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For a lot of us, it is impossible to believe that you could have too much sugar. But that’s the basic definition of diabetes: too much sugar circulating in the blood. Not only does the disease affect about 1 out of every 11 Americans, but prediabetes affects 1 out of 3 of us. When left untreated, it can lead to many nasty conditions like kidney failure, blindness, amputation and even death. But the good news – and this is very good news – diabetes be delayed and even prevented.
Before we talk about some ideas for delay and prevention, let’s look at what diabetes actually is:
When we eat, most of our food is turned into sugar, or glucose, which the body uses as energy. The sugar is moved around the body to our cells by a hormone, called insulin, which is made in the pancreas. For a person with diabetes, our bodies either don’t make enough insulin or the body is unable to use the insulin it does make. In either case, there’s too much sugar in the blood. This can cause a slow build-up of fatty deposits that can block our blood vessels, resulting in heart attack or stroke.
There are two types of diabetes. With Type 1 diabetes, the body does not make any insulin. People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin every day. The more common version is Type 2 diabetes, in which the body does not make enough insulin or does not use it efficiently.
In addition to Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, there is also a condition called prediabetes, in which the blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. These people are serious risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 15 – 30% of people with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within 5 years.
But here’s where the good news comes in: prediabetes can be reversed. Through a national study called the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that “millions of high-risk people can delay or avoid developing type 2 diabetes by losing weight through regular physical activity and a diet low in fat calories.”
Where to start?
While having a family history of diabetes is a major risk factor for the disease, other factors are in your control, such as being overweight, not eating well and not getting enough exercise. Those are all factors you can change if you have prediabetes. As the CDC says: Prediabetes = Pre(vent)diabetes. Here are some tips on how to start:
Healthy actions do add up! Delaying diabetes is the first step to prevention. At your next visit, talk with your doctor about getting your blood sugar tested and be sure that they know about any family history of diabetes.
Originally published April 19, 2017
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