You don’t have diabetes, but your last blood tests showed higher-than-normal blood sugar levels. You’ve been wondering when this was going to happen since your mother had diabetes. So, can you or should you do anything about it?
A short and emphatic answer is, yes, you can and you should do something about prediabetes. When fasting blood sugar levels are in the higher than normal range (100 to 125 mg/dL) on a regular basis, it can lead to the same sorts of problems people with diabetes worry about — damage to the cardiovascular system, eyes, nerves, kidneys and even the brain. If your fasting blood sugar was higher than normal, you should also get a test for something called “hemoglobin A1C.” This test shows you whether your blood sugar levels have been too high over the past several months (A1C levels of 5.7 to 6.4 percent indicate prediabetes).
Many people with prediabetes will develop diabetes within a few years unless they take action. A landmark study published in 2002 showed that the onset of diabetes can be avoided or delayed through weight loss, exercise and diet changes. Follow-ups on this first study have confirmed that individuals who lost weight and followed a healthier life style can still be free of diabetes as many as 11 years later.
So, I know you saw the words “weight loss” and cringed. But, the weight loss that seemed to prevent the onset of diabetes was really pretty modest, only a 7 to 10 percent loss can normalize blood sugar levels. For someone weighing 170 pounds, this means a 12- to 17-pound loss. For the exercise portion, 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise at least five days per week should be enough.
Again, you are thinking, “Easier said than done.” And I agree, but there are a few things that seem to help. Something that is really helpful is recording or keeping track — what you eat, the number of calories in your portions, your weight and your physical activity — and make changes based on what you find out from your records. There are lots of computer programs that can help but you can definitely accomplish the necessary record keeping the old fashioned, low-tech way in a little journal. Getting some help from a registered dietitian or a certified diabetes educator or a diabetes prevention program lifestyle coach can help get you going in the right direction. It will be challenging at first, but I’d rather take on this challenge than develop diabetes.