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Mayo Clinic Q and A: How to Reverse Prediabetes

CEO Tinh Phung
Dear Mayo Clinic: I'm a 36-year-old man recently diagnosed with prediabetes. Is there a way to reverse this, or am I destined to eventually get diabetes? My health care provider says I've likely been in...

A young man sitting by windows in a loft apartment, office or cafe

Dear Mayo Clinic: I'm a 36-year-old man recently diagnosed with prediabetes. Is there a way to reverse this, or am I destined to eventually get diabetes? My health care provider says I've likely been in the prediabetes stage for a year or more.

There are steps you can take to slow the progression of prediabetes to Type 2 diabetes. You may even be able to stop or reverse it. That's important because once Type 2 diabetes develops, the disease can lead to complications that can cause serious, long-term health problems.

Diabetes occurs when the level of sugar in the blood is too high. That happens because of a problem with the hormone insulin, which is made in the pancreas. When you eat, the pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream. This allows sugar to enter your cells, lowering the amount of sugar in your blood.

Understanding Prediabetes and Type 2 Diabetes

In Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas does not make enough insulin, and the body can't use insulin as well as it should. That means sugar cannot move into the cells, and it builds up in the blood. Prediabetes is a condition in which blood sugar is higher than normal, but it's not high enough to be considered Type 2 diabetes. People who have prediabetes are at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

As in your case, a person's blood sugar can be at a prediabetes level for quite some time. Although it doesn't carry all the risks of the full disease, prediabetes isn't harmless. The damage diabetes can do to your body may start in the prediabetes stage, particularly complications that affect the blood vessels, heart, and kidneys.

Lifestyle Changes to Reverse Prediabetes

The good news is that there are ways to reverse this condition. Certain lifestyle changes can lower your blood sugar level and decrease your risk of developing diabetes.

A man exercising outdoors Caption: Regular exercise can help lower blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

One key is getting to and maintaining a healthy weight. Being overweight plays a role in the development of Type 2 diabetes. When you are overweight, your body may need more insulin than it would at a healthy weight. The pancreas may struggle to produce enough insulin, leading to complications and an increased risk of diabetes. Eating a healthy diet that's rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains can aid in weight loss. Consider consulting with a dietitian for guidance on adopting a healthy eating plan.

Regular exercise is also crucial in maintaining a healthy weight and reversing prediabetes. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, or 30 minutes most days. If you monitor your activity through step counting, aim for 10,000-15,000 steps per day to stay at a lower weight. Regular physical activity can help your muscles take up and burn sugar without the need for insulin, reducing the strain on your pancreas.

Additionally, controlling high blood pressure and high cholesterol can lower your risk of developing diabetes. If you are a smoker, quitting smoking is highly recommended, as smoking worsens insulin resistance in the body.

Protecting Your Long-Term Health

Preventing prediabetes from progressing to Type 2 diabetes is vital for your long-term health. Type 2 diabetes can have severe effects on major organs in your body, including blood vessels, nerves, eyes, and kidneys. By maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and managing blood pressure and cholesterol levels, you can significantly decrease your risk of Type 2 diabetes and the potential complications associated with it.

Remember, your lifestyle choices have a significant impact on your health. By taking proactive measures now, you can reverse prediabetes and protect your long-term well-being.

— Dr. Michael Jensen, Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota

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