“I learned at a routine checkup that I had prediabetes—elevated blood sugars—that can eventually progress to diabetes if untreated. It was a story I had often heard from patients, only now it was playing out in my own life,” says Dr. Shivam Joshi, MD, an internal medicine physician and neurologist, in an op-ed for The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Dr. Joshi was part of the approximately 88 million Americans that have prediabetes. But after implementing healthy lifestyle changes, he was able to successfully reverse it. You can, too. Because, while prediabetes is one of the most common conditions in America today, there are steps you can take to prevent it from leading to type 2 diabetes.
What is prediabetes?
Prediabetes is a condition where your blood sugar is higher than normal, but not as high to qualify for a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, according to the Mayo Clinic.
This is generally when your body starts to develop somewhat of an insulin resistance, which is when your cells stop responding to the hormone insulin. In this case, blood sugars rise even when the pancreas tries to make insulin to lower blood sugar in the bloodstream.
Many healthcare providers screen for prediabetes through a blood test. For a fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test, results between 100 and 125 mg/dl can indicate prediabetes. When it comes to an A1C blood test, which monitors the blood sugar over 3 months, results between 5.7 and 6.4 percent can also suggest prediabetes.
Individuals experiencing prediabetes rarely have signs or symptoms. Only test results can really provide a strong indicator of this condition. In addition, many of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes overlap with the ones for prediabetes.
For example, if you had gestational diabetes while pregnant, both you and your child are at-risk for contracting type 2 diabetes. If diabetes runs in your family or if you are Black, Hispanic, American Indian, or Asian American, you are more likely to have diabetes as well. Other risk factors include being overweight or obese, lack of physical activity, consumption of processed foods, and smoking.
If you have any of the above risk factors, speak to a healthcare provider or licensed care professional today.
The first line of treatment to prediabetes is modifications to your diet and lifestyle. These actions will help you avoid contracting type 2 diabetes in addition to suffering from the classic complications associated with this chronic condition, such as heart disease, stroke, and nerve damage.
Here are four ways you can naturally reverse your prediabetes.
1. Eat a diet rich in whole foods
A diet with a lot of processed carbohydrates can dramatically increase your blood sugar.
Instead of eating foods high in saturated fats and trans fats, try a plant-based and whole foods diet. This includes—but is not limited to—whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, skinless poultry, fatty fish, and low-fat dairy products. Experts recommend eating foods with a low glycemic index (GI), as they will not increase your blood sugar levels. Low GI foods include—but are not limited to—legumes, cruciferous vegetables, steel cut oats, and most fruits.
It may be difficult to spark a sudden transition to eating cleaner and greener foods, but start by making small changes you find enjoyable.
A helpful resource may be the USDA MyPlate guidelines, which incorporates a lot of low-calorie foods. It advises toward making half of your plate fruits and vegetables, a quarter of your plate grains, a quarter of your plate protein, and an optional side of low-fat dairy. This is low in unhealthy carbohydrates, sugars, and fats.
Also, make sure to stay hydrated and drink at least eight 8-ounce cups of water daily!
2. Exercise on a regular basis
The more you reduce your physical activity, the greater chance you may have to contract type 2 diabetes, says the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
Exercise has a plethora of benefits, including improving mental health and boosting immunity. Consistent exercise can help improve insulin resistance and lower your blood sugar, explains the ADA.
Currently, the American Heart Association generally recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity. It’s great for adults to get a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week.
There are a variety of exercises you can do from the comfort of your home, such as jogging or doing an online HIIT workout with a fitness professional.
3. Lower stress
Research suggests that stress for extended periods of time—also known as chronic stress—has negative impacts on physical and mental health.
Chronic stress can contribute to the development of a range of chronic illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and can even cause brain changes that may lead to anxiety, depression, and addiction.
Keep your stress levels low by using coping mechanisms you feel comfortable with. This could be taking deep breaths when you feel overwhelmed or simply calling a loved one to talk about your emotions.
Check out additional ways to cope with stress that can help you stay relaxed and grounded.
4. Maintain a healthy weight
Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.
Experts recommend losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of body fat, which can drastically improve your blood sugar level and help reverse your prediabetes. For some individuals, this is about 10 to 20 pounds.
In this capacity, your insulin resistance can decrease too, allowing your body to successfully process the hormone insulin. Be mindful to make specific weight goals that are tailored just for you, and work towards maintaining them over time.
Now, it may be difficult to lose quite a few pounds at once, so it may be helpful to curate a weight loss plan by focusing on your recommended calorie intake, the amount of food calories you're consuming, and the energy you're burning off with various levels of physical activity.
By eating healthy and exercising regularly, you are taking steps in the right direction to reach your goals.