Is Type 2 Diabetes Preventable?

The Current Stats

Chances are, you know someone who has type 2 diabetes, or is at an increased risk of developing the disease.

Today, it is estimated that over 30 million American adults have diabetes (90-95% have type 2 and 5-10% have type 1), and another 80 million (that’s 1 out of every 4 people over 18!) have what is called prediabetes, a condition that puts them at increased risk of developing type 2.

In fact, type 2 diabetes is one of the fastest growing chronic diseases worldwide and, if not well cared for, can lead to serious medical complications such as eye, kidney and heart disease.

The Good News

If you have type 2, you can avoid or significantly reduce the risk of developing complications by controlling your glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. And, if you have prediabetes, studies have shown there are ways to significantly reduce your risk of developing type 2.

So first things first…how do you know if you are at increased risk of developing type 2?

There are a number of factors that may put you at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. These risk factors include:

  • Being overweight or physically inactive
  • Your age (there’s a higher risk with increasing age)
  • High blood pressure (generally anything over 130/80)
  • Abnormal cholesterol levels (ideally LDL should be below 100, triglycerides below 200 and HDL above 40)
  • Immediate family members with type 2 diabetes
  • Having had gestational (pregnancy-related) diabetes
  • Being of a certain ethnic group (Latino, African American, Native American, Pacific Islander, Asian American)
  • Blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not high enough to classify you as having diabetes (for example, fasting morning blood sugars between 100-126)

The American Diabetes Association recommends that your healthcare provider screen you for type 2 diabetes or prediabetes with a blood glucose or A1c test if you are overweight and have any of the risk factors mentioned above, or starting at age 45. If the test shows that you do not have diabetes, it should be repeated every 1-3 years, depending on the results of the initial test and your risk factors.

A fast and simple type 2 risk test developed by the American Diabetes Association can be found online here. By answering a few simple questions, it helps inform you of your risk of type 2 diabetes. You should discuss your risk test results with your healthcare provider, who may then check you for diabetes or prediabetes with a blood test.

If you have prediabetes, what can you do to reduce your risk of developing type 2?

As mentioned above, if you have prediabetes, there are definitely actions you can take to significantly reduce your risk of developing type 2. Most important on the to-do list are healthy eating and increased physical activity.

Here are a few quick tips on eating healthy:

  • Eat more leafy greens like romaine, kale, spinach, collards and chard
  • Choose lean proteins like fish, chicken and pork
  • Fill up with fiber (fiber can be found in delicious foods – did you know raspberries are one of the highest fiber fruits around?)
  • Try to drink eight 8oz glasses of water every day and avoid sodas and sugary juices
  • Experiment with lower carb grains that also contain fiber and protein such as quinoa
  • Indulge in health fats like nuts, seeds, avocados, dark chocolate, and fatty fish
  • Cut back on salt and salty foods
  • Pay attention to portion sizes
  • Try to fill half your plate with non-starchy veggies
  • Don’t bring home what you can’t control!
  • Reduce your overall intake of sugar and carbs

Even more tips and resources on eating healthy can be found in the 5th edition of Dr. Edelman’s book Taking Control of Your Diabetes (you can get it here).

Several research studies in people with prediabetes have shown that losing 5-10% of their body weight (about 10-20 pounds in someone weighing 200 pounds), maintaining a healthy diet, and getting about 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity (like brisk walking) can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by almost 60%!  Also, depending on your risk and other factors, your healthcare provider may recommend starting a medication to help reduce your risk of developing diabetes. Your individual diabetes prevention plan should be discussed with your healthcare provider.

In a Nutshell…

Since prediabetes is so common and its progression to type 2 is preventable, it is very important to find out if you have prediabetes. If you do, you should discuss a diabetes prevention plan with your healthcare provider – which will include a healthy diet, increased physical activity, and achieving a healthy weight. Most importantly, this plan will also help improve your blood pressure, cholesterol, risk of heart disease, and will likely have many other benefits as well!

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