By Diana Weber, M.D., Medical Director, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico
November brings Thanksgiving celebrations, but it is also National Diabetes Month, with World Diabetes Day occurring on November 14. This year, the American Diabetes Association encourages us to take “The Big Step Up” against diabetes, inviting us to take our health into our own hands. We do this by becoming more aware of our risks for diabetes, becoming proactive in detecting diabetes, learning how to manage our health to prevent diabetes and thriving even if diagnosed with diabetes.
Why is diabetes awareness important?
One in three American adults is at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. We know that over 200,000 individuals in New Mexico have been diagnosed with diabetes. Yet equally concerning are the 587,000 people in New Mexico who have elevated blood sugar levels, which is called prediabetes. There are no symptoms of prediabetes, so most people are unaware that they have this condition. The danger is that prediabetes can start causing damage to your organs and can progress to type 2 diabetes.
What causes prediabetes?
While the causes of prediabetes are not entirely clear, contributing factors include:
- Having a first-degree relative with diabetes
- Not engaging in physical activity
- Being overweight, especially if your excess weight is around your abdomen
- Eating a diet high in processed foods and sweetened beverages
What are the risk factors for developing prediabetes?
People who are at higher risk for prediabetes include:
- Those over 40
- African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian Americans
- Women who have had diabetes during pregnancy
- People who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or cardiovascular disease
- Women who are diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome
The American Diabetes Association website contains a risk assessment tool — based on age, ethnicity, height, weight and activity level — that is easy to use and does not require any lab work. The results can help you understand your risk of developing diabetes and prediabetes.
How do I know if I have prediabetes?
It is very important to get screened for prediabetes by having your blood sugar (glucose) tested. If your glucose is elevated above normal, additional tests may be indicated. Even if you are not diagnosed with diabetes, elevated blood glucose or prediabetes is concerning. If you are diagnosed with prediabetes, it is important to have your blood glucose tested yearly to continue to screen for diabetes.
If you have prediabetes, can you prevent the progression to type 2 diabetes?
The good news is that you can take steps to return your blood sugar to normal and prevent diabetes from developing. Studies show that doing small things — like losing 7 percent of your body weight and exercising moderately — can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58% percent. Moderate exercise is defined as moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, for at least 150 minutes a week. If you walk for 30 minutes five days a week, you will hit this goal.
Healthy eating focuses on eating nutrient-dense food. That means lots of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in small amounts of food. Look for foods that are:
- Colorful, such as deeply colored vegetables and fruits.
- High in fiber, such as whole grains, brown rice and oatmeal.
- Not fried. Choose broiled, grilled or boiled foods instead.
- Seafood, lean meats, poultry and eggs.
It is easier to eat healthy foods if you plan ahead and keep healthy food around for snacks. The American Diabetes Association website has tips on healthy eating and even some recipes.
What are the take-home points about diabetes?
- Get screened for diabetes. If your glucose is elevated but you don’t have diabetes, you have an opportunity to intervene and change the course of the disease.
- Look at your risk factors and determine what you can change — become more active and make healthier food choices.
- For more information, you can go to:
- The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website at https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/healthy-eating-physical-activity-for-life/health-tips-for-older-adults.
- The American Diabetes Association website at http://diabetes.org.
If you have a health question that you would like to be considered in Ask a Health Care Professional, please email [email protected] BCBSNM will select questions that may appear. Questions will not be personally answered. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of BCBSNM. This column is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical care.