How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
Diabetes affects approximately 463 million people worldwide as of 2019, and its numbers have only been increasing in recent years. In fact, it’s one of the top 10 leading causes of death globally. Studies suggest that if we do not take "urgent and sufficient actions" to combat the disease now, the number of people with diabetes worldwide is likely to increase to 578 million by 2030 and 700 million by 2045.
"Together with cardiovascular disease, cancer and respiratory disease, these conditions account for over 80% of all premature noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) deaths," a September 2020 scientific report from nature.com states.
The U.S. leads developed nations in diabetes cases at about 10 percent, with another 34 percent qualifying as prediabetic, according to the CDC. Given that one of the primary risk factors for type 2 diabetes is obesity, the rate is not surprising, as the obesity rate in the U.S. was 32 percent in 2018 (up from 19 percent in 1997).
The simultaneously comforting yet concerning factor here is that type 2 diabetes is largely preventable. Though a healthy lifestyle is certainly more accessible to some Americans than others, making simple changes to diet and exercise whenever possible can make a significant difference in your risk of developing the disease.
Before you implement any lifestyle changes in pursuit of prevention, it's important to understand the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is genetic, and the true causes of the disease are still not clear. This type of diabetes is not preventable.
Diabetes is a condition in which your body is either not producing enough of the hormone insulin to properly regulate your blood sugar, or the insulin you are producing is not able to effectively regulate your blood sugar. If you have type 1 diabetes, your immune system is attacking and destroying the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas. (The pancreas is the flat organ behind your stomach that looks kind of like an elongated, sideways comma.) Because it's genetic, type 1 often shows up early in life, whereas type 2 is developed over time.
Type 2 diabetes is largely a result of lifestyle. Even though your body is producing some insulin, the pancreas can't keep up with the high blood sugar levels resulting from poor diet and lack of exercise. Some people with type 2 diabetes actually have "insulin resistance," which means the pancreas produces insulin but the body does not recognize it (this is different from type 1, in which the insulin-producing cells are being attacked by the immune system). You can learn more about the differences between these two here.
It's important to understand the risk factors for type 2 diabetes so that you can be intentional about prevention. If you exhibit one or more of these characteristics, it's wise to make some concentrated efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle and prevent the disease:
- Age 45 or older
- A family history of diabetes (mother, father, or siblings)
- Certain ethnicities are at higher risk: African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Alaska Natives are at an increased risk for developing diabetes
- Women who have experienced gestational diabetes, which is diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. This would include women who delivered a baby weighing nine pounds or more at birth.
- Being overweight with a BMI of 25 or higher
- Adults who are physically inactive
- Lipid panel analysis that indicates low HDL (good) cholesterol, and high levels of triglycerides
- High blood pressure
- Women who have been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian disease
It's also important to note that before you develop type 2 diabetes you may be diagnosed with prediabetes, which means your blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough to be qualified as diabetic. The good news is prediabetes is completely reversible with a healthy diet and exercise.
Living a healthy lifestyle is helpful in prevention of nearly any disease or health condition, but it's particularly important in preventing type 2 diabetes. Below are some adjustments you can make to your daily life that will go a long way in preventing and reversing prediabetes as well as preventing type 2 diabetes:
- Quit smoking and reduce alcohol consumption.
- Slowly add 30 minutes of exercise into your daily routine. Start small with one day per week, and build up to every day. Tip: you don't have to start running or using a stationary bike. Think about something you enjoy doing or try something new, like dance, basketball, yoga or even roller skating!
- Manage your blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor to see if you might need medication to regulate it.
- Gradually make small changes to your diet. The American Diabetes Associaton's "diabetes plate method" is a simple guide for meals, and cutting back on sweets is another good place to start.
Early Warning Signs and Screenings
There are several early warning signs of diabetes to be aware of, and if you are exhibiting any of these symptoms it's a good idea to talk to your doctor about getting screened:
- Blurred vision
- Increased hunger
- Increased thirst
- Tingling (typically in hands or feet)
- Slow-healing wounds
- Unusual weight loss
- Frequent urination
- Recurring skin, gum or bladder infections
Life Line Screening uses a simple finger-prick test called the A1C panel to assess blood sugar levels and determine whether or not you have prediabetes or diabetes. We'll also give you your results so you can share them with your doctor and come up with a plan for managing your blood sugar if needed.
If you think you might be at risk for diabetes, schedule a screening today.