Prediabetes: See It as an Opportunity

Glucose testIf you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes, it means your blood sugar is higher than it should be, but not high enough to be considered diabetes. It’s not inevitable that you’ll eventually develop diabetes, but it increases your risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one-third of the adults in this country have prediabetes. Most of them have no idea.

We’re talking about the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which is what 90 percent of all people with diabetes have. The other kind, type 1, happens when the body can’t produce insulin. It has nothing to do with weight or lifestyle — it’s caused by a malfunctioning pancreas.

Most cases of type 2 diabetes are related to weight and lifestyle. It develops because your body either doesn’t produce enough insulin anymore or doesn’t use the insulin that is produced.

Here’s a simple explanation of why we need insulin. We eat, the body breaks down sugar and starches from our food into glucose — the body’s fuel — and insulin carries it to our cells. When that process slows down or stops working, glucose builds up in the blood and can lead to type 2 diabetes and its complications.

Diabetes risk and complications

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Blindness
  • Kidney failure
  • Loss of toes, feet or legs

People with prediabetes often don’t have symptoms or if they do, they’re likely to be the same symptoms as diabetes, only less noticeable.

Diabetes symptoms

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision

Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes risk factors

Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes are likely caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors — some that can be controlled and some that can’t. Several risk factors increase a person’s chances of developing the disease.

  • Obesity — if you have a body mass index (BMI) greater than 29, your odds increase to one in four
  • Age — the risk increases with age, especially after 45
  • Inactivity — the less active you are the greater your risk
  • Family history — risk increases if one of your parents or siblings has type 2 diabetes
  • Diet —  high in sugar, cholesterol and processed food
  • Diagnosis of heart disease or high cholesterol
  • Race — more prevalent in people of certain races, including African-Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders
  • Gestational diabetes — if you had gestational diabetes during pregnancy or had a baby that weighed more than nine pounds, your risk is increased
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome increases the risk
  • Sleep — research suggests that regularly sleeping fewer than six hours or more than nine hours a night might increase your risk

If you have any of the above risk factors, it would be a good idea to be tested to see if your blood sugar is high. Even when it’s normal, if there are any risk factors on the list that you can change, you should get started. For instance, research shows that people can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes if they lose 5 to 7 percent of their body weight and get at least one-half hour of moderate physical activity five days a week.

National Diabetes Prevention Program

Losing weight and increasing your activity may look simple on paper, but the reality is often daunting. The CDC has developed a program called the National Diabetes Prevention Program to help people who want to change their lifestyles. Eileen Molloy is a registered dietitian and diabetes educator at Pen Bay Healthcare’s Diabetes and Nutrition Care Center. “I’ve been a dietitian for many years,” says Eileen, “and the challenge with classes and individual counseling is that you give information to people and they don’t have support week after week to help them achieve it. The National Diabetes Prevention Program is evidence-based — we had to be trained and have to use their materials. There are 16 weekly sessions followed by monthly sessions for a year.”

The evidence, according to the CDC research, shows that its program can help people cut their risk of developing type 2 diabetes in half. One study showed that making modest lifestyle changes reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58 percent in people with prediabetes and 71 percent in people over 60.

The CDC website lists several organizations in Maine that are now offering the Diabetes Prevention Program.  Participants must be 18 or older, overweight and have prediabetes or be considered at high risk. If you’re interested, contact the individual programs for more information. Many insurances companies provide coverage — through the Communities Transforming initiative, Pen Bay’s program currently offers modest scholarships for those who can’t afford the program. They’ll  be starting another year-long session in January.

Eileen says the most important message she wants to leave with people is that they can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes with just modest lifestyle changes. “Diet plus exercise and weight loss,” she says. “Put them all together and they’re powerful, but even alone, each one has its own benefit. It’s just unbelievable what lifestyle can do.”

Tour de Cure riders 2014

2014 Kennebunks Tour de Cure

American Diabetes Association
2015 Kennebunks Tour de Cure

And speaking of lifestyle, if you ride a bike, you might be interested in participating in the 2015 Kennebunks Tour de Cure, which takes place next June 14 at the Wells Reserve at Laudholm. Done in conjunction with the American Diabetes Association, the event helps raise funds for diabetes research, education and advocacy. Tour de Cure is designed for anyone from the occasional rider to the experienced cyclist. You can choose between a 5-kilometer, 25K, 100K or 100-mile route. If you don’t ride, you can always be a volunteer.

There’s a kickoff event tonight at Quest Fitness in Kennebunk from 5:30 to 7:00 pm. Go and be inspired by other participants or visit the Kennebunk Tour de Cure website for more information.

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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.