The answer is an emphatic yes. Before we discuss the rationale for this answer, let’s back up and talk about the magnitude of the problem.
There is an epidemic of diabetes in the United States. It is estimated about 30 million people have diabetes in the U.S. There is also a condition called pre-diabetes, which is characterized by being overweight and having higher than normal blood sugar levels, but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes, through lab testing.
There are about 84 million people in the country who have pre-diabetes, which is about one out of every three adults. Pre-diabetes is a strong predictor for an individual’s future likelihood of developing diabetes. The National Institutes of Health, whose mission is to try to improve the overall health status of the American public, took a strong interest in the problem of pre-diabetes, and designed a research study to determine how best to combat this national problem. When a person has too much blood sugar circulating in their arteries, it causes damage to the blood vessels.
One of the reasons the NIH took such a strong interest is pre-diabetes and overt diabetes are among major contributors to the development of coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of mortality in our country and therefore if diabetes could be prevented, then it is conceivable death rates from coronary artery disease could be lowered.
The results of this research study were published in 2002 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The conclusion: people with pre-diabetes, who are able to lose about 7 percent of their body weight through healthy eating habits and exercise, dramatically reduced their chances of developing diabetes in the future.
Participants in the study reduced their weight by eating less fat and sugar, resulting in fewer calories. In addition, they exercised for a minimum of 150 minutes per week in order to lose about 7 percent of their body weight and to maintain that reduced weight. Additionally, some people in this study took a medication called metformin, which also reduced the risk of developing diabetes.
The American Diabetes Association recommends people undergo blood testing for pre-diabetes and diabetes if they are overweight, age 45 or older and have one or more of the following risk factors: being physically inactive, having a first-degree relative who has diabetes, having given birth to a baby that weighs more than 9 pounds, having high blood pressure, having polycystic ovary syndrome or having a history of cardiovascular disease.
As a result of the dramatically favorable findings of this research study, the NIH developed lifestyle modification programs to help assist people with the diet and exercise component of the diabetes prevention program. To find out more about these programs, visit cdc.gov and enter in the search box, “National Diabetes Prevention Program.”
Anyone who believes he or she may be in the category of pre-diabetic should speak with a physician about lab testing. If your physician does indicate you have pre-diabetes, ask him or her to make a referral to a professional who can
Dr. Mark Roth writes about medicine for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is an internal medicine physician with University Hospitals.