The Warning Signs of Prediabetes and How to Reverse Them

October 04, 2021

The Warning Signs of Prediabetes and How to Reverse Them

In this article:

  • What does a prediabetes diagnosis really mean?
  • The symptoms of prediabetes
  • Am I at risk of developing prediabetes?
  • How to reverse prediabetes

What does a prediabetes diagnosis really mean?

To define what "prediabetes" really means, let's first review how diabetes affects the body. Diabetes is a condition in which blood glucose, or blood sugar levels, are too high. This occurs because the body's cells start to form resistance to a hormone produced by the pancreas called insulin, which helps carry glucose from food to your cells for energy. Insulin resistance is very problematic because the body uses glucose as its main source of energy. When there is too much glucose in the blood, it can lead to serious health conditions such as stroke, heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, kidney disease, nerve damage (neuropathy), retinopathy (an eye condition), and more.

There are three main types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes can begin in early childhood and the causes are unknown. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the nerve cells within the pancreas, stunting its production of insulin. Type 2 diabetes can develop at any age and is usually attributed to lifestyle habits. It is characterized by the body’s inability to produce insulin or to produce enough insulin. The third type, called gestational diabetes, affects some women during pregnancy and often ceases once the child has been born. Of the three, prediabetes is only a precursor to type 2 diabetes.

The name prediabetes can sound a little bit scary or intimidating. Essentially, those with prediabetes typically have high blood sugar levels, but not high enough to be classified as diabetic. Prediabetes can be diagnosed through various tests to measure fasting blood sugar levels such as:

  • Hemoglobin A1C tests (HbA1c)
  • Fasting plasma glucose tests
  • Oral glucose tolerance tests (OGTT)
  • Random plasma glucose test

Prediabetes does not always come with clear symptoms or warning signs. In fact, most people with prediabetes are not even aware of their condition. Though a prediabetes diagnosis can serve as an opportunity to make healthy choices and prevent diabetes from getting worse, it can also cause serious symptoms on its own if not managed. Thus, frequent testing is critical.

The Symptoms of Prediabetes

The symptoms of diabetes and prediabetes have some overlap, but they aren't exactly the same. In some cases, people who are prediabetic have very mild, often unnoticed symptoms, or they don't experience any symptoms at all. In other cases, however, they can be much more severe. Symptoms of all severity can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes and thus should never be taken lightly. The possible symptoms of prediabetes or warning signs that you may develop diabetes include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Excess hunger
  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Darkened skin on the neck, armpits, elbows, knees, and/or knuckles (also called acanthosis nigricans)

Am I at risk of developing prediabetes?

Certain lifestyle and inherited risk factors may put you at risk of developing prediabetes and/or diabetes. These factors include:

  • Obesity: Excess body weight is one of the primary risk factors for prediabetes.
  • Waist size: Where your weight is located may also increase one's risk of developing diabetes. Studies show that large waist sizes may be associated with increased insulin resistance. According to the study, men with waists larger than 40 inches and women with waists larger than 35 inches are at an increased risk of diabetes.
  • Diet: Diet, which often goes hand in hand with weight, can also increase or reverse one's risk of prediabetes. Eating a diet high in processed foods, sugar, and fat is associated with a higher risk of prediabetes. Conversely, diabetic-friendly diets high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and healthy fats are associated with a lower risk.
  • Inactivity: Active lifestyles are associated with a decreased risk of diabetes due to weight control, fat and sugar burning, and insulin sensitivity.
  • Age: After age 45, the risk of prediabetes increases.
  • Race or ethnicity: According to a 2020 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people of certain races and ethnicities have an increased risk of diabetes. Although it's unclear why, the highest percentage of existing diabetes cases were among American Indians and Alaskan Natives. Historically, non-Hispanic Blacks, people of Hispanic origin, and Pacific Islanders have had higher rates of prediabetes and diabetes as opposed to White and Asian Americans.
  • Family history: Having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes can also increase your risk of prediabetes. This is because some genes can make you more susceptible to the risk factors listed above such as weight gain, waist size, and race.
  • Gestational diabetes: If you had gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant), both you and your child are at higher risk of developing prediabetes.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome: Women with PCOS are also at a higher risk of prediabetes.
  • Sleep: Unhealthy sleeping habits, like those caused by sleep apnea or insomnia, may cause increased insulin resistance.
  • Smoking: Smoking may also increase insulin resistance.

If any of these factors apply to you, consider speaking with a healthcare professional to schedule regular blood sugar tests. Tracking blood glucose levels can be a useful indicator of prediabetes and diabetes risk.

You can also take this free online prediabetes risk assessment (created by the CDC and the American Diabetes Association) to discover your individual risk.

How to Reverse Prediabetes

Luckily, a prediabetes diagnosis can help you kick your diabetes prevention program into gear. There are certain lifestyle factors in your control and they may be able to help you decrease your risk of diabetes and prediabetes. According to the CDC these include:

  • Eat a lean and clean diet: Dietary choices can make a huge difference in your weight, blood glucose and triglyceride levels. Eat fried foods, sugary beverages, carbs, and red meat in moderation and instead, choose fruits with complex carbs, lean meats such as chicken and turkey breast, vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil, and avocado. Unsweetened protein supplements such as grass-fed gelatin and marine collagen can also provide filling, low-calorie protein to help you feel fuller longer, without any of the extra sugar.
  • Increased physical activity: Regular physical activity, at least 150 minutes a week of brisk walking or biking, for example, can improve many of the risk factors associated with diabetes. The CDC has created a National Diabetes Prevention Program filled with sustainable exercise routines to help you stick to a healthy exercise plan.
  • Weight loss: Losing as little as 5-10% of body fat can improve blood sugar levels and help to stop prediabetes in its tracks. Oftentimes, stubborn belly fat (the kind that can increase one's risk of diabetes) is the first to go with regular cardio exercise. When it comes to diabetes prevention, a little weight loss goes a long way!
  • Quit smoking: Help to improve your general wellness while reversing prediabetes by stopping the use of tobacco products. The CDC has a wealth of resources on the rates and risks associated with smoking, as well as plans to help you quit for good.
  • Try an omega-3 supplement: Studies show that getting enough omega-3s may help shrink your waistline when combined with other healthy lifestyle changes, reducing some of your risk factors of prediabetes. Rather than fish oil pills, try vegan omega-3 supplements to strengthen the heart while avoiding stinky fish burps.
  • Get more sleep: If you suffer from sleep apnea, insomnia, or any other condition that is getting between you and a good night's rest, consider treating it sooner rather than later. Not only will this decrease the amount of stress placed on your body, but it will also decrease your risk of prediabetes.
  • Drink plenty of water: Drinking your daily recommended amount of water, about 15.5 cups a day for men and 11.5 cups a day for women, can help you control blood glucose levels and may improve insulin resistance.

Don't wait on a diagnosis to kickstart your diabetes prevention plan. By following the simple and oftentimes FREE lifestyle changes listed above, you can take hold of the reins and steer clear of prediabetes, before it has you corralled.

Summary Points

  • When there is too much glucose in the blood, it can lead to serious health conditions such as stroke, heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, kidney disease, nerve damage (neuropathy), retinopathy (an eye condition), and more
  • The possible symptoms of prediabetes include increased thirst, excess hunger, frequent urination, fatigue, blurred vision, darkened skin
  • Active lifestyles are associated with a decreased risk of diabetes due to weight control, fat and sugar burning, and insulin sensitivity
  • Unsweetened protein supplements such as grass-fed gelatin and marine collagen can provide satiating, low-calorie protein to help you feel fuller longer, without any extra sugar
  • Omega-3s may help shrink your waistline when combined with other healthy lifestyle changes, reducing some of your risk factors of prediabetes




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