 or lower, or a triglyceride level of 250 or higher, have a higher risk for diabetes.

Lifestyle changes help

The most important steps to reducing the risk for type 2 diabetes involve changes to diet, exercise, and behavior. If you’re at risk for diabetes, you may be able to reverse it through these steps:

  • Manage your blood sugar level. Eat a diet that is low in fat and calories. Focus on vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Because they are high in soluble fiber, they can help control blood insulin and glucose levels.

  • Stay active. Get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. Exercise helps reduce insulin resistance.

  • Lose excess weight. You can improve your blood sugar level and reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease by losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of your body weight.

Even small lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk for diabetes.