Pre-diabetes is Predictable, Prevalent, and Preventable

One of the nice things about being an adult is we can eat our dessert before our meal. But even if we give ourselves permission to indulge, we should tune in to the potential damage those desserts or anything we eat loaded with sugar is causing to our long-term health. With the holidays rapidly approaching, we also face the opportunity to heap an abundance of alcohol-based drinks, sweet punches, soda and a multitude of cookies, cakes and treats to our already struggling metabolic systems. But the long-term cost is not worth the short-term pleasure.

We all know someone with diabetes or “sugar issues,” but the real numbers that accompany this malady are staggering:  In addition to the 30 million Americans suffering from either type-1 (insulin dependent) or type-2 diabetes (which can often be controlled by drugs, exercise and careful diet), 86 million American adults – more than one out of three people – have prediabetes. What’s more, 90 percent of them don’t know they’re at risk.

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. Diabetes mellitus refers to a group of diseases that affect how our body uses blood sugar (glucose). Glucose is vital to our health because it’s an important source of energy for the cells that make up our muscles and tissues. It’s also our brain’s main source of fuel.

Insulin is a hormone that comes from a gland situated behind and below the stomach. Called the pancreas, it secretes insulin into the bloodstream, which circulates, enabling sugar to enter our cells. Insulin lowers the amount of sugar in our bloodstream — as our blood-sugar level drops, so does the secretion of insulin from our pancreas.

If we have diabetes, no matter what type, it means we have too much glucose in our blood, although the causes may differ. Too much glucose can lead to serious health problems. In type 2 diabetes, our cells become resistant to the action of insulin, and our pancreas is unable to make enough insulin to overcome this resistance. Instead of moving into our cells where it’s needed for energy, sugar builds up in our bloodstream.

Exactly why this happens is uncertain, although it’s believed that genetic and environmental factors play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes. Being overweight is strongly linked to the development of type 2 diabetes, but not everyone with type 2 is overweight.

Don’t let the “pre” in prediabetes fool you

Prediabetes is a serious health condition where blood-sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as diabetes. Prediabetes puts you at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Diabetes affects every major organ in the body. People with diabetes often develop major complications such as kidney failure, blindness, and nerve damage (nerve damage can lead to amputation of a toe, foot, or leg). Some studies suggest that diabetes doubles the risk of depression, and that risk increases as more diabetes-related health problems develop. All can sharply reduce quality of life.

Though people with prediabetes are already at a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, they don’t yet have to manage the serious health problems that come with diabetes, which includes daily insulin injections and carefully regulated nutrition. Between 90 percent and 95 percent of people with diabetes have type 2; only about 5 percent have type 1, which is caused by an immune reaction that is not preventable. Type 2, however, can be prevented or delayed through lifestyle changes.

You can have prediabetes for years but have no clear symptoms, so it often goes undetected until serious health problems show up. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor about getting your blood sugar tested if you have any of the risk factors for prediabetes, which include:

  • Being overweight
  • Being 45 years or older
  • Having a parent, brother, or sister with type 2 diabetes
  • Being physically active less than three times a week
  • Ever having gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or giving birth to a baby that weighed more than nine pounds

Race and ethnicity are also a factor: African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, Pacific Islanders, and some Asian Americans are at higher risk.

Nutritional tips for a healthier holiday season

Here are some useful tips to help manage our sweet tooth when dessert and other foods high in calories, sugar, fat and salt are served:

  • Decide ahead of time what and how much you will eat and how you will handle social pressure.
  • Eat a healthy snack early to avoid overeating at the party.
  • Bring a nutritious snack or your own healthy dessert such asplain cookies, baked apples, or sugar-free puddings.
  • Look for side dishes and vegetables that are light on butter and dressing, and other extra fats and sugars such as marshmallows or fried vegetable toppings.
  • If there is someone else at the party who is trying to watch what they eat, buddy up! Avoid tempting sweets and ask your fellow conscious eater to join you for a walk while dessert is out on the table.
  • Choose low-calorie drinks such as sparkling water, unsweetened tea or diet beverages. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount, and have it with food.

Additionally, there are ways to revise dessert recipes so they are healthier and still tasty. Often, we can replace up to half of the sugar in a recipe with a sugar substitute. We can also try cutting down on sugar and increasing the use of cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and other sweet-tasting spices and flavorings.

We can often blame type 1 diabetes on genetics, but type 2 isn’t as easy to pass off – we don’t have to give up all of our holiday favorites if we make healthy choices and limit portion sizes. How we eat, what we eat and our willingness to exercise and control our weight are the key factors to remaining healthy and avoiding the trauma of type 2 diabetes and its nefarious side effects.


 

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!