Imagine if your Healthy Body had a built-in alarm bell that warned you of any impending disease. In the case of diabetes, nature has provided the next best thing: a warning diagnosis known as prediabetes.
Once referred to as “impaired glucose tolerance,” prediabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are somewhat higher than normal, but not high enough to start causing damage to the organs. Dr. Ian Blumer, a diabetes specialist in Ajax, Ont., says that although the term “prediabetes” may sound a bit fatalistic (because “pre” usually implies a “post”) it does convey an important message: that this condition needs to be addressed.
“Think of prediabetes as a wake-up call,” Blumer says. “A clarion call to action.”
A diagnoses of prediabetes means it’s time to make lifestyle changes, specifically weight loss, exercise and better nutrition, to reduce those blood sugar levels. Otherwise, the likelihood of getting diabetes is very high, whether in the immediate future or a few years down the road.
“But if someone takes it seriously and does something about it, then they can reduce the likelihood of Type II diabetes by 60 per cent,” Blumer says. “That’s a phenomenal risk reduction.”
It’s an important one, too. Diabetes is a disease that if left untreated or improperly managed can result in heart disease, kidney disease, eye disease, impotence or nerve damage, according to the Canadian Diabetes Association. More than three million people in Canada and 285 million people worldwide have diabetes, yet Type II diabetes is entirely preventable.
To prevent diabetes, the Canadian Diabetes Association recommends an exercise goal of at least 150 minutes a week, and a weight loss target of five to 10 per cent over six to 12 months. Blumer’s approach is to tell his patients not to go overboard by overly restricting their diets or setting unrealistic workout goals that will frustrate or discourage them. Instead, he says, make it enjoyable and take it slow.
Depending on your level of fitness, exercise doesn’t have to mean marathon running. It could be as simple as a 20-minute walk with your neighbour’s dog a few times a week, going out dancing, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. And changing your eating habits doesn’t have to be drastic. Blumer strongly discourages fad diets because the results rarely last. Instead, eating healthy can start with portion control, like opting for a bigger salad and a smaller mound of mashed potatoes.
In a society of texting and high-speed tweets we’re not accustomed to waiting for anything, but when it comes to lifestyle changes we must be patient. Slow and steady wins the race.
“I stress the incremental approach to lifestyle change, and I emphasize that it works,” Blumer says.
Meanwhile, he recommends that anyone with prediabetes get screened for Type II diabetes once a year. It’s also important to be aware of the symptoms of diabetes, which include thirst, frequent urination and in some cases, unexplained weight loss. But with an ongoing commitment to a fitter, healthier lifestyle, the odds of warding off diabetes are very good.
Blumer says that as a doctor he finds prediabetes one of the more straightforward conditions to treat, and it usually doesn’t require any medication.
“That’s why it’s so gratifying for me to be able to counsel patients and say, ‘you can do something to influence your destiny – without drugs,” he says. “I find people are very receptive to that. People want to take charge of their health.”