Are you one of the 84.1 million people in the United States who has been “pre-diagnosed” with diabetes? If so, here are practical steps you can take today to turn this looming crisis into a lifetime of better health.

Prediabetes, also referred to as impaired glucose tolerance, is the warning shot that says, “Stop now, and turn around.” Typically diagnosed through blood tests, a person is pre-diabetic if blood sugar is above normal, but not high enough for a formal diagnosis of diabetes, when tested on two separate occasions. The range for prediabetes, according to Mayo Clinic, is a fasting blood sugar level of 100 to 125 mg/dL (5.6 to 6.9 mmol/L). When blood sugar hits 126 mg/dL (7 mmol/L) or higher on two tests, a person has diabetes.

Prediabetes affects a full one-third of adults in America, many of whom show no symptoms. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Director Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., most of these individuals don’t even know they are prediabetic. Left untreated, the majority will develop Type 2 diabetes within 5 years. Type 2, or adult-onset diabetes is a serious condition that can lead to kidney failure, heart disease, blindness, neuropathy, leg amputations, and even death. According to the CDC, Type 2 diabetes represents 90% of all diabetes cases in the United States.

A Silent Killer

Diabetes is often called ‘the silent killer’ because by the time a person is diagnosed, irreversible damage may already have been done.

Everyone over age 45 is encouraged to do the fasting blood glucose test. If you have any of the following warning signs, you should have your blood sugar checked by a health care professional, preferably one versed in integrative and/or functional medicine.

• Feeling very thirsty or hungry, despite having eaten or drank
• Extreme fatigue
• Blurred vision
• Hypoglycaemia (typically experienced 2-3 hours after meals)
• Tingling or pain in your extremities
• Unexplained weight loss
• Frequent infections (urinary, vaginal, groin)
• Slow healing of wounds; extreme bruising
• Chronically dry, itchy skin

When it comes to disease, prevention is always preferable to treatment, and Type 2 diabetes is a totally preventable disease! Consider a diagnosis of prediabetes an opportunity to make lifestyle changes for the better, so you can shift these indicators back in the direction of good health.

How to Turn the Tide

Don’t let a diagnosis of prediabetes derail your future plans.

This epidemic is largely preventable by following a few conscientious diet and lifestyle tips. In fact, Type 2 diabetes is proven to respond better to lifestyle interventions than to pharmaceutical drug treatment, many of which carry their own significant harms.

The following good-health practices help to regulate blood sugar, and are critical for anyone diagnosed with prediabetes. They should also be practiced by pregnant women, or women who wish to become pregnant, due to the risk of gestational diabetes. Additionally, you may wish to take these preventative steps if you are currently overweight, have high blood pressure, or a family history of diabetes.

1. Eat More Fruit and Vegetables

Hands-down, the most important factor in managing diabetes is regulating blood sugar balance. This is best achieved through diet. While there is still some debate on exactly which diet is best, eating more organic fruits and vegetables is one thing that everyone agrees on.

Increasing your intake of fruit and vege is a big win for your health, and this is especially true for those at risk of diabetes. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), diets that are high in insoluble fibre may offer the best protection against this disease.

While some people believe that fruit has too much sugar for a diabetic, the high concentrations of water and cellulose, a type of insoluble re, keep the sugars from rushing into the blood all at once, as happens with food and drinks sweetened with refined sugars. Eating lots of fresh fruit can also help stave off cravings for other sweet foods. Also, there is relatively new research indicating that the recommendation for diabetics to reduce fruit consumption has always been just plain wrong.

Aim for around 40 grams of fibre per day, consumed in smaller meals spaced throughout the day.

2. Stop Smoking Cigarettes

Smoking cigarettes is one of the leading causes of preventable diabetes. Smoking increases a person’s likelihood of developing diabetes by as much as 40% over non-smokers. Smoking also complicates insulin-dosing and makes it more difficult to effectively manage the disease.

Smoking brings its own risk-factors, such as lung cancer, emphysema, and heart disease. But people with diabetes who smoke also increase their odds of developing life-threatening complications from their disease. Smoking impedes blood flow to the extremities, increasing neuropathy and the risks of infections and ulcers that can lead to amputation. Smoking also increases the odds a diabetic will develop heart and kidney disease. For diabetics, smoking is like putting a match to a powder keg.

3. Reduce Your BMI

There is evidence to support the benefits of more than one type of diet in controlling diabetes, but they all share one compelling feature: reduced body fat mass. A 2016 study followed 32 patients with Type 2 diabetes who applied the Paleolithic diet for 12 weeks. This diet emphasises vegetables and fruits, and protein from nuts, eggs, fish, and lean meat. Participants avoided refined sugars, grains and dairy products.

The Paleo dieters not only became leaner, with improved body mass index overall, the percentage of fat retained in the midsection, a big indicator of diabetes, also improved. Blood sugar balance and insulin sensitivity were stabilised, and resting heart rate and blood pressure decreased. One participant was able to stop their diabetes medication, metformin, and two additional participants were able to stop their blood pressure medication. Not bad for 12 weeks!

Vegan diets also show tremendous results. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) guidelines recommend limiting animal fats, based on the results of studies in which a whopping 43% of test subjects placed on vegan diets were able to reduce their diabetes medications. The vegan group also improved their lipid profile by lowering total and LDL cholesterol levels.

The bottom line is, no one diet fits the needs of all people. By lowering body fat and improving BMI, you are adding powerful indicators for reversing diabetes.

4. Get More Exercise

Physical activity is a key factor in reducing the risk of diabetes. Diet has been the primary focus of researchers until recently, when exercise was shown through a series of compelling studies to be far more important to improving the health of diabetics than previously understood.

Regular exercise helps in so many ways it’s virtually indispensable. Three to four weekly sessions of moderate physical activity work to:

• Stabilise blood sugar
• Improve BMI and reduce overall weight
• Lower blood pressure
• Decrease LDL and ‘bad’ cholesterol
• Increase cardiovascular health, and reduce the risks of heart attack and heart and lung disease

By changing the way muscles utilise fuel, exercise increases the efficient use of calories by the body. It improves the metabolism of sugars, fats, and proteins in the blood, with a greater reliance on carbohydrates to fuel muscular activity. The benefits of exercise are far-reaching.

A September 2017 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, followed a group of middle-aged and older adults with Type 2 diabetes on a 9-month supervised exercise program. Researchers concluded that low-cost, community-based exercise programs achieved “significant benefits on glycaemic control, lipid profile, blood pressure, anthropometric profile, and the 10-year risk of coronary artery disease.”

Besides the obvious costs to one’s health, people with diagnosed diabetes have an average of two-and-a-half times the medical expenditures of a non-diabetic.

Finding free and low-cost solutions that minimise out-of-pocket expenses can be challenging, which makes exercise even more valuable. Both aerobic and anaerobic, or weight-bearing exercises, provide these life-changing benefits, and it’s best to do a mix of both. Find a sport or activity that you enjoy, and make your heart pump and sing at the same time!

Healthy living starts at home, and the risks of diabetes come from factors that YOU control. Find support groups in your community, and make it a family affair.