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What is Prediabetes?

Have you heard of prediabetes? Many haven’t since it has only recently been diagnosed in healthcare and acknowledged by our governing health bodies despite it becoming one of our fastest-growing health epidemics.  In this article learn what prediabetes is, why it’s important, and what you can do to avoid it. 

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What is prediabetes?

Prediabetes, as it sounds, is the precursor to type 2 diabetes. Individuals are diagnosed with prediabetes when they display metabolic markers that are less than optimal but not bad enough to be considered fully diabetic.

According to the CDC, prediabetes affects more than 1 in 3 American adults.  Even more alarming is that over 84% of those 88 million adults don’t even know they have it! Since prediabetes means a diabetes risk, this is a huge problem.

While type 2 diabetes is considered to be the precursor diagnosis to type 2 diabetes, one does not have to lead to the other.  To understand how to avoid this diagnosis, let’s first learn a little more about what prediabetes is. 

What causes prediabetes?

Prediabetes, like type 2 diabetes, is caused by impaired metabolic and hormonal function.  The primary hormone here is insulin, which is why you may also hear prediabetes referred to as insulin resistance.

Insulin is a hormone produced by our pancreas in response to increases in blood sugar.  When we eat carbs, our body breaks them down to sugar that gets released into the blood. Insulin’s job is to tell our cells to open their doors and let blood sugar in to get it out of the blood and used for energy.

This process is not inherently bad, but when overstimulated, it can lead to what is known as insulin resistance, or prediabetes. 

While insulin resistance is the primary driver of this condition, here are some risk factors that play a role.

Prediabetes Risk Factors 

  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • High carb consumption
  • Elevated blood glucose levels
  • Low HDL/High triglycerides
  • Age (although doesn’t have to be a factor)
  • Family history/genetic predisposition
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Previous gestational diabetes diagnosis

What are the symptoms of prediabetes?

Remember that nearly 88% of people with prediabetes don’t even know they have it.  This is in part because of the lack of symptoms that this condition produces. While you can look for symptoms like dark patches of skin, hydration issues, and vision problems, a better indicator is metabolic health.

Prediabetes is the beginning stage of metabolic dysfunction so signs of metabolic health problems like obesity, elevated fasted morning blood sugar, high HbA1c, and unhealthy blood lipids are all indicators of prediabetes.  

Prediabetes can also be displayed through other conditions characterized by insulin resistance like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).  

Diagnosing Prediabetes:

Since prediabetes is a condition characterized by insulin resistance, measuring blood sugar levels is a great assessment to determine a diagnosis.  There are 3 primary tests that can be used to diagnose prediabetes:

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  • Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c): Average blood sugar over the last few months
  • Fasting plasma glucose test (FPG): Fasted morning blood sugar test
  • Oral glucose tolerance test: Measure of your bodies blood glucose response to carbs

What is great about FPG and OGTT is that you can do these blood tests regularly by yourself with a blood sugar meter or continuous blood glucose monitor (CGM). Keeping an eye on fasting glucose and your response to your foods is a great strategy for keeping a pulse on the state of your health. Even if you’re doing this, it is still valuable to get a regular a1c test to get a snapshot of what your overall health has been the last couple of months.  

Treating Prediabetes

Remember that prediabetes puts you at a higher risk of developing full-blown type 2 diabetes, so treatment is important.  Here is what you need to know about treatment:

Prevention:

As they say, the best treatment is prevention. There are diabetes prevention programs out there but prediabetes can be avoided by generally living a healthy lifestyle. Healthy diet, more physical activity, and doing whatever you can to avoid those risk factors listed earlier, will be what it takes to avoid prediabetes. Limiting your intake of processed and packaged foods is one of the best preventative steps you can take. Other lifestyle changes like stress management and sleep quality can also make a big difference!

Low Carb Diet:

The good news is that if you didn’t take prevention seriously, there is something you can do to reverse prediabetes.  Prediabetes is a metabolic issue that is exacerbated by the overconsumption of carbohydrates.  Thus, a low-carb diet is an effective strategy for removing the issue, allowing our blood sugar and insulin levels to normalize and our metabolism to improve, and weight loss.

In case the logic for a low carb diet didn’t catch, a new study from Virta health should do the trick.  Virta found in their most recent trial that a low-carb diet was able to keep 97% of patients with prediabetes from progressing to full-blown diabetes[*].  97%… This isn’t that big of a surprise considering Virta has already produced results showing reversal of type 2 diabetes using these same strategies [*]. 

Omega-6 Fatty Acids

There is new emerging research suggesting that it’s not just carbohydrates that are causing our booming diabetic numbers. Research is now finding that certain omega-6 fatty acids, like linoleic acid, may also be contributors to insulin resistance. This makes sense given the fact that omega-6 ridden vegetable oils are in most packaged foods and used at most restaurants.

The best way to avoid this issue is to remove vegetable oils like canola, safflower, corn, and soybean oils which are typically found in many packaged foods, especially salad dressings and roasted nuts.  

Takeaway

Prediabetes is a serious health condition that is becoming more and more common.  To avoid this diagnosis, maintain proper metabolic health.  If you have already received a prediabetic diagnosis, consider the research supporting the use of a low-carb diet with the guidance of a licensed physician.

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