Diabetes is a chronic health condition that interrupts the efficiency of the body’s metabolic system — how it turns food into energy. Prediabetes is the calm before the storm.
Prediabetes is also a serious health condition that acts as a precursor for type 2 diabetes. While not yet considered diabetic, those diagnosed with prediabetes have higher than normal average blood sugar levels.
So, the “pre” shouldn’t cause a sigh of relief. This condition is a red flag for those who might be on the road to serious metabolic disease. But there is good news.
Prediabetes can be reversible. Thankfully, there are some natural ways to prevent and help reverse prediabetes from turning the corner into full-blown type 2 diabetes.
Is Diabetes a Serious Health Condition?
Diabetes mellitus, or diabetes, refers to a group of diseases characterized by inadequate control of blood glucose levels (blood sugar). This chronic condition affects how the body turns food into energy.
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), 11.3 percent of people in the United States have diabetes — over 37 million Americans. Sadly, there are about 1.4 million new cases diagnosed every year.
Aside from the serious threat to health and quality of life, diabetes takes a huge toll on the healthcare system. The economic costs of diabetes reached $327 billion in 2017.
That included direct medical costs and costs for reduced productivity. On average, those with diabetes have medical costs that are over twice as high as those without a diabetes diagnosis.
How Does Blood Sugar Work?
In short, diabetes affects how your body breaks down or metabolizes food, more specifically, sugar and carbohydrates. Under normal conditions, the body metabolizes sugars and carbs, turning them into energy for the cells as glucose.
However, elevated blood sugar levels in the bloodstream trigger the pancreas to release a hormone known as insulin. This insulin helps keep blood sugar levels under control and acts as a key to allow glucose into the cell as energy.
In people with diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t produce enough (or any) insulin, or the body cannot use insulin properly. The result is high blood sugar levels.
What Are the Types of Diabetes?
Diabetes is typically talked about in three subgroups: type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes.
- Type 1 diabetes. Also known as insulin-dependent diabetes, type 1 diabetes is marked by deficient insulin production. This condition requires the daily administration of insulin.
- Type 2 diabetes. Non-insulin-dependent diabetes occurs from the body’s inability to use insulin effectively (insulin resistance) or when insulin production cannot keep up with the glucose levels in the blood. Type 2 diabetes represents the majority of cases of diabetes.
- Gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy. Also known as hyperglycemia, gestational diabetes is marked by high blood glucose levels.
What Is Prediabetes?
Prediabetes is a health condition characterized by high blood sugar levels. The “pre” comes from the fact that blood sugar levels are not yet high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 96 million adults in the United States are considered prediabetic, with a notable portion of these individuals not even knowing they are prediabetic.
Not only does prediabetes put you at greater risk of type 2 diabetes, but it also increases your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and nerve damage.
Testing for Prediabetes
Doctors and endocrinology professionals use three primary ways to measure and evaluate blood sugar levels. These include three types of blood tests: fasting blood sugar test, glucose tolerance test, and A1C test.
The fasting blood sugar test measures an individual’s blood sugar levels after overnight fasting. The glucose tolerance test is measured before and after drinking glucose-containing liquid. These are both measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
The A1C or HbA1C test is typically the most definitive glucose test. It measures average blood sugar levels over two to three months as a percentage.
|Fasting Blood Sugar Test||99 mg/dL or less||100 – 125 mg/dL||126 mg/dL or more|
|Glucose Tolerance Test||140 mg/dL or below||140 – 199 mg/dL||200 mg/dL or above|
|A1C Test||5.7% or less||5.7 – 6.4%||6.5% or more|
Prediabetes Risk Factors
For many, prediabetes doesn’t cause an alarm because they don’t consider it as serious as type 2 diabetes. Many live many years without even experiencing symptoms. There are several prediabetes risk factors to consider, including:
- Being physically active less than three times per week.
- A family history or family members with diabetes (parent or sibling).
- Being overweight.
- High blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels.
- A history of gestational diabetes.
- Sleep apnea.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
- Being 45 years of age or older.
Also, certain ethnicities and races are at a higher risk of developing prediabetes. This includes African Americans, Latino/Hispanic Americans, and Pacific Islander Americans.
While all the risk factors above are important, the two primary factors that raise the risk of prediabetes are excess weight and physical inactivity.
Many experts believe that obesity, particularly excess visceral fat around the abdomen, is a primary contributor to insulin resistance. For men, a waist circumference of 40 inches or more is linked to insulin resistance, 35 inches or more for women.
Also, the lack of daily exercise increases the risk for prediabetes. Regular exercise and physical activity can help keep blood glucose levels in balance.
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Can You Naturally Reverse Prediabetes?
The good news is that prediabetes is not the end of the road; rather, it is an important fork in the road. As a health condition, it is both preventable and, in many cases, reversible.
The steps for preventing and reversing prediabetes focus on factors that can be controlled. Typically, these include lifestyle factors, including diet and exercise.
Research from the CDC’s National Diabetes Prevention Program (NDPP) found that those who participate in a structured lifestyle-change regiment cut type 2 diabetes risk by as much as 58 percent, more for those over 60.
Let’s look at some of the most effective steps you can take to prevent and reverse prediabetes naturally.
Make Dietary Changes
As cliche as it may sound, the saying is still true: you are what you eat. Eating a healthy diet is one of the most basic and effective steps to help reverse prediabetes naturally.
Prediabetes is directly affected by what we eat, whether it be sugary foods or refined carbohydrates. Don’t worry; there is no need to turn the kitchen upside down. These dietary changes can start small.
While the ADA doesn’t recommend one universal diet plan, there are effective dietary changes that can positively affect your metabolic health.
Off the top, foods with added sugars and high saturated and trans fats should be limited. Instead, healthy fats, lean proteins, and complex carbs that are low on the glycemic index should be the first choice.
> Go whole grain.
One of the first recommendations for those looking to lower blood sugar naturally is to eat fewer carbs. While research has found low-carb diets help reduce blood sugar levels, the type of carbohydrate matters.
Whole grains, like brown rice, offer more dietary fiber, which can help improve satiation and help improve insulin sensitivity.
> Reach for the water, not the sugary drinks.
Many sodas, juices, and sweetened teas far exceed the daily recommended sugar amounts. If consumed excessively, these can wreak havoc metabolically and lead to weight gain.
Instead, water (or carbonated water) makes a much better choice. Not only does it keep you better hydrated, but it can also help you avoid the extra (and empty) calories.
If you’re unsure where to start, consult a dietitian in your area that can help get you on track with a meal plan for prediabetes that works for you.
Start a Regular Exercise Routine
Aside from the changes made in the kitchen, regular exercise is integral to helping to prevent and reverse prediabetes.
Exercise doesn’t have to be a grueling affair in the confines of a fancy gym; you can start with a few small steps. Gradually working up to at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week can do wonders for your physical and mental health.
Examples of aerobic exercise include:
- Jumping rope
Lose Excess Weight
For many, daily exercise also helps them drop excess weight. As stated above, excess weight is a risk factor for prediabetes.
The Diabetes Prevention Program outcomes study found some surprising findings concerning weight loss and prediabetes. Comparing a lifestyle, metformin, and placebo group, those who lost five to seven percent of their starting weight greatly reduced their chances of developing diabetes.
That equates to around 10 to 15 pounds lost for a person who weighs 200 lbs. Those numbers are more than manageable with a combination of diet and exercise. Again, working with a dietitian, nutritionist, or trainer can help get the ball rolling on weight loss.
What Lifestyles Factors Affect Prediabetes?
Diet and exercise are some of the biggest lifestyle changes you can make when stopping prediabetes. But, there are some other lifestyle changes to consider as well.
Say No to Smoking
Aside from the numerous risk factors that come with smoking, such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, and more, smoking also increases your risk of developing diabetes. In fact, according to the CDC, smokers have a 30 to 40 percent increased risk of developing diabetes than non-smokers.
Reduce Your Stress
Avoiding stress is always easier said than done. The daily stress that comes from work, school, and life can weigh us down, mentally and physically. However, most people don’t realize that stress releases hormones that can contribute to insulin resistance. The good news is daily exercise can help reduce the effects of stress.
Get Better Sleep
Most people don’t get the seven to eight hours of sleep they need every night. But, poor sleep can lead to more than the morning grumpies. A lack of sleep can increase insulin resistance and make it harder to drop excess weight. The bottom line is the fact that getting good sleep is simply non-negotiable.
When Should I See My Doctor for Prediabetes?
Getting out ahead of prediabetes is the best way to avoid conditions like type 2 diabetes. While those with prediabetes don’t always exhibit symptoms, some associated symptoms include:
- Increased thirst and hunger
- Blurry vision
- Increased urination
- Notice bruises and cut healing slowly
- Tingling or numbness in feet or hands
If you fit into the risk factors or have any of the symptoms listed above it may be wise to consult with a doctor who can run the necessary tests to determine a prediabetes diagnosis.
The Bottom Line
Prediabetes represents a fork in the road regarding your health. It serves as a warning sign that your metabolic system is struggling. But there is good news.
Prediabetes can be both preventable and reversible. Healthy eating and regular exercise are the best places to start when you’re looking to get off the road to prediabetes and on the path to wellness.
References, Studies and Sources:
Statistics About Diabetes | ADA
About the National Diabetes Prevention Program | CDC
Glycemic index for 60+ foods | Harvard Health
Long-term effects of lifestyle intervention or metformin on diabetes development and microvascular complications over 15-year follow-up: the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study | NIH
Fact Checked and Editorial Process
Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Camille Freking and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera.
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