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Take action now so diabetes is not in your future
For people with a family history of diabetes and even those at risk for the disease, a future with diabetes isn't etched in stone. In fact, with the right education, guidance and lifestyle changes, those at risk can easily shape their own healthy futures.
Bryana Andert, DO
"It's absolutely within our control to prevent diabetes," said Bryana Andert, DO, a family medicine doctor at New Ulm Medical Center. "Regardless of what kind of past personal or family history there is, making healthy diet and exercise choices can certainly overcome those odds."
Specifically, Andert is referring to type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes and a condition that anyone can develop. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 25 million Americans are living with diabetes and if the trend continues, the agency estimates that one out of every three U.S. adults will have diabetes by 2050. In addition, more and more children are being diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes – a worrisome trend that's linked to childhood obesity.
Diabetes is a chronic and progressive condition in which the body is unable to produce and manage insulin to properly regulate a person's blood-sugar levels.
Stop it before it starts
Luckily, even if a person is diagnosed as pre-diabetic, there's still a chance to fend off the disease. Being pre-diabetic means a person's blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes, Andert said.
"It's the perfect time to make those lifestyle modifications that can prevent diabetes from happening," she said.
Symptoms of diabetes include increased thirst, frequent urination, vision problems, fatigue, numbness in the hands and feet, and frequent infections. These symptoms may be present in the pre-diabetes state, but persons may also have no symptoms with pre-diabetes.
"In general, if you have these symptoms and are also overweight and over age 45, then it's important to get your blood sugar checked," Andert said. "The great thing is you can actually lower the risk for developing diabetes by greater than 50 percent with two main changes: weight loss and exercise."
Andert said a good weight loss goal for reducing diabetes risk is to lose 7 percent of body weight. For example, that would be 15 pounds for a person who weighs 200 pounds. For physical activity, she recommended exercising 30 minutes a day five days a week. That can be as simple as taking a brisk walk.
Get expert support
Andert noted that it can be helpful to meet with a doctor or dietitian to get the facts about good nutrition. She said it's not about diets, but about changing eating habits for the long run. A simple place to start is cutting out high-sugar and high-carbohydrate foods.
"It's about making a lifestyle change," she said. "It's about re-evaluating portion sizes and learning where we consume hidden calories ... it's about learning to tailor our day-to-day eating toward more healthy choices."
For people who don't regularly exercise, it may be advisable to talk with a doctor first to make sure it's safe and to discuss options, Andert counseled. However, walking is nearly always a safe bet.
"Start with a goal of a block or two," she said. "Be realistic about your past exercise levels, start slow and take baby steps."
The same eating and exercise advice goes for people with a family history of diabetes.
Prevention is key
"You can still prevent it – you are not sentenced to diabetes," Andert said. "It just means that you may need to watch things more closely and be a bit more aggressive with diet and exercise."
To put the importance of prevention into better perspective, Andert cautions that once a person is diagnosed with diabetes, they will have it for life. And diabetes isn't only bad for blood sugar. The disease negatively impacts many of the body’s vital organs and systems.
"You can continue for quite some time to control diabetes, but what we know is that once the ball starts rolling, it's a progressive condition," she said. "Diabetes is serious, but we can prevent it."
Source: New Ulm Medical Center
Reviewed by: Bryana Andert, DO
First Published: 12/12/2012
Last Reviewed: 12/12/2012