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Can you reverse pre-diabetes?

Lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of people with pre-diabetes developing type 2 diabetes. Find out what to do.

Angela Tufvesson
September 2018

After a routine annual check-up, Sophia Hunter, 58, was shocked when her doctor told her she had pre-diabetes. Sophia believed she was healthy – she thought she ate quite well, exercised regularly and wasn’t overweight.

“I have an annual health check-up and my blood sugar jumped more than expected from my previous normal test – it was a significant difference,” she says.

Around 2 million Australians have pre-diabetes, according to Diabetes Australia, and approximately 1 in 3 then develop type 2 diabetes.

However with lifestyle changes people with pre-diabetes may be able to lower their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 58%.

What is pre-diabetes?

Diabetes is where insulin – the hormone made by the body to keep blood sugar levels in the normal range – isn’t produced or not enough of it is being made. Complications of type 2 diabetes include problems with the heart, kidneys, eyes, feet and nerves.

Your blood glucose level is the amount of glucose (or sugar) in your blood. With pre-diabetes, your blood glucose level is higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Your target blood glucose levels vary depending on your age, general health and medications you take.

Pre-diabetes includes 2 conditions:

  • impaired glucose tolerance: higher levels than normal (diagnosed by measuring levels after a sugary drink)
  • impaired fasting glucose: higher than normal after fasting (8 hours for diagnosis)

Am you at risk of pre-diabetes?

Pre-diabetes has no signs or symptoms. The risk factors for pre-diabetes are similar to those for type 2 diabetes:

Women who’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes during pregnancy are also at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, says says registered nurse and diabetes educator Kim Welch, a spokesperson for Diabetes Victoria.

“Once gestational diabetes is picked up there's around a 58% chance that you’ll develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years,” she says.

Welch recommends an annual check-up with your doctor if you’re in any of the risk categories.

Can pre-diabetes be reversed?

If you’re diagnosed with pre-diabetes you’ll likely be recommended the same lifestyle changes as people with type 2 diabetes, including healthy eating, regular exercise and, if necessary, losing weight.

“Pre-diabetes doesn't have to become type 2 diabetes,” says Welch. “Eat a healthy diet that includes whole foods, lean protein, good fats, lots of fruit and vegetables and good low-GI carbohydrates like grains and pulses.”

Do regular exercise for general health and to help your body use insulin better. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has been found to be particularly beneficial in improving glucose control. If you don’t already exercise regularly, or have other health conditions, consult your doctor before trying HIIT.

Sophia swapped takeaway lunches for homemade food and doing more exercise. The result? Just 6 months later her blood glucose levels were back in the normal range – where they’ve remained for the past 5 years.

“When I looked at what I was eating for lunch, my food was high in carbohydrates with very little protein and vegetables,” she says. “I realised that swimming once a week was insufficient – I needed daily walks as my work is pretty sedentary. Just last month I had my annual blood test and everything is good.”

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