You may be in jeopardy. You may be in danger with blood sugar levels higher than normal. You may have prediabetes.
Prediabetes is a condition in which blood sugar levels in the blood stream are high enough to be abnormal, but not high enough to reach the diabetic range. It often leads eventually to type 2 diabetes. But although prediabetes is a precursor to type 2, having it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are fated to develop the disease.
With prediabetes, the cells are insulin-resistant, but the body is still producing sufficient insulin to take partial care of the problem. In his book, “Managing Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes,” Bob Greene reports that an estimated that one in five Americans-more than 60 million people-have prediabetes. About one third of individuals with prediabetes, he says, are able to reverse their condition and re-establish normal blood sugar readings.
But even if you don’t go on to full-blown type 2, prediabetes remains a serious condition. Complications that can arise from it include heart disease, retinopathy-which can lead to blindness-and neuropathy, injury to the feet or extremities that sometimes can result in amputation.
The good news is that prediabetes is very treatable with diet, exercise, and, where called for, weight loss.
Dottie Faces Down Prediabetes
Only a few years ago Dottie was a woman who had prediabetes. Today, she no longer has the condition. The key for her, even though she is now 70, is a routine where she prepares most of her own healthy meals and gets a moderate amount of exercise.
This wasn’t always the picture. “Dot” originally was diagnosed with prediabetes after she joined a mental health group following a very difficult and stressful time in her life. While Dottie did not run terribly high blood sugar readings, her levels were high enough to indicate prediabetes. At that time, she was overweight, did not have a good diet, and rarely exercised.
Getting pre-diabetes was a wake-up call. She immediately began implementing suggestions for improving her diet as well as embarking on a continuous moderate exercise program, partly done at a local health club.
Dot gradually lost weight-65 pounds!-on her own. She did get some motivational help from a series of classes on diabetes she attended at a local hospital on diabetes, where she learned what to do differently. “Then I did it,” she says.
Looking back on her efforts, Dottie comments, “My whole life has changed drastically. My prediabetes is gone, my weight is down, I feel stronger, have more energy, and am healthier.” Because of her success, she asked me to pass on the knowledge and insights she gained from reversing her prediabetes.
Some of Dot’s very doable ways to help with prediabetes include:
1. Experiment with a variety of new fruits in your diet.
2. Experiment with new vegetables. Try one new one every week or so.
3. Buy a vegetable steamer and use it. A steamer is the healthiest way to cook veggies.
4. Buy a sharp new paring knife to use cutting those new fruits and veggies.
5. Eat a walnut burger occasionally. Put chopped walnuts in your burgers and in other foods such as oatmeal. Studies show including walnuts in the diet is helpful in reducing blood sugar levels.
6. Make the five-percent resolution: Resolve to lose five percent of your body weight. You’ll be surprised at the benefits. Then lose another five percent.
7. Do a mini. A mini-marathon or other race usually requires preparation ahead of time. It can help with overall fitness and reduce blood sugar levels.
8. Walk for fun, with friends, or in solitude. Some individuals meditate while walking.
9. Buy a new cookbook, preferably a diabetic cookbook. Try a new recipe each week.
10. Go light on carbohydrates in your meals. Eat dessert maybe only one time per week.
11. Choose a podiatrist and have your toenails trimmed regularly. It increases your safety to have the doctor check your feet on a consistent basis.
12. Join a co-op and grow your own food or receive fresh produce through the group.
13. Get a partner-someone who understands what you are going through-and discuss your prediabetes. In one study, those who got encouragement reduced their A1c’s significantly.
14. Find a pool and swim. Another study showed that moderate-intensity water exercise lowered blood sugar levels more than exercise on dry land. You might also lift weights-individuals who do both aerobic exercise and strength training reach lower overall blood sugar levels twice as fast as people who do only one or the other.
You may not be able to do all these things at once. Start by trying one and then adding another each month. Before long, you’ll see a difference in your readings.
Prediabetes is a condition that can be improved, if not reversed with consistent work on diet and exercise, and by practicing a few of the ideas shown here. It’s better to treat it now while it’s a relatively mild condition than to have to deal with the severe complications it can lead to.
Jean Jeffers is an RN who lives in Cincinnati. She has written previously for Diabetes Health.