We hear this question a lot: “I had labs done and my doctor said I have ’pre-diabetes.’ What does this mean and what should I do now?”
Pre-diabetes is an important warning signal and risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Pre-diabetes has no real signs or symptoms. One in three adults in the U.S. has it but 90 percent of them don’t know it. Pre-diabetes is diagnosed when blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.
Pre-diabetes means the body is working harder to process the carbohydrates we eat. Carbohydrates are broken down into blood sugar - or glucose - which is absorbed into the blood stream. We need a certain amount of glucose in our blood stream for our physical health and functioning.
When the body detects blood glucose levels rising, the brain sends a message to the pancreas to produce more insulin, which moves glucose from the bloodstream into the body’s cells. The pancreas’ job is to produce and secrete that insulin into the bloodstream.
When we consume too many carbohydrates, the pancreas’ initial response might not be adequate to clear the excess glucose out of the blood and into the cells. So the brain tells the pancreas to secrete more insulin.
The pancreas also works harder when cells become less efficient. Due to excess weight and inactivity, the cells absorb less glucose from the blood. This is known as insulin resistance and requires the pancreas to produce and secrete more insulin.
Eventually, the pancreas will “wear out” and become permanently damaged. It will no longer be able to produce enough insulin to move the glucose out of the blood into the cells. Your blood glucose levels remain high and you receive a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.
Don’t wait for a type 2 diabetes diagnosis to start preserving your fragile, delicate pancreas. Encourage your cells to absorb the glucose you need by limiting carbohydrates, losing weight and exercising.
Make simple lifestyle changes:
- Diet modifications: 80 percent of your diet should include whole foods. Avoid as much processed foods as possible and eliminate all sugary drinks.
- Activity: Strive for one hour a day. It’s okay to break that hour up during the day. Walking for 20 minutes after meals is best, and phone apps and counting steps are fun ways to measure daily activity.
- Weight loss: Losing just 10 percent of your body weight is effective to reduce blood glucose.
- Visit the doctor: Get your annual check-ups and lab work done.
- Build a support network of friends, family members and local community health agencies.
- Get educated: Contact your primary care provider or local diabetes education office.
Check out our classes and events to learn more about diabetes and pre-diabetes.
Jennifer Sylvester is a nurse and diabetes educator with Samaritan Albany General Hospital’s Diabetes Education team.