Learn the strategies you need to stop type 2 diabetes before it starts.

It is estimated that a third of American adults have pre-diabetes, and 80% of them are not even aware they have it.  Pre-diabetes puts you at an increased risk of developing serious health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.  When pre-diabetes goes unchecked, there is a good chance that a type 2 diabetes diagnosis won’t be far behind. The great news is that with improved nutrition and exercise, pre-diabetes can be reversed, which means that type 2 diabetes can be prevented.

What does it mean to have pre-diabetes?

To keep our bodies functioning well, our pancreas produces a hormone called insulin. Insulin has the essential job of transporting the sugar in our blood into our cells, where the sugar is converted into the energy we need for our everyday activities. When our pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, eventually the amount of sugar in our blood rises. When the sugar in your blood is higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes, you are considered to have pre-diabetes. As the name suggests, this means that you are at a high risk of developing diabetes down the road if you don’t take any measures to prevent it.

What are the different types of diabetes?

Healthcare professionals classify diabetes in three ways: type 1, type 2, and gestational. With type 1 diabetes, the body is unable to make insulin. People with Type 1 diabetes have to take insulin every day to keep their blood sugar in a normal range. Scientists don’t know what causes type 1 diabetes, so unlike type 2, type 1 cannot be prevented. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and occurs when either the body cannot produce enough insulin or is resistant to insulin’s task of carrying sugar from the blood to the cells. Gestational diabetes is diagnosed for the first time during a pregnancy. While it usually goes away on its own after delivery, half of all diagnosed women develop type 2 diabetes later on.

Are there any risk factors for pre-diabetes?

One of the risk factors for pre-diabetes is being overweight or obese. Obesity causes stress in a network of membranes inside the cells which results in the suppression of insulin receptor signals. This leads to the insulin resistance associated with type 2 diabetes. We are also susceptible to pre-diabetes as we get older because over time, the pancreas doesn’t release insulin as effectively, which leads to higher levels of sugar in the blood. Family history, poor eating habits, a sedentary lifestyle, race, and a past gestational diabetes diagnosis are also important factors that can increase your risk.

What are the warning signs of pre-diabetes?

It is common to have no symptoms with pre-diabetes, but those who do may feel thirstier than normal, have blurry vision, urinate more frequently, and feel fatigued. It is recommended to be screened for diabetes starting at age 45, or earlier if overweight or have other risk factors . The A1C, fasting plasma glucose, and oral glucose tolerance tests can each detect pre-diabetes when blood sugar falls within the following ranges:

How can I make behavioral changes to reduce my risk?

Overhauling your lifelong habits all at once may feel like a monumental task. The key? Think tiny and think simple. Set one tiny, simple goal that is easy to reach. When it has become a habit, set another tiny goal. Tackling small adjustments can result in big, lasting change over time. So how do you get started?

Þ   Learn how to eat healthier. First start with a new, small change. For example, replace your daily soda and juice with water. Rather than eating a bag of chips while watching TV, snack on air popped popcorn instead.  Reduce your portions by eating on a smaller salad plate instead of a dinner plate. The idea is to adopt one change, master it, and then branch out from there.

Þ   Increase your physical activity. Again, set a small goal to start. Walk for 10 minutes after work every day. Park far away from the front door to increase your steps. Climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator. Gradually work your way up to 150 minutes of exercise per week, which, combined with a healthy diet, is shown to reduce the risk of diabetes.

Þ   Solidify your new skills. Stay motivated by learning to set your weight and fitness goals while tracking your food and physical activity. Seek support from others to keep you accountable and on track.