Around 88 million Americans live with prediabetes, but many aren’t aware they have it. There aren’t always clear symptoms, so it may be a surprise to learn you’re prediabetic after a routine blood test at your doctor’s office.
Untreated prediabetes is linked to severe, long-term complications, including heart and kidney disease. The good news is that prediabetes isn’t guaranteed to progress to type 2 diabetes with the right combination of lifestyle changes and medicine.
Board-certified family medicine physician Dr. Michelle Ayazo specializes in helping patients manage prediabetes and reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes. She shares what patients need to know about their blood sugar and a few tips on how to reverse prediabetes.
What exactly is prediabetes?
Someone has prediabetes when their blood sugar level is high but not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes. The CDC reports that as many as 1 in 3 Americans has prediabetes, but most don’t know it.
Typically, there aren’t any noticeable prediabetes symptoms, so doctors diagnose it by measuring your blood sugar. Blood sugar is also called blood glucose.
Prediabetes doesn’t turn into type 2 diabetes overnight. Even if you’re prediabetic and have been for a long time, it’s still possible to lower your blood sugar levels and avoid long-term health problems.
What is blood sugar?
Your body uses sugars (glucose) from food to give you energy. When you eat, sugar from food enters your bloodstream. Then, your pancreas produces insulin, which is a hormone that helps your body absorb the sugar from your blood.
When your blood sugar level is too high, your body has trouble producing or absorbing enough of the insulin it needs. When this happens, it’s called insulin resistance.
When blood sugar is too high for too long and the body is very resistant to insulin, prediabetes becomes type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes can’t be cured, but it can be prevented or delayed in patients who have prediabetes.
Prediabetes Risk Factors
There are a few different risk factors for prediabetes. Many patients have a combination of risk factors. Some of them can be changed, while some can’t. The most common risk factors include:
- Family history
- Abdominal obesity (belly fat)
- Poor diet
- Lack of exercise
- History of gestational diabetes
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
Even if you’re prediabetic and have a family history of high blood sugar, it’s not guaranteed you’ll develop diabetes. With the right combination of treatments, it’s possible to lower your blood sugar—and potentially prevent complications down the road.
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5 Tips for Reversing Prediabetes
Tip #1. Set a Simple Exercise Routine
We all hear it online, on TV, and in the news: it’s important to exercise. That’s because exercise can reduce your risk of developing many chronic illnesses. Regular exercise is one of your most powerful tools for reversing prediabetes, too.
The CDC recommends adults participate in at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity 5 times per week. Aerobic activity includes anything that gets your heart pumping—such as a brisk walk, bike ride, team sport, or running around with your kids outside.
If you’re having trouble sticking to an exercise routine, here are some tips:
- Start small. If 30 minutes a day seems overwhelming, it’s okay to start small and work your way up. A 10-minute walk during your lunch break, one lap around the pool, or following along with a short guided yoga video is better than no exercise.
- Talk to a trainer. Personal trainers aren’t just for pro athletes. Trainers can help you develop a workout plan that fits your physical ability and activity preferences. Many gyms and fitness centers, such as the YMCA, offer personal training sessions to help you get started.
- Follow a YouTube video. Online workout videos can help guide you through basic stretches and exercises from the comfort of your home. Search for videos that fit the length, intensity, and activity you want.
Tip #2. Make Small Eating Changes
Your blood sugar level is directly affected by the things you eat. Carbohydrates and sugary foods raise blood sugar more than vegetables and proteins do. Too many carbs and sugars every day can cause problems over time.
There’s no one diet that’s best for reversing prediabetes. Instead, work on prioritizing vegetables and protein while cutting back on sugar and refined grains.
- Eat your veggies first. Include vegetables in every meal and eat them first. When you’re searching for a midday snack, try eating carrots with hummus or a small salad before reaching for chips or sweets. Check out these tips for incorporating more fruits and veggies into your diet.
- Go whole-grain. Carbs don’t have to be off-limits in a healthy diet! Choose brown rice and whole-grain bread and pasta, which have more fiber and other nutrients than refined grains.
- Drink more water. Juices, sodas, and sweetened teas and coffees can often contain more than the daily recommended amount of sugar in just one cup. Switching to water is a great way to stay hydrated without consuming extra sugar and calories. Try carbonated water if it’s hard to make the switch from soda. For tea and coffee drinkers, slowly cut down on the amount of sweetener you use over time.
- Don’t skip meals. Skipping meals often leads to binge eating later in the day or night. Instead of going without a meal, try eating smaller meals more often throughout the day. Additionally, eat more fiber (from beans, brown rice, and berries) and healthy fats (from olive oil, eggs, and avocados) to keep you fuller for longer.
If you’re struggling with your diet or aren’t sure what you should be eating, talk to your doctor. They can provide guidance or refer you to a dietitian. A dietician can assess your current eating habits, teach you about nutrition, and help you set dietary goals to control your blood sugar.
Tip #3. Stop Smoking
Cigarette smoking is proven to increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Scientists believe that’s because the nicotine in cigarettes can damage your cells and make it harder for your body to respond to insulin. When combined with a balanced diet and regular exercise, stopping smoking can dramatically reduce your risk of many different diseases, even if you’ve smoked for a long time.
If you’re struggling to quit, talk to your doctor for help. There are lots of different methods to quit—and a family medicine physician like Dr. Ayazo can help you find what works best for you.
Tip #4. Address Underlying Medical Conditions
Some health conditions are associated with a higher risk of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, including:
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Gestational diabetes
- High LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Sleep apnea
These health conditions don’t necessarily “cause” diabetes, but they’re often present in patients with prediabetes and can contribute to the risk of future complications. Managing underlying conditions while also controlling your blood sugar can improve your overall health and well-being.
Physicians like Dr. Ayazo can help you find the right combination of treatments to manage underlying conditions and other chronic illnesses.
Tip #5. Talk to Your Doctor About Medication
In addition to lifestyle changes, doctors may recommend taking medication to help control blood sugar. The most common medication is metformin, which is often given to both diabetic and prediabetic patients.
Additionally, while some medications can help manage blood sugar, others may actually cause a spike in sugar levels. Some of these include:
- Birth control pills
- Some antidepressants
- Some antipsychotics
Some supplements can even raise blood sugar. Talk to your doctor before taking any nutritional or herbal supplements.
If you’re prediabetic and taking a medication that’s affecting your sugar levels, your doctor may be able to help you find a different option. However, don’t stop taking prescription medication without first consulting your doctor, even if you think it’s raising your blood sugar.
Final Tip: See a Doctor for Help
Prediabetes is serious, but its progression to type 2 diabetes isn’t set in stone. With the right combination of lifestyle changes and medication, it’s possible to reverse prediabetes and bring your blood sugar level down to normal.
If you’re struggling to make a change, Dr. Ayazo can help. Florida patients can call (813) 751-3700 or click here to schedule an appointment with Dr. Ayazo at her office in Dade City. Getting medical help now can keep you healthy in the future.
About Michelle Ayazo, MD
Dr. Michelle Ayazo is a board-certified family medicine physician specializing in whole-body health, preventative care, and obesity medicine. Dr. Ayazo is passionate about helping patients manage chronic illnesses through a combination of medication, nutrition, and exercise.
In addition to educating patients about controlling their blood sugar, Dr. Ayazo also specializes in women’s health, skin health, and functional medicine.
Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Every patient is different, so talk with your doctor to learn what treatment options are best for you.