Type 2 diabetes mellitus is the most common type of diabetes in adults and a growing problem associated with the rise in obesity rates globally. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States¹ but can increase the risk of some of the more common causes of deaths, such as as heart disease, strokes and possibly even certain types of cancer. Type 2 diabetes is preventable with simple dietary and lifestyle changes being among the most effective ways to prevent it. The less common type 1 diabetes is not preventable.
In order to prevent type 2 diabetes, it is important to understand some of the factors in the development of this condition. It is well known that obesity is a major risk factor in type 2 diabetes. This means that people who are obese are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people of a normal body weight. The risk is also greater with being sedentary, irrespective of body weight. Age, family history and tobacco smoking are other significant risk factors that increase the chances of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus.
Ways to Prevent Diabetes
Although type 2 diabetes is preventable, it cannot always be prevented. The ways discussed below can greatly reduce the risk of developing diabetes and even reverse prediabetes. There is also some studies that suggest that these measures may be able to reverse type 2 diabetes in the early stages. However, in some people all of these measures may not be effective in preventing type 2 diabetes but should at least improve glucose control to a significant degree.
The majority of people living with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. Excessive body fat may affect the body’s response to insulin which is believed to be the way that obesity contributes to type 2 diabetes. Therefore losing weight should be a priority. Studies have show that losing just 5% of body weight can drastically reduce the risk of becoming a diabetic. It may also reverse prediabetes and possibly even early stage type 2 diabetes.
Despite the weight loss benefit of regular exercise, studies have shown that both aerobic and resistance training can lower blood glucose levels and even improve glucose control in the long term². Similarly regular exercise is of the key factors in preventing diabetes and reversing prediabetes. However, it is important to note that exercise needs to be almost daily and of a sufficient effort level as well as duration to be effective.
Eating a Diabetic Diet
Change in dietary habits is an essential part of preventing diabetes. Food choices need to be based on multiple factors, such as the calorie content, glycemic index (GI) as well as fiber content. In addition, the frequency of meals is equally important. Many of the dietary recommendations to prevent diabetes ar the same as those advised for managing diabetes. Therefore a diabetic diet is beneficial for non-diabetics wanting to prevent diabetes as it is for diabetics.
Read more on foods to avoid for diabetes.
Tobacco smoking is another known risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. Therefore smoking cessation is an important preventative measure against diabetes as well as its benefits in preventing a host of other serious conditions, like cancer. A study has shown that the diabetes risk increases slightly within the first 3 years after quitting smoking but subsequently drops. Risk levels return to non-smoker levels approximately 12 years after quitting smoking.
Metformin, a commonly used antidiabetic drug, may also be used as a preventative measure against diabetes. However, this is not an option considered for every person and does not negate the need for dietary and lifestyle changes. People who are younger than 60 years of age, who are obese, are impaired glucose tolerant (IGT), have a strong family history of diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol and/or triglyceride levels may be candidates for preventive drug prescriptions. However, this should be decided by a medical doctor.
Annual Blood Test
Although a blood glucose test in itself cannot prevent diabetes, it can indicate when prediabetes sets in. A significant dietary and lifestyle change at this point can prevent prediabetes from progressing into type 2 diabetes. Checking the blood glucose levels at least once a year will suffice. However, healthy dietary and lifestyle choices should not be delayed until prediabetes has been diagnosed. Starting these measures earlier and maintaining it has a host of health benefits beyond just diabetes prevention.
Read more on signs of prediabetes.
Diabetes Prevention Program
Structuring a suitable diabetes prevention program should be facilitated by a medical doctor as well as a dietitian. Other health care professionals may also play a role in developing such a program for individuals. However, the following steps may be useful in a diabetes prevention program. It is essential that a medical doctor is consulted before any of these preventative measures are commenced.
- Set a weight loss goal that is realistic and achievable within a 3 to 6 month period. It may not always be possible to lose 5% of the body weight within 6 months but it should nevertheless be set as a goal. Also identify the body weight range to be within a normal BMI (body mass index) and make it a long term goal.
- Change daily lifestyle even before starting a dedicated exercise regimen. Become more active within the house and at the workplace. Waking up and walking around for at least 5 minutes every 30 minutes can be a significant measure in increasing physical activity among sedentary people.
- Start an exercise regimen after getting approval from a medical doctor. This may first require a full physical and cardiovascular examination. The goal should be at least 150 minutes of exercise weekly (5 days of 30 minute workouts). The regimen should incorporate both aerobic and resistance training.
- Alter daily diet according to the recommended foods that are low in calories, low fat and low glycemic index (GI). Take care to prepare meals according to recommended dietary guidelines for diabetics. Commercially available diabetic-friendly foods, snacks and prepared meals may also be helpful.
- Reduce daily calorie intake to an optimal level to assist with weight loss without any health risks. The advice of a dietitian is necessary to determine this level. Moderately active adults may aim for a daily calorie intake level of approximately 1,500 to 1,800 calories but this should be confirmed by a medical professional.