What Is Prediabetes And Can You Turn It Around?

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By : Suvarna Sheth

If it’s one thing that surprises Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast, it’s how many people walk into her office with lab results showing they have prediabetes but have no idea.

“I see a lot of people who have prediabetes and the doctor didn’t say a word to them,” Harris-Pincus says.  The author also has her own nutrition and weight management practice.

“I’m put in a various precarious situation because I can’t diagnose anything,” she says, “All I can do is point to the range of the lab work.”  Some doctors tell patients just watch it, but they don’t tell them how to effectively intervene.

Studies have shown that early intervention is important to protect your pancreas which is critical to prevent the onset of diabetes once you have prediabetes.  “If you do nothing, Harris-Pincus says, “you will most likely develop diabetes.”

What is prediabetes?

Prediabetes is a condition where your blood sugar is higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as full-blown diabetes.  If you have prediabetes, you are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.  It’s a tricky condition to have because most people with prediabetes will not notice any symptoms.

Steps you can take to reverse prediabetes:

1. Exercising and Losing Weight

If you lose 5-10% of your starting weight, you can prevent or delay diabetes or even reverse prediabetes.  The key to losing weight is to reduce the amount of fat and calories you consume daily and be physically active every day.  A quick 30-minute walk every day after meals is the least you can do.  Ideally, creating an exercise routine, combining both aerobic exercise and weight-lifting are good choices.

2. Eat Healthily

Food choices that are based on convenience, meaning more processed carbohydrates and sugary foods, have caused an epidemic of obesity as well as diabetes.

According to Dr. Rajsree Nampudriapad, an integrative medicine specialist practicing in Orange County, Calif., insulin resistance is the root cause of diabetes.  Insulin resistance, she explains, is when your body starts to ignore insulin, which is a hormone produced by the pancreas.

Because your body’s receptors don’t listen to insulin anymore, sugar levels get higher and more and more insulin has to be released by the pancreas.

Unfortunately, insulin is inflammatory to the body.  So this process begins as insulin resistance and ultimately becomes full-fledged diabetes when sugars remain high despite the high insulin levels.

In those who have prediabetes, Nampudriapad’s goal is to reverse the possibility of diabetes through diet, exercise, and sometimes supplements to improve insulin recognition in the body.

This approach is empowering to patients who are motivated to change their diet and often allows them to avoid using prescription medications for diabetes.

Nampudriapad recommends making vegetables the bottom of their food pyramid, making it the basis of every meal if possible.

“Green vegetables, in particular, are best for preventing spikes in insulin and keep blood sugars stable through the day,” she says, “having enough good fat and protein at every meal is also very important as it helps keep you full longer so there are no ups and downs in blood sugar.”

The traditional USDA food pyramid, which many of us grew up with, is now extremely outdated.  It put grains at the bottom of the pyramid, suggesting people eat 10-12 servings a day.  “Unfortunately, this is way too many carbohydrates!” Nampudripad emphasizes.

The current USDA Choose My Plate guidelines are a more accurate representation of how people should eat:  Half your plate should be filled with fruits and non-starchy vegetables.  A quarter of the plate should have starchy foods or grains, and the remaining quarter should be a protein such as chicken, fish, or beans.

Having enough good fat and protein at every meal is also very important as it helps keep you full longer so there are no ups and downs in blood sugar.

“Also, remember that anything that spikes your blood sugar (like a piece of cake) will also spike your insulin level, and hence cause inflammation in the body,” Nampudriapad adds.

3. Get Shut-Eye

Did you know that good sleep and healthy blood sugar levels are connected? Believe it or not, if you get less than 5 hours of sleep a night, you’re more likely to get diabetes.  If you are having trouble sleeping, find natural ways to make sleep more conducive, such as darkening your room or sleeping in a cooler environment.

4. Quit Smoking

It’s easier said than done, but there’s no better time to quit smoking then if your labs show you have prediabetes.  Those that smoke are 30% to 40% more likely to get type 2 diabetes than those that do not smoke.  If you don’t manage to quit smoking and you go on to develop diabetes, then it may be harder for you to manage your blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure.

Sources:

  1. “Prediabetes.” MedlinePlus.  Retrieved https://medlineplus.gov/prediabetes.html.
  2. “What is My Plate,” USDA.  (2018, Jan. 26).  Retrieved https://www.choosemyplate.gov/MyPlate.