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How To Reverse Prediabetes


Prediabetes is a condition in which a person’s blood glucose (sugar) level is higher than the healthy range. If untreated, high blood sugar can lead to type 2 diabetes and long-term complications including heart, kidney and liver disease, stroke, nerve damage, limb amputation and vision loss. 

More than 40 percent of adults in Butte and Tehama counties have prediabetes or undiagnosed diabetes, according to a study conducted by the UCLA Center for Health and Policy Research. If you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes, there’s hope, say Carla Mapes, RN, and Kelli Ward, RN, diabetes educators at Adventist Health Feather River. They help people with prediabetes make important lifestyle changes so they can reverse diabetes. 

“The good news is that if you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes, it’s just an early warning sign that things are heading in the wrong direction,” Ward says. “It’s the perfect time to kick into action, take care of yourself and reverse the direction.” 

Mapes and Ward assist people in making key lifestyle changes to avoid diabetes. Here, they share the three most important steps. 

Further Reading: National Diabetes Awareness Month: What You Need To Know 

Eat well 

With prediabetes, the body struggles to convert sugar into energy, leading to high levels of glucose in the blood. “What happens is that you’re not being fed,” Mapes explains, meaning your body isn’t getting enough energy to function properly. Phasing out high-sugar foods in favor of a diet rich in fiber, complex carbohydrates and protein makes a big difference. Fiber and complex carbs, such as quinoa, whole-grain breads and sweet potatoes, give the body energy without extra sugar. And protein helps manage blood sugar by slowing the rate at which glucose enters the bloodstream. 

Get plenty of exercise 

Because complex carbs, proteins and fiber-rich foods give your body energy, the natural next step is to exercise. Working out makes your body more sensitive to insulin, the hormone that helps the body process sugar. “When you have high blood sugar, your insulin levels are higher than normal,” Ward explains. “When they’re higher than normal for a long period of time, you become resistant to insulin, which eventually results in type 2 diabetes.” 

For this reason, Mapes and Ward recommend that people with prediabetes get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week — that’s just 30 minutes, five days a week. “When someone has prediabetes,” Ward says, “we identify it in the early stages, so we can discuss important lifestyle changes, such as exercise, to keep blood sugar and insulin levels down.” 

Shed some excess weight 

Losing weight is another positive step away from diabetes because it can improve blood sugar levels. Mapes recommends losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight. But don’t let that figure overwhelm you; eating well and exercising often leads to weight loss. If you’re still struggling, talk to your provider about getting help, such as medication or bariatric surgery. 

“I often say, ‘We should all be living like we have prediabetes,’” Mapes says. “The healthy lifestyle that’s needed to avoid diabetes and manage your blood sugar — eating well, exercising, getting to a healthy weight — that’s what we should all be doing to live better.” 

Further Reading: Finding The Motivation To Deal With Diabetes 

Are you at risk of diabetes? 

If you’re not sure whether you should be tested for prediabetes or diabetes, consider these risk factors, according to the American Heart Association: 

You are older than 40. 

You have a parent or sibling with diabetes. 

You had gestational diabetes during a pregnancy. 

You have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high triglyceride levels (fats found in the blood). 

You are obese and have a large waist circumference (over 35 inches for women, or over 40 inches for men). 

You don’t get a lot of physical activity. 

“If you have any one of these risk factors, you should be screened,” says Kelli Ward, RN, a diabetes educator at Adventist Health Feather River. “Even if you’re not sure, talk to your primary care provider about whether you should be screened.” 

Further Reading: Keeping Diabetes Under Control