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Diabetes Prevention

Diabetes prevention is possible with type 2 diabetes, but not with type 1 diabetes.

Staying fit and healthy can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. [© Shutterstock, 2010]
© Shutterstock, 2010
Staying fit and healthy can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes Prevention

Diabetes prevention is possible with type 2 diabetes, but not with type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes develops when the body produces insufficient amounts of insulin. Type 2 diabetics have lower insulin production but they also do not effectively use insulin. Type 2 diabetes is by far the most prevalent type of diabetes, accounting for 90 to 95 percent of diagnosed cases, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Type 2 diabetes prevention begins with screening when symptoms or risk factors are present. When a person has higher than normal blood sugar levels but it has not progressed to type 2 diabetes, the condition is called prediabetes. Losing excess weight and increasing physical activity are some lifestyle changes that often effectively delay or prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes According to the National Diabetes Clearinghouse, a major clinic study showed that 150 minutes of weekly exercise and a seven percent target weight loss reduced the incidence of diabetes by 58 percent.

Prediabetes Screening

The ADA estimates that 57 million people in the United States have prediabetes. This condition occurs when a persons blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes. Doctors use either a fasting blood sugar test or an oral glucose tolerance test to measure blood sugar levels. Prediabetes is indicated if the fasting blood sugar is 100 to 125 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), or 140 to 199 mg/dL during an oral glucose tolerance test.

Awareness of the risk factors of type 2 diabetes, such as being overweight, being at least 45 years old, belonging to certain ethnic groups or having an immediate family member with diabetes can help adults determine if they should be regularly screened for prediabetes. (The ADA does not recommend screening for prediabetes in children.) This will allow timely intervention and treatment. According to the Mayo Clinic, having prediabetes without treatment for 10 years or more can lead to diabetes. This is a real concern considering nearly one-quarter of the estimated 23 million people with diabetes in the United States do not know they have it. Additionally, prediabetes can do long-term damage to the circulatory system and other crucial bodily functions.

Losing Excess Weight

Excess fatty tissue, especially around the abdominal area, can increase the bodys resistance to insulin, one factor that contributes to diabetes. If a person is overweight, especially if they also have any other risk factors for diabetes, they are more likely to have pre-diabetes or full-blown type 2 diabetes. Losing weight through a low-calorie, low-fat diet and moderate exercise was shown to reduce the incidence of diabetes by more than half. The target weight loss was only seven percent, but the weight loss must be maintained to be effective in lowering the chances of developing diabetes. Choosing healthy foods and eating habits are essential to a successfully losing the weight and keeping it off. Fad diets tend to work in the short-term, but the weight is likely to be regained without a permanent lifestyle change. Healthy eating also provides the necessary energy to engage in an active lifestyle that includes exercise.

Engaging in Physical Activity

Along with aiding in weight loss, physical activity has an independent effect on glucose levels. By burning more energy, activity causes the body to use more of the glucose stored in the blood. It also makes the bodys cells more sensitive to insulin. This addresses the two main factors for those at risk for or diagnosed with type 2 diabetes excess glucose and insulin resistance. Like weight loss, even a small effort will have a positive affect on a persons diabetes risk. Research shows that 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking, swimming or biking, five times a week had a significant impact on diabetes prevention.

Consider Medication After Lifestyle Changes

While lifestyle changes result in the most dramatic prevention of diabetes, there are medications that can postpone the onset of type 2 diabetes in some people. According to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, the drug metformin was shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by up to 31 percent. This drug worked best in younger people between the ages of 25 and 44, and was most effective in participants with a body mass index over 35. However, this drug cannot independently prevent diabetes. The right approach for someone diagnosed with prediabetes is to make healthy lifestyle changes.

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