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7 min read

What is pre-diabetes?

There are two million Australians living with pre-diabetes, and without proper lifestyle changes, they are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future. With this number on the rise in both adults and children, now is the time for Australians to take control of their health.

But first, what do we mean by pre-diabetes?

Pre-diabetes means you have a higher than normal blood sugar level, however, it’s not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes. What’s worrying about pre-diabetes is that the damage to your heart, kidney and blood vessels has already started. If your pre-diabetes progresses to type 2 diabetes, you are at greater risk of developing further complications such as cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, blindness, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

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There are two main types of pre-diabetes:

  • Impaired glucose tolerance: Blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to have type 2 diabetes.
  • Impaired fasting glucose: Blood glucose levels are high in the fasting state (when you haven’t eaten anything) but not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes.

The good news is that putting your pre-diabetes into remission is entirely possible by managing your blood sugar levels through lifestyle and diet changes.

So, what do we need to look out for with pre-diabetes? And how can we manage it? And what is diabetes?

Keep reading as we break down exactly what you need to know when it comes to pre-diabetes and how the Defeat Diabetes Program can help.

Symptoms

Whilst the symptoms of pre-diabetes aren’t as obvious as type 2 diabetes, there are a number of signs that can indicate pre-diabetes.

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These include:

  • Abdominal obesity – the apple shape
  • Fatigue, excessive thirst, headaches, recurrent infections
  • High blood pressure
  • Darkening of the skin around the neck, elbows, knees and armpits
  • Abnormal foot sensations
  • Deteriorating eyesight
  • Gum disease or tooth decay
  • Sleep apnoea or snoring
  • Infertility
  • Heart disease

If you don’t take note of these symptoms and seek advice from your doctor, they can lead to more serious complications, such as:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart attack/stroke
  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Blindness
  • Amputation

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Causes

The causes of pre-diabetes are very similar to that of type 2 diabetes; after all, pre-diabetes is your gateway to the condition, so changing your lifestyle habits now will help minimise the risk.

People with pre-diabetes don’t process sugar (glucose) properly any more, making the pancreas work harder and harder to produce insulin. Eventually, though, the pancreas fails and leaves too much glucose in the blood – the main cause of pre-diabetes.

If left untreated, pre-diabetes can progress to type 2 diabetes as insulin production continues to decrease, and resistance increases.

Some of the main causes of pre-diabetes are:

  • Age: According to the Mayo Clinic, your risk of pre-diabetes increases dramatically from age 45. However, because of things like reduced exercise and weight gain, it’s becoming more common in younger age groups.
  • Obesity: Excess body fat can cause inflammation, which can lead to insulin resistance.
  • Poor diet: A diet high in sugar and processed food can increase your body’s resistance to insulin and makes you more susceptible to pre-diabetes.
  • Lack of exercise: Exercise helps muscle tissues respond better to insulin. Dr. Peter Brukner shares tips to incorporate aerobic and resistance training into your life on the Defeat Diabetes Program.
  • Sleep: People with poor sleeping habits, or sleep apnoea, have increased risk of insulin resistance, leading to pre-diabetes.
  • Smoking: Smoking has the ability to increase insulin resistance, as well as cause weight retention around the mid-section.

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Risk factors and complications

Now you understand some of the causes of pre-diabetes, it’s important to understand other risk factors.

Factors that increase your chance of developing pre-diabetes are:

  • Family history: Whilst you can’t control this, having someone in your family with either pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes increase your chance of developing the disease.
  • Gestational diabetes: If you had diabetes while pregnant (gestational diabetes), you and your child are at higher risk of developing pre-diabetes.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): Women with this common condition have a higher risk of pre-diabetes.
  • High blood pressure

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If these risk factors are not properly managed, they can lead to further complications such as type 2 diabetes, heart attack and stroke, blindness, dementia, kidney disease and nerve damage.

Health effects

The health effects of pre-diabetes are significant, and if left untreated, can lead to type 2 diabetes and a whole host of serious health problems.

These include:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Skin problems, like bacterial infections
  • Poor circulation to the feet, making it hard for the feet to heal from infection, and possibly resulting in amputation
  • Hearing loss
  • Blindness
  • Nerve damage which can cause numbness in your limbs as well as digestive issues
  • Cardiovascular disease like high blood pressure, heart attack or stroke
  • Dizziness, sickness, increased urination and increased thirst
  • Kidney damage or kidney failure

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The Defeat Diabetes way of eating can help you put your pre-diabetes into remission and avoid developing further health issues.

Diagnosis of pre-diabetes

Pre-diabetes is a little harder to diagnose than type 2 diabetes because the warning signs are more subtle. Unless you have regular blood tests, you will likely be unaware if your blood glucose levels are too high.

However, there are still ways your doctor can diagnose pre-diabetes.

These include:

  • A standard blood glucose test: This test checks the level of glucose in your bloodstream at any given time.
  • An A1C blood test: This is a non-fasting blood test that measures the average percentage of glucose in your bloodstream over a period of three months. A healthy percentage is under 5.7%. A result between 5.7% and 6.4% suggests pre-diabetes, and anything higher than 6.5% indicates type 2 diabetes.

Treatments and medications

If you are diagnosed with pre-diabetes, treatment involves much of the same lifestyle changes as type 2 diabetes.

Things like healthy eating, regular exercise and reaching and maintaining a healthy weight are essential for getting your pre-diabetes under control.

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In regard to diet, much as in the management of type 2 diabetes, there is significant evidence to show that a healthy fat, low carbohydrate diet can help minimise the risk of pre-diabetes. One study, in particular, concluded that a healthy fat, low carbohydrate diet achieved better blood glucose stability and reduction in medication requirements than a low fat, high carbohydrate diet.

These are just some of the reasons why the Defeat Diabetes Program recommends a low carb, healthy fat diet to help with the management of pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Regular exercise is recommended to complement any changes in diet to help manage pre-diabetes as physical activity helps your body use insulin better. Even just 30 minutes a day of brisk walking, swimming or an activity like gardening is a good start. Adding in some resistance training twice a week will improve muscle mass and weight management.

As with all changes to your diet or lifestyle, it’s recommended to do so under the care of your health professional and consult your doctor or dietitian before making any adjustments.

Management

Being diagnosed with pre-diabetes doesn’t mean you’re going to develop type 2 diabetes, but it does put you at greater risk.

There is strong evidence showing that type 2 diabetes can be prevented in up to 58% of cases through eating well and exercising.

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Some factors to consider are:

  • Reduce stress: Stress is often inescapable, but how we deal with it can have a huge impact on our health. When we’re stressed, parts of our immune system are temporarily suppressed; so constant states of stress can elevate your pre-diabetes and lead to a greater risk of conditions such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
  • Eat well: Eat real food. Avoid processed foods, sugar, vegetable and seed oils and carbohydrates. Eat a diet rich in healthy fats and protein.
  • Get better quality sleep: We need deep sleep to replace and repair muscle and bone, as well as helping our hormones remain balanced. Aim for eight hours a night where possible.
  • Meditation: Meditation looks different for everyone; some people like moving meditation such as the methodical nature of chopping vegetables, whilst others like to sit cross-legged and still their minds. But just by taking 10 minutes a day to sit quietly can help decrease feelings of stress and anxiety. You can even do it on a work break.
  • Regular exercise: Regular exercise will help you maintain a healthy weight, as well as help your cells better deal with insulin. You might like to try yoga, which has been proven to decrease stress, improve sleep and immune function and reduce food cravings.
  • Being kind to yourself: We’re all human, and we all slip up from time to time. Managing your pre-diabetes means recognising that small setbacks aren’t the end of the world, and you can keep trying.

The team at Defeat Diabetes, supported by the latest evidence and a medical advisory panel of dietitians, GPs and surgeons, believe diet is the single most important element in managing both pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

If you’d like to know more or would like to share your success story, drop us a line in the ‘Help’ box below or at hello@defeatdiabetes.com.au.

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