Metabolic Health 11 MIN READ

Here’s How To Reverse Prediabetes

It is a well-known fact that the prevalence of diabetes among adults and children worldwide has been steadily rising over the past few decades. The most common type 2 diabetes is when the body becomes resistant to insulin or fails to produce enough insulin.

Written by Khorshed Deboo

Jul 26, 2022
How Reverse Prediabetes

It is a well-known fact that the prevalence of diabetes among adults and children worldwide has been steadily rising over the past few decades. The most common type 2 diabetes is when the body becomes resistant to insulin or fails to produce enough insulin. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 422 million people worldwide have diabetes, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. 

However, individuals with a lifestyle disease such as type 2 diabetes are almost always diagnosed with prediabetes first. Prediabetes is a condition that does not always manifest symptoms. It is an invisible warning sign that often goes undetected, and the person may not even realise that they have it. Diagnosing prediabetes—or borderline diabetes—in a timely manner can, however, make you gain control over your health before it poses any further consequences, including the possibility of a heart attack or a stroke.

Let us explore what leads to the onset of prediabetes and how, if detected well in time, one’s blood sugar levels can be brought back to normal through lifestyle modifications, and hence its progression to type 2 diabetes can be nipped in the bud.

Highlights

  • The term ‘prediabetes’ refers to a diagnosis characterized by higher-than-normal blood sugar levels but not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes,
  • Prediabetes is a condition that does not always manifest symptoms. It is an invisible warning sign that often goes undetected, and the person may not even realize that they have it,
  • Incorporating lifestyle changes such as abiding by a balanced diet, following a regular exercise routine and sustaining a healthy body weight can help maintain blood sugar levels, thereby preventing the chances of developing prediabetes. 

What is prediabetes? What does it mean if you are prediabetic?

The term ‘prediabetes’ refers to a diagnosis which is characterized by higher-than-normal blood sugar levels in an individual but not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes. With prediabetes, the body is struggling to maintain blood sugar levels within a healthy range and has not yet developed into full-blown type 2 diabetes.

According to a study, around five to ten per cent of people diagnosed with prediabetes progress to diabetes every year. In medical terms, prediabetes can be referred to as Impaired Glucose Tolerance (IGT) or higher-than-normal blood sugar levels just after a meal. It can also be called Impaired Fasting Glucose (IFG) or higher-than-normal blood sugar levels in the morning before eating.

In the case of prediabetes, the body stops using insulin as proficiently as it should and gradually begins to develop a resistance to it, which is known as insulin resistance. If this process continues for a prolonged period of time, the existing condition of prediabetes might escalate into type 2 diabetes. Stubborn belly fat and lack of physical activity for prolonged periods are among the causes of insulin resistance.

Symptoms and causes of prediabetes

While the exact cause of prediabetes is unknown, genetic factors and a family history of diabetes cannot be completely ruled out. The human body produces the insulin hormone in the pancreas that enables it to convert glucose into fuel. Upon eating a meal, the carbohydrates in the food are converted into glucose or blood sugar.

The glucose then stays within the bloodstream until the pancreas releases insulin. The insulin aids in opening the cells up, allowing the glucose to enter the cells, thus helping the body receive fuel. However, without insulin—or if insulin is not being produced optimally—the glucose accumulates in the bloodstream itself, causing blood sugar levels to rise, thus posing a greater risk of the commencement of prediabetes.

Since the symptoms that signal insulin resistance are extremely gradual, they might sometimes go unnoticed or under the radar for years. Some of the symptoms that ring a warning bell for the possible onset of prediabetes are as follows:

  1. A constant feeling of tiredness and lethargy: A sense of fatigue that sets in after doing the slightest of work might signal prediabetes. 
  2. Feeling hungry frequently: Recurrent hunger pangs despite eating meals on time is a sign that indicates the possibility of developing prediabetes. 
  3. Frequent urination: The excess sugar building up in the bloodstream means the body will produce more urine to flush out the glucose. The greater the frequency of urination, the greater the chances of dehydration, thereby creating a cyclic pattern of increased thirst and hunger. 
  4. Increased thirst: Feeling the need to keep having more than the recommended amount of water throughout the day signals prediabetes. 
  5. Blurred vision: A sudden, unexplained blurring of eyesight can be one of the warning signs of prediabetes. If ignored, it can lead to retinopathy, a medical condition that damages the blood vessels in the retina of the eye and might cause loss of vision in some cases.  
  6. Unintended weight loss: Losing a significant amount of weight despite eating regular meals is a warning sign to watch out for. 
  7. Numbness in the limbs: A recurring tingling sensation felt in the hands and feet is yet another characteristic sign pointing towards prediabetes.  
  8. Signs of insulin resistance: If the body is not responding efficiently to the production of insulin, it can manifest in signs such as darkened patches of skin, abnormally increased levels of hunger and thirst and experiencing difficulty in concentrating or memorizing. 

Who is at risk of being diagnosed with prediabetes?

It can be difficult to tell if one has developed prediabetes unless it is medically diagnosed. However, they can always be on the lookout for certain risk factors which make an individual more prone to prediabetes.

  1. Hereditary factors/ family history of type 2 diabetes: Individuals who have an existing family history of type 2 diabetes are at greater risk of developing prediabetes. 
  2. Medically overweight individuals: One of the principal risk factors for prediabetes is being overweight. The cells in the body become resistant to insulin if the fatty tissue in the body—particularly inside and between the muscle and the skin around the abdomen (or stubborn belly fat)—is higher than normal. Moreover, those diagnosed with high cholesterol or triglycerides, high LDL and low HDL are equally at risk. 
  3. Sedentary lifestyle: Not being active enough throughout the day or not getting the required amount of daily exercise increases the risk of prediabetes. 
  4. Poor sleeping patterns: On average, an adult needs between 7-9 hours of good quality, uninterrupted sleep every night. Frequently compromising on sleep wreaks havoc with the body’s circadian rhythm, increasing the chances of sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea or narcolepsy over a period of time, thus posing a greater risk for prediabetes. 
  5. Unhealthy eating habits: A heavy intake of foods such as red meat, processed or refined foods, sweets, and sugar-laden beverages, and a lack of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains can put a person at a higher risk of developing prediabetes.
  6. Metabolic Syndrome: The occurrence of certain health conditions, a combination of which can trigger prediabetes, is known as Metabolic Syndrome. For instance, an individual developing three or more of the following conditions is at a greater risk of prediabetes: high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, a large waist size, high triglycerides and comparatively lower levels of HDL, or good cholesterol. 
  7. Frequent smokers: Individuals who smoke frequently are at a greater risk of prediabetes. Smoking incessantly can cause further health complications that might arise from diabetes. 
  8. Medication: Individuals on certain steroids, HIV medication, or antipsychotics are more likely to be diagnosed with prediabetes. 
  9. Gestational diabetes: If an expectant mother develops diabetes or gives birth to a child weighing more than nine pounds, the mother and the child are more likely to develop prediabetes. 
  10. Advancing age: Those over the age of 45 years are more susceptible to developing prediabetes, especially individuals with existing cardiovascular disease or hypertension.

Can prediabetes be reversed?

While there may not be a clear cure for prediabetes, it can certainly be reversed through lifestyle modifications such as following a consistent diet and exercise routine that improves one’s health or via medication. Depending on how high one’s blood sugar levels are at the time of diagnosis, a medical professional would recommend lifestyle changes or medication or a combination of both to reverse prediabetes.

Reversing prediabetes well in time can prevent the chances of developing more serious health problems, which include not only type 2 diabetes but also ailments of the heart, the eyes or the liver and kidneys, as well as complications involving the blood vessels or the nervous system. Long-term data gathered by a study suggests that timely lifestyle intervention can reduce the risk of prediabetes developing into type 2 diabetes for as long as ten years.

Some of the ways to reverse prediabetes include the following:

Medication

Factors such as blood sugar levels, medical history and haemoglobin A1C levels are important to take into account before prescribing medication, as it would differ from case to case. However, there have been concerns about its adverse effects, however negligible. So one must always consult a doctor before consuming any medication. 

Lifestyle alterations

Cutting down on foods that are high in saturated fats and sugar and adding more fruits, vegetables, lean protein, legumes, and whole grains to one’s diet can go a long way in helping to reverse prediabetes or to delay the onset of diabetes. One should avoid skipping meals as it often leads to binge-eating patterns. While the kind of nutrition one is getting is vital, exercising portion control is equally important.

Along with eating the right foods, maintaining a regular exercise routine can aid in losing excess weight and help build muscle, which, in turn, can lower your blood sugar level, making your body respond better to insulin, and burning calories even when you are not physically active. One can also get in touch with a personal trainer who understands your fitness needs and health concerns and builds a personalized exercise programme accordingly. 

Quitting smoking

Studies have shown that smoking increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as the nicotine present in cigarettes can possibly damage your cells, making it difficult for your body to respond to insulin. 

Treating sleep apnea

According to a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, two weeks of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) treatment for sleep apnea can help improve and stabilize blood sugar levels.

How do you prevent prediabetes?

Some of the ways in which the occurrence of prediabetes can be prevented include the following:

Regular blood sugar tests

Upon consulting a doctor, they might recommend one of the following blood tests to track an individual’s blood sugar levels: 

1. Fasting plasma glucose test (FPG test): The individual is not supposed to eat or drink anything—except water—for eight hours before the blood sugar test. If the results show your blood sugar level somewhere between 100 and 125 mg/DL, it signals prediabetes. 

2. Oral glucose tolerance test: It comprises taking a fasting plasma glucose test, following which the individual is supposed to eat sugary food. Two hours post-eating, another blood test is done to ascertain the spike in blood sugar levels upon eating. If your blood sugar is between 140 and 199 mg/DL following the second test, it is an indication of prediabetes. 

3. Haemoglobin A1c: This test involves checking whether an individual’s blood sugar levels are usually under control. The test shows the average blood sugar for the last 2-3 months. If the level is between 5.7 and 6.4 per cent, it is a warning sign of prediabetes.    

Eating regular, balanced meals:

Timely, balanced meals without skimping on any essential food group can help one keep their blood sugar and cholesterol levels in check, thereby reducing the risk of developing prediabetes. Moreover, incorporating fibre-rich foods within one’s diet, such as oatmeal, fruits, and leafy vegetables, improves insulin resistance, making one feel fuller for longer while simultaneously improving gut health and weight management. One can also consult a nutritionist or a dietician to plan a diet regimen that can be sustainable in the long run. 

Exercising regularly

Incorporating at least 30 minutes of physical exercise five times a week is key to maintaining good health. Apart from setting aside time for a dedicated workout, one should try and get as much movement as possible throughout the day, including taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking short distances and refraining from sitting for long hours. 

Stress management

Keeping stress levels in check and getting adequate sleep every night reduces the chances of prediabetes. One can also monitor blood pressure levels regularly to keep track of any potential stressors.

Conclusion 

Incorporating lifestyle changes such as abiding by a nutrient-dense, balanced diet, following a regular exercise routine and sustaining a healthy body weight can help maintain blood sugar levels at an optimum, thereby preventing the chances of prediabetes. Individuals who are at a higher risk of developing prediabetes should consult their doctor and get regular blood tests done to monitor their blood sugar levels. While diabetes is not curable, it is certainly reversible. If prediabetes is successfully detected before it morphs into type 2 diabetes, the process can be turned back, and the development of diabetes can be prevented.  

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns and before undertaking a new healthcare regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.

References

  1. https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/what-is-prediabetes
  2. https://www.who.int/health-topics/diabetes#tab=tab_1
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prediabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20355278
  4. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21498-prediabetes
  5. https://www.healthline.com/health/type-2-diabetes/what-is-prediabetes

among others.

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