Type 2 diabetes (T2DM) is when the body does not make or use insulin properly, which causes blood sugar to rise to unhealthy levels. With a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes comes a significantly increased risk of many other illnesses or comorbidities such as kidney disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, eye damage, hearing impairment, neuropathy, and more. According to a 2016 paper on the topic of comorbidities, 97.5% of patients had at least one comorbid condition in addition to T2DM and 88.5% had at least two. (1) This makes proactive prevention even more paramount. 

While there is no cure for type 2 diabetes, the good news is that this illness is largely preventable. In fact, the Harvard School of Public Health reports that 9 in 10 cases in the United States can be avoided by making healthy diet and lifestyle changes. (2) In addition, in order to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, you need to know about prediabetes.

How to prevent type 2 diabetes

Before someone is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, they often develop prediabetes, which is when insulin is elevated above normal levels but not high enough to diagnose type 2 diabetes. Awareness of prediabetes presents a great opportunity to create a comprehensive plan to get blood sugar under control before the development of type 2 diabetes.   

There are two types of tests that are used to measure blood sugar. Here are the diagnostic parameters associated with fasting blood sugar levels:  

  • Normal = below 100 mg/dL
  • Prediabetes = 100 to 125 mg/dL
  • Type 2 diabetes = 126 mg/dL or higher

The second test is the glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test which identifies the average blood sugar level over a three-month period. Here is the diagnostic range for the A1C test:

  • Normal = below 5.7%
  • Prediabetes = between 5.7% and 6.4%
  • Type 2 diabetes = 6.5% or higher on two separate tests

To reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, you need to know about prediabetes, which is when insulin is elevated above normal levels.

Why is knowledge of prediabetes so important?

Why is knowledge of prediabetes so important? It’s estimated that 70 percent of people with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime with 25 percent of people with prediabetes developing full-blown diabetes within three to five years. (3) What’s worse is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that while one in three Americans has prediabetes, 90% of them are unaware of their condition. (4)

Risks of type 2 diabetes

The first step toward reversing prediabetes and preventing type 2 diabetes is understanding the risks and then taking steps to address controllable issues. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has identified these key factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes: (5)

 According to a 2018 review, the authors state that for people with prediabetes, “the combination of diet and exercise is arguably the single most important factor that could halt the progression toward type 2 diabetes.” (6)

Type 2 diabetes: dietary and lifestyle prevention strategies 

Proactive prevention requires a comprehensive approach that includes diet, lifestyle, and dietary supplements. One of the best ways to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes is with diet.

Best diet to prevent type 2 diabetes 

Perhaps the most widely studied, health-promoting diet in the world is the Mediterranean diet so it’s not surprising that it has also been shown to be effective at reducing the risk of diabetes. A 2008 cohort study found there was an 83 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes among those who closely followed the Mediterranean diet. (7) The Mediterranean diet is also anti-inflammatory and helps reduce the risk of heart disease, which is also a risk factor for developing diabetes. (8) 

Can exercise prevent type 2 diabetes?

The answer to that question is a resounding yes! Many studies, including those featuring high-risk individuals, show that regular physical activity is associated with a significantly lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. (9) Exercise helps reduce risk directly by increasing insulin sensitivity and indirectly by encouraging weight loss and normal body weight. (10) The American Diabetes Association states that increasing physical activity can significantly reduce the incidence of type 2 diabetes, especially among high-risk individuals. (11)

Avoiding obesity can help prevent type 2 diabetes 

As mentioned previously, being overweight or obese is a significant risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes. Studies clearly demonstrate that weight loss is the number one way to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and that interventions to prevent diabetes should focus on weight loss and achieving normal body weight. (12)

Smoking and type 2 diabetes

If you smoke, consider quitting. Smokers are 30 to 40 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than non-smokers and smokers also have a much more difficult time controlling their diabetes compared to non-smokers. (13) Smoking not only increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but it also dramatically increases the risk of some of the key comorbidities mentioned previously such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other cardiovascular issues. (14) Fortunately, there are a lot of resources available to help you quit smoking such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Diabetes Canada.

Reduce alcohol intake to combat type 2 diabetes

The research regarding alcohol intake and increased risk of type 2 diabetes is somewhat confusing because much of the research shows that light to moderate alcohol intake can actually reduce risk. (15) However, the research is clear that excessive alcohol consumption and binge drinking significantly increases risk, especially for women. (16)

Dietary supplements can help with type 2 diabetes prevention

In addition to diet and lifestyle factors, there are certain herbs and nutrients that can be used to help support healthy blood sugar levels. According to a 2005 review, the dietary supplement ingredients showing the most promise when it comes to enhancing insulin sensitivity and controlling blood sugar include: (17)

Cinnamon is excellent in supporting healthy blood sugar levels and it also helps with some of the comorbid conditions.

The research regarding cinnamon, in particular, is strong. In one study involving adults with metabolic syndrome, cinnamon at a dosage of 250 mg twice a day for three months resulted in a decrease in fasting blood glucose, blood pressure, and body fat compared to placebo indicating that cinnamon not only helps prevent type 2 diabetes but also some of the comorbid conditions as well. (18)

The bottom line

In addition to paying attention to diet and lifestyle and possibly taking dietary supplements, patients should talk to their doctor about their risk and concerns regarding type 2 diabetes. The bottom line is simple: get an annual physical, get some advice from a healthcare professional, and get support from family and friends. When you are proactive, prevention is possible!

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  3. Hostalek U. Global epidemiology of prediabetes—present and future perspectives. Clinical Diabetes and Endocrinology. 2019;5:5.
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