Are you one of the six million Canadians with pre-diabetes? Learn how to identify the key symptoms and warning signs of diabetes.
Prediabetes and diabetes: key symptoms and risk factors
Prediabetes is a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than they should be, but are not high enough to be considered diabetes. “Prediabetes is a buffer zone that precedes diabetes,” illustrates Dr. Stewart Harris, professor of family medicine at the University of Western Ontario’s Schulich School of Medicine. Your body starts to lose the metabolic ability to regulate blood sugar after meals and blood sugar levels rise,” adds the diabetes expert. A diet that causes blood sugar levels to rise and fall can lead to heart disease, cancer and even memory loss.
While there is no hard data to confirm the exact number, it is estimated that nearly 11 million Canadians over the age of 20 may have pre-diabetes, also known as impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glucose. If these people do not take steps to control their blood sugar now, they could be diagnosed with diabetes in the next few years.
Unfortunately, prediabetes often has no symptoms, so it can be very difficult to identify. According to health experts and organizations such as the Public Health Agency of Canada and Diabetes Quebec, you may indeed have pre-diabetes without any obvious signs or symptoms. However, the following risk factors can indicate whether you are at increased risk of developing prediabetes.
For more information on prediabetes, visit the Mayo Clinic website.
You are more likely to have prediabetes if you are in a high-risk group for type 2 diabetes
Researchers have identified certain people who are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. According to the Mayo Clinic, these people are also at higher risk for prediabetes. These factors include heredity and family history. If type 2 diabetes was diagnosed in your immediate family, your mother or father, your sibling, or your child, then your risk is higher.
Also, when it comes to family history, what many people don’t know is that your ethnic background also matters. You are more likely to develop prediabetes or type 2 diabetes if you are of Native American, South Asian, Asian, African or Hispanic descent.You can’t change your genes, but you can change the level of risk. Since diabetes is inherited, it makes sense to improve the health of everyone in your family. If the whole family makes better food choices and gets more physical activity, you will all be better able to prevent prediabetes and diabetes.
You have a sedentary lifestyle
If you are sedentary or don’t get much exercise, then your risk of developing diabetes and prediabetes is higher. Just by adding physical activity to your life, you reduce two risk factors for diabetes. On the one hand, exercise lowers insulin resistance and on the other hand, physical activity will also help you lose weight, being overweight being an additional risk factor that we will see a little later.
You are more likely to have prediabetes if you are over 40 years old
While it’s true that type 2 diabetes is being diagnosed in younger and younger people, the disease is still more common in people over 40. “That’s where the mass is found. That’s why we recommend routine screening for everyone, starting at age 40,” Dr. Harris says. The risk of prediabetes and diabetes increases as you age. In that sense, everyone should be tested for diabetes after age 40. But it may make sense to test even earlier if you fall into one or more of the high-risk groups. Your best weapon? Talk to your doctor about which diabetes tests are right for you.
You have a health problem related to pre-diabetes
Sometimes your body’s condition can indicate high blood sugar. If you are overweight, that is, if your body mass index is over 25, you may have prediabetes. In addition, abdominal obesity (belly fat) is associated with a high risk of diabetes. Weight gain increases insulin resistance, which causes high blood sugar. You may also have prediabetes if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or heart disease.
You’re one of the women at higher risk
While men are at higher risk for diabetes, some women are more likely to have diabetes and prediabetes than others. This group includes women with polycystic ovary syndrome, a female hormone imbalance that can cause irregular periods. Mothers who have given birth to babies weighing more than 4.1 kg or 9 pounds are also at risk. Pregnant women who have gestational diabetes, a diabetes specific to pregnancy, are seven times more likely to have type 2 diabetes than other moms.
Like people in other high-risk groups, you improve your chances by sticking to your diet and staying active. If you have prediabetes, medication to manage your blood sugar may be a benefit. Talk to your doctor about this.
You have symptoms of classic diabetes
“The vast majority of people with prediabetes have no symptoms,” Dr. Harris reminds us. But in some cases, people with high blood sugar may notice increased thirst, more frequent urination or unexplained fatigue. “Overall, prediabetes tends to be very subtle,” Dr. Harris says. Other symptoms to watch for include increased hunger, blurred vision and unexplained weight loss.
You have strange new dark spots on your skin
People with prediabetes may also develop a skin condition called acanthosis nigricans. It manifests as thick, dark patches on the body where there are folds. Acanthosis nigricans often appears on the neck, underarms, inside the elbows, behind the knees, and on the fingers.
You’re sleep deprived or don’t get enough sleep
People who sleep less than six hours a night are more likely to have prediabetes. Researchers believe this is a result of links between hormones, the nervous system and sleep disorders. Also, according to the Canadian Diabetes Care Guide, poor sleep quality can lead to weight gain, increased insulin resistance and reduced daytime functioning.
You eat high-fat, high-sugar foods
If you are a big fan of high-fat, sugary foods and eat them regularly, you are a potential victim of prediabetes and diabetes. “People don’t necessarily think that their comfort foods and regular foods put them at risk,” says Dr. Stewart Harris. But if you make a habit of eating fried foods, drinking sodas, drowning salad in dressing and having a second piece of cake, you increase your chances of gaining weight, which increases insulin resistance and your risk for diabetes.
You may also develop high cholesterol and high blood pressure, problems that are common in diabetes and associated with heart disease. Try eating your favorite foods in smaller portions.
Other risk factors for prediabetes
Abnormally high blood glucose levels in the past are also an additional risk factor for prediabetes and diabetes. Other risk factors for prediabetes and diabetes include high blood triglyceride levels and low levels of good cholesterol in the blood.
Always keep in mind that you may have prediabetes even without any of these signs or risk factors. The best way to be sure is to ask your doctor for a simple fasting blood glucose test. If your glucose level is between 6.1 and 6.9 mol/L, the prediabetes zone, your doctor may suggest further investigation with an oral glucose tolerance test.
The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends that everyone over the age of 40 be tested, or even earlier if you are in a high-risk group. If your doctor doesn’t mention it, bring it up. “You need to be proactive. That’s the best way to diagnose prediabetes,” Dr. Harris concludes.
Prediabetes: How can you best prevent and fight it?
If you have prediabetes, you can take these steps to help prevent it from turning into diabetes.
Lose weight and maintain a healthy weight
Are you overweight? Losing just 5 to 10% of your body weight can prevent or delay diabetes. But once you reach your goal weight, you’ll need to stay there. Keep trying, eat fewer calories and burn more, give yourself rewards, and remind yourself why you want to stay at a healthy weight.
Get more exercise
Try to exercise a few times a week. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to sweat it out at the gym every day, and short sessions can make a big difference. A few minutes of stationary cycling, brisk walking or climbing the stairs each day will make a difference. Do the physical activities you love: you may rediscover the sports you’ve put aside over the years!
Change bad habits as a family
There are two reasons why involving the whole family in a lifestyle change is beneficial: first, it’s easier to stick to healthier foods and exercise with a common menu and if you engage in similar activities. Second, type 2 diabetes is genetic. “If you change your lifestyle as a family, the better,” he says, adding in the same breath that diabetes is occurring at younger and younger ages and good habits are formed early.”
Get enough sleep and optimize your sleep
New research shows that people who typically sleep less than six hours a night increase their insulin resistance. This means that the glucose levels in their tired bodies are not well controlled. Try to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep. Certain habits, including looking at a computer screen and drinking alcohol, can also interfere with quality sleep.
Monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels
With prediabetes, it’s more important than ever to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels within acceptable limits. High cholesterol and high blood pressure can lead to cardiovascular disease. Your doctor will probably want to monitor your cholesterol and blood pressure and prescribe medication to control them. But lifestyle choices like healthy eating and exercise will help keep these levels in a normal range.
Take medication for low blood sugar
Some medications used to treat diabetes by lowering blood sugar can also help with prediabetes. “They are very effective in preventing or delaying the development of diabetes,” Dr. Harris says. Your doctor may suggest a medication if your lifestyle is not the only factor in your blood sugar.
Test your blood sugar regularly
Now that you know your blood sugar is higher than normal, be vigilant. That way, you can see right away if your changes are working. By practicing all of these steps, you’ll significantly reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. “Once you have diabetes, it’s for life. But if you have prediabetes, there’s still time to make a difference,” Dr. Harris concludes.
Choose these foods to help prevent pre-diabetes and diabetes
You can also make food choices that will better protect you from insulin resistance. Your main goal will be to eat foods that are slowly digested and high in fiber, which will regulate your blood sugar and, therefore, insulin. The second is to replace saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats from foods such as fish, nuts and olive oil, which may increase the sensitivity of your cells to insulin.
Eat whole grains, legumes and other high-fiber carbohydrates
Foods like whole-wheat pasta and barley are slow to digest, so they don’t cause blood sugar spikes. Unfortunately, we don’t eat enough of them. The same is true for legumes, such as chickpeas, soybeans and lentils. Data collected from the nearly 3,000 subjects in the Framingham Offspring Study indicate that subjects who consumed the most whole grains, and thus fiber, were significantly less likely to develop insulin resistance than those who consumed the least.
Choose olive, nut and avocado oils
Rich in monounsaturated fats (Omega-9), these foods are good for you, provided you eat them in moderation. Not only do these fats not raise blood sugar levels, they stabilize them. Unlike saturated fats, which increase the risk of insulin resistance, unsaturated fats improve insulin sensitivity.
In a scientific study, Finnish researchers put 31 subjects with high blood sugar on a diet high in saturated fat and then put them on a diet emphasizing monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. At the end of the study, the subjects’ blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity improved significantly.
Fill up on spinach, legumes, fish, and other magnesium-rich foods
Studies indicate that magnesium deficiency goes hand in hand with insulin resistance. The risk of diabetes 2 is much lower in people who eat a lot of foods rich in this mineral, especially legumes and leafy vegetables. Helpful hint: cooking wastes magnesium, so eat your vegetables raw as often as possible.
Choose dark chocolate, green tea and other flavonoid-rich foods
If you like dark chocolate, you’ll be happy to know that it’s good for you. In two recent studies, Italian researchers found that subjects who ate 100 grams of dark chocolate a day had a significant decrease in insulin resistance compared to those who ate white chocolate. The researchers believe that this protective effect is due to the flavonoids in cocoa, which are both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
Dark chocolate is also rich in chromium, a mineral that helps increase insulin sensitivity. Green tea, wine, blueberries, apples with their skin, onions, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, spinach and asparagus are also rich in flavonoids.
Avoid these foods to help prevent pre-diabetes and diabetes
When you eat too many French fries, scones, sugary cereals and other foods that raise your blood sugar, your body produces insulin to take glucose out of your blood and feed your cells. Over time, the influx of insulin depletes its receptors, making them less effective. As a result, insulin becomes less effective: more and more insulin is needed to produce the same results. This is called insulin resistance.
Too much insulin raises blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and can even promote the development of certain cancers. It also leads to weight gain and, in the long run, to hyperglycemia, a condition that carries its own risks. Low and moderate insulin resistance can be detected by a blood test. In more advanced stages, it can leave dark marks on the skin of the neck, elbows, knees or knuckles. Here are foods to avoid to keep your blood sugar from rising.
Ban refined sugars and grains
Because white flour products, sugary foods, most rice cereals and other “white” foods are low in fiber, they are quickly digested and therefore raise blood sugar levels and insulin production. Since they are also low in nutrients and high in calories, they promote weight gain, which in turn increases the risk of insulin resistance.
Replace these foods with whole grain breads and cereals, and juice with fresh fruit. Instead of soda, have plain soda with a slice of lime. And beware of packaged snacks.
Exclude fatty meats, full-fat dairy products and foods that contain trans fats
Trans fats in many processed foods, as well as saturated fats in meat and cheese, increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease, which is already high in those with insulin resistance. In addition, they may contribute directly to this condition and prevent the body from producing adequate amounts of insulin. Saturated fats are stored in cells as triglycerides, which are harmful fats. When they accumulate in insulin-producing cells, they can actually destroy them. In addition, Swedish researchers have shown that insulin sensitivity can be improved by replacing saturated fats with olive oil or other similar fats, provided that the calories they provide do not exceed 37% of the total daily caloric intake.
Forget about junk food
In a 15-year study of 3,000 young adults at the University of Minnesota, researchers found that those who ate junk food more than twice a week gained an average of 4.5 kilograms and their insulin resistance increased by 104%. Fast food products are usually high in hydrogenated oils, refined starches or sugar. In addition, the portions are disproportionate. Therefore, put the pedal to the metal on these foods that experts rightly call junk.
How do you know if you have diabetes?
These symptoms may help you determine if you have diabetes. That said, you need to see your doctor and get a physical exam. In its early stages, when it can be more easily managed, diabetes is often sneaky and has few symptoms, but still causes damage to the body. However, if you pay attention to the subtle signs, you can intervene before the disease becomes too serious.
Recognize the main symptoms of diabetes
Although the symptoms of diabetes are quite subtle in the early stages, you can still spot some of them. They become more obvious as the disease progresses. Here are some of the symptoms you should watch for more closely:
- Excessive thirst
- Increased appetite
- Frequent urination
- Blurred vision
- Frequent infections
- Tingling in hands and feet
- Sexual dysfunction
Get a blood test prescribed by your doctor to test for diabetes
However, you should see a doctor for a complete evaluation of your condition. Blood tests using machines are not as accurate as tests that are ordered by your doctor. If your results are negative but you have a family history, discuss this with your doctor. If your results are negative, but you have a family history, discuss it with your doctor and he or she may suggest that you see your doctor more regularly to monitor your condition and health more closely.