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What your Beacon doctor wants you to know about prediabetes to prevent health complications

The sooner you find out your blood sugars are higher than they should be, the more you are able to curb those levels and halt their progression into something much more serious.

When gone unchecked, elevated blood sugars or glucose can develop into Type 2 diabetes and lead to heart disease and other health complications.

Early intervention is the key.

If you are thinking this might not apply to you, consider this: One in three Americans — 96 million people — today has prediabetes. But the vast majority of us don’t know we have it.

We can have it for years, in fact, without any clear symptoms. It often takes a more serious health problem before people realize what’s going on, said Dr. Brian Huber, family physician, Beacon Medical Group Mishawaka Primary Plus.

“If you find out through testing that you have become prediabetic, you should not stress out. And it is not a failure on your part if your glucose is mildly elevated,” Dr. Huber said. “We need to use that information in a positive frame of mind to improve your overall health and fitness.”

There are many reasons you want to prevent Type 2 diabetes: It can lead to damage to your heart, blood vessels, nerves, kidneys and eyes. A body with diabetes has more difficulty fighting off infections and healing from wounds. Diabetes can also affect the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Brian Huber

What’s happening in our bodies

To understand prediabetes, it’s helpful to look at insulin and its job in the body.

Insulin is a hormone that your pancreas secretes, and its purpose is to tell your cells to absorb sugar, which your body uses for fuel.

When everything is working, your body makes more insulin whenever the amount of sugar in your blood is high, like after a meal. The insulin tells your cells to absorb sugar, reducing the amount of sugar in your blood.

Under certain conditions, the body’s cells can develop a resistance to insulin. The cells they stop listening to instructions and don’t absorb enough sugar. It’s like sugar is knocking on your front door, and you refuse to answer.

That’s where the problem starts. Your cells don’t absorb sugar the way they should, and the excess sugar that’s floating around in your blood causes damage. The longer it’s there, or the more often it gets too high, the more damage it can cause.

Doctors typically use a fasting blood sugar test or an A1C test to check the amount of sugar in your blood. The fasting test shows your blood sugar at that moment in time, while the A1C test measures your average blood sugar over the past three months.

A healthy or normal fasting blood glucose level for someone without diabetes is 70 to 99 mg/dL. If your fasting blood sugar test is 100 to 125 mg/dL or your A1C is between 5.7 percent to 6.4 percent, you are considered prediabetic.

And if your glucose level is even higher, you are diagnosed with diabetes.

Four steps to prevent or delay diabetes

“Anyone whose blood sugar falls into the prediabetes range is going in only one direction unless changes are made,” says Emma Samuels Grinblatas, registered dietitian and practice manager in the Comprehensive Weight Management Center at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center said in this Harvard Women’s Health Watch article.

Fortunately, you can take simple steps to help prevent or delay prediabetes from developing into diabetes:

  • Move more. Aim to be physically active 30 minutes a day at least 3 times every week. This will not only help your body keep blood sugar levels under control, it will boost your well-being in other ways.
  • Consume less carbohydrates overall, which can come from high-sugar foods and beverages, or breads and pasta.  It does help to eat a more balanced diet with fiber.
  • Weight loss is essential for the prevention of prediabetes from turning into diabetes. This can be accomplished with both the increased activity and dietary changes described above.
  • Talk to your family doctor.

“Your doctor can help you understand prediabetes in the context of your family history and overall health,” Dr. Huber said. “Your doctor may also recommend dietary and exercise recommendations specific to your needs or medication.”

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