If you have prediabetes, you are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes because prediabetes means that your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, prediabetes can often be treated with weight loss. In this article, we will explore the relationship between prediabetes and weight loss and find out if losing weight is an effective treatment for prediabetes. We will also cover all other treatment options available to you if you have prediabetes and what causes it.
What is prediabetes?
Prediabetes is a condition in which your blood sugar level is higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. If you have prediabetes it usually means that your cells have become insulin resistant, meaning they are less sensitive to the hormone insulin and do not respond to insulin well. Insulin is the hormone your body uses to move sugar, also called blood sugar or glucose, from the food you eat into your cells for energy. When your cells become insulin resistant, too much sugar stays in your bloodstream instead of being used by your cells. It can be diagnosed by blood tests detailed below. If left undiagnosed, prediabetes can lead to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, heart attack, and stroke.
What causes prediabetes?
The exact cause of prediabetes is unknown. However, there are a variety of risk factors that can contribute to prediabetes including:
- A family history of prediabetes or type 2 diabetes
- Obesity or being overweight
- A large waist size of over 40 inches waist circumference in men and 35 inches in women
- Race or ethnicity as prediabetes is more common if you are African American, Native American, Latino, Asian American, or Pacific Islander
- Having gestational diabetes during pregnancy or giving birth to a baby weighing more than nine pounds
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition that can cause enlarged ovaries with small cysts on the outer edges and elevated insulin levels
- Age, prediabetes is more common as you get older, especially after age 45
- A sedentary lifestyle with a lack of physical activity
- High triglyceride levels and low HDL, or “good,” cholesterol levels
- Hypertension also called high blood pressure
- Sleep apnea, which is a sleep disorder where you stop breathing while you sleep, is also a risk factor for prediabetes
- Smoking tobacco
If you have any of these risk factors, it does not mean that you will develop prediabetes. However, if you have multiple risk factors, you have a higher risk for prediabetes.
What are the symptoms of prediabetes?
There are no symptoms associated with prediabetes in most cases which is one reason why it is important to get tested if you think you may be at risk. If prediabetes is not treated, it can progress to type 2 diabetes. Symptoms of type 2 diabetes and prediabetes can include:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Increased hunger
- Blurry vision
- Unexplained weight loss
- Tingling or numbness in your extremities
- Slow-healing wounds and frequent infections
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible.
How do doctors diagnose prediabetes?
There are several tests available to help diagnose whether you have prediabetes. Your doctor may diagnose prediabetes based on any one of the following tests:
Hemoglobin A1C test
The hemoglobin A1C test, also called the glycated hemoglobin test or HbA1c test, measures your average blood sugar levels over the past two to three months and can be used to diagnose prediabetes and type 2 diabetes too. The test measures your blood sugar levels by looking at the amount of sugar that is attached to your red blood cells, which are the cells in your body that carry oxygen. The test results are reported as a percentage. A normal hemoglobin A1C result is below 5.7%. A hemoglobin A1C result between 5.7% and 6.4% indicates prediabetes and an A1C over 6.5% indicates diabetes.
Fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test
The fasting plasma glucose test is a blood test that measures your blood sugar levels after you have fasted for at least eight hours and is used to diagnose prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. A fasting plasma glucose of 100 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) or above indicates prediabetes and a fasting plasma glucose of 126 mg/dL or higher on two separate occasions is considered a diagnosis of diabetes.
Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT)
The oral glucose tolerance test is a blood test that measures your blood sugar levels after you have fasted for at least eight hours and then had a sugary drink. As with the other tests, it can be used to diagnose prediabetes and type 2 diabetes also. A plasma glucose level of 140 mg/dL or higher two hours after the start of the test is prediabetes and a plasma glucose level of 200 mg/dL or higher on two separate occasions indicates diabetes.
Can you treat prediabetes with weight loss?
Yes, prediabetes can often be treated with weight loss by utilizing both a healthy diet and regular exercise. Losing just a modest amount of excess weight such as 5% to 7% of your total body weight can help to lower your blood sugar levels and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. One study showed that when you lose up to 10% of your body weight in the first six months after a prediabetes diagnosis you will dramatically decrease your likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Lean protein sources such as fish, poultry, beans, and tofu
- Healthy fats such as olive oil and avocados
It’s also important to limit or avoid processed foods, moderate your carbohydrate intake, limit sugary drinks, foods with excess sugars, and red meat and to limit your portion sizes. Always read the nutrition labels if you are uncertain about whether a particular food is healthy or not.
In addition to following a healthy diet, prediabetes can also be treated with regular exercise. Exercise helps to lower blood sugar levels by improving the way your body uses insulin. The recommended amount of exercise for prediabetes is at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week which can include walking, biking, or swimming. You can also break up your exercise into smaller increments of at least 30 minutes per day.
What are other treatment options available to treat prediabetes?
If you are unable to lose weight or are unsuccessful in treating prediabetes with weight loss, there are other treatment options available. These include:
Metformin is a medication that is often prescribed to help treat prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. It can help your body respond better to insulin and lower your blood sugar levels. Your doctor may also prescribe medications to help manage your high blood pressure or cholesterol which are risk factors for prediabetes. Insulin therapy may also be prescribed in some cases.
If you smoke, quitting is one of the best things you can do to help lower your risk of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Smoking damages your blood vessels and makes it more difficult for your body to process insulin. If you need help quitting, there are many resources available such as nicotine replacement therapy, counseling, and support groups.
Can you prevent prediabetes?
Yes, there are several things you can do to help prevent prediabetes and they are predominantly the same as treatments for prediabetes. These include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Quitting smoking
- Managing your stress levels
If you have prediabetes, it’s important to get treated early which can help prevent or delay type 2 diabetes and other serious health complications.
Prediabetes is a serious condition, but it’s one that you can manage with the help of your doctor. Utilizing a healthy diet and regular exercise are two of the best ways to lose weight, treat prediabetes, and even help with the prevention of diabetes and prediabetes. If you are unable to lose weight or are unsuccessful in treating prediabetes with weight loss, there are other treatment options available including medication such as insulin therapy. If you have prediabetes or have more questions, talk to your doctor or health care provider about prediabetes and your treatment options because, with the right treatment plan, you can lower your blood sugar levels and improve your overall health.
References and sources:
Johns Hopkins Medicine
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