Prediabetes: An Opportunity to Improve Your Health

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. Pen Bay Healthcare’s Diabetes and Nutrition Care Center in Rockland offers the program as part of the Communities Transforming initiative, with funding from the CDC and in partnership with MaineHealth and the Picker Family Resource Center.

Eileen Molloy, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator, teaches the Pen Bay program. “We call it Healthy Lifestyles,” says Eileen. “I’ve been a dietitian for many years 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, shows that its program can help people cut their risk of developing type 2 diabetes in half. In a research study it conducted, making modest lifestyle changes reduced 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.”

If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes or know you’re at risk — seize the opportunity to improve your health.

You can hear more from Eileen about preventing diabetes in a radio interview with Jennifer Rooks on Maine Calling. Other guests were Nathan Morse, the program coordinator for the Diabetes Prevention and Control Program at Maine CDC and Dr. Dan Nadeau, co-author of The Color Code – A Revolutionary Eating Plan for Optimum Health.


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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane Atwood was the health reporter on News Center 6. She's now a regular guest on the Morning Report. Before she became a health reporter, Diane was a radiation therapist/dosimetrist at Maine Medical Center. In 2000, she left the world of reporting to manage marketing and public relations for Mercy Hospital. In 2011, she decided to pursue a longtime dream of being a freelance writer and launched her award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.