There's no sugarcoating it: the figures don't look good. A recent study published in the open-access medical journal BMJ Open says that roughly a third of the English population over 16 had prediabetes - higher than normal blood glucose levels but not high enough to be diabetes - in 2011, compared with just over a tenth of the population in 2003. These figures get bleaker still when you factor in age, weight and socioeconomic status, but facts are facts - and the bottom line is that the most recent figures reveal that more than half of overweight people over the age of 40 have prediabetes. It's scary stuff.
GP Dr Lorna Powell told Gransnet: "The condition can lead to diabetes if left untreated. There are often no symptoms associated with prediabetes which makes it difficult to detect. Unfortunately this means most people are not aware of their rising blood sugar levels until they start to experience the symptoms of established diabetes."
Diabetes, in this case, is type 2 which develops "when the insulin-producing cells in the body are unable to produce enough insulin, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly" (Diabetes UK). Type 2 diabetes is the most common and accounts for 85%-95% of diagnoses. It's often linked to being overweight. Type 1 diabetes (no insulin production, dependent on injections), on the other hand, is not linked to lifestyle.
But if you do have prediabetes, or a risk of developing type 2 diabetes, there are things you can do to help and a few lifetstyle tweaks can really make a difference. So here, based on Dr Lorna's advice and gransnetters' own experiences are some tips and guidelines to follow.
Disclaimer: The guidelines listed are not intended as a substitute for medical advice. If you have concerns relating to prediabetes, see your doctor.
Dr Powell says: "Patients at risk of developing prediabetes should see their GP for a blood sugar test", because early detection "allows patients to make changes to their diet and lifestyle which can often lower their blood sugar levels and protect them from developing diabetes in the future".
The risk factors for prediabetes, which "are the same for diabetes", include:
However, Dr Lorna also highlights research published in the BMJ medical journal and summarises: "Some doctors and researchers feel that as so many people have slightly elevated blood sugars, identifying them could lead to unnecessary treatment and associated side effects. However, other doctors believe identifying people who are at risk of developing diabetes is essential as it allows monitoring and encourages appropriate lifestyle changes that can prevent diabetes."
If you're at risk and considering lifestyle changes, the first, most obvious, change to make is to lose excess weight. Losing weight can play a significant role in reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, losing 7% of your body weight can lower the risk by 58%.
"After following my doctor's advice and losing a stone... I have had [the latest] results of my glucose tolerance test. My results show 'no further action necessary'. I am in the normal range and no longer prediabetic." Flowerofthewest
"We are both still steadily losing weight; OH has lost two stone and I have lost one and a half and need two more pounds to get out of overweight BMI into normal. OH is not quite out of prediabetes but the level was down considerably on the last test." Mamie
"DH was diagnosed as prediabetic six months ago and told there was no going back. He came back really angry with the attitude of the practice nurse. He went back yesterday and has lost 18 lbs since last visit, his blood glucose is nearly normal, and he needs six months more on meds and then should be off them." GillT57
"DH managed to get himself out of the prediabetes bracket by losing a stone in weight and following a low GI [low-glycemic] diet." merlotgran
We all know that losing weight is usually a good thing, but it's a lot easier said than done. Motivation is important, and to get yourself in the right frame of mind, diabetes.co.uk recommends visualising how you'll look in smaller clothes, and focusing on the health benefits and increased confidence.
You could also try joining in our weigh in threads and posting about your experiences. Chatting to others is a good way of getting motivated, and sharing how much you've lost can spur you on to lose more.
Gransnet recently ran a Q&A with fitness expert for the over 50s, Julie Robinson (the founder of Move It or Lose It!). The webchat is packed with practical (and realistic) advice on exercising with problems such as reduced mobility, back pain or lack of motivation. Read all about it right here!
NHS UK advice is that there is "no special diet for people with diabetes", but NHS dieticians do give dietary advice that can be said to sum up their approach to type 2 diabetes, including: "eat carbohydrate foods with a low GI; avoid high GI foods, especially between meals; eat regular meals and healthy snacks; don't skip meals; keep hydrated and avoid binge-drinking".
Foods with a low glycemic index are broken down to glucose at a slower rate than foods with a high GI, so low GI foods, which include fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and unsweetened dairy produce, can help prevent spikes in blood sugar (diabetes.co.uk). Not all fruit and veg are low GI, so it's worth checking - there are plenty of lists/guides available online.
Flowerofthewest's weight loss program included "cutting down on treats and the consumption of fruit juice (water mainly now)". Fruit juice can have a surprisingly high sugar content, so again it's worth checking the label. The program also allowed "anything in moderation", including wine, but it is important to "exercise caution" (diabetes.co.uk) when drinking because alcohol lowers blood sugar to the point where hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can result.
However, it is hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) that anyone concerned with prediabetes needs to focus on, and gransnetters have several strategies for cutting down on sugar...
"The literature says added sugar is addictive (don't we all crave chocolate or biscuits?) so by cutting it out (either going cold turkey or gradually) you will lose the taste for sweet things." mollie
"I mix a pack of cinnamon with some sugar in a bowl and use one teaspoon on my porridge every morning - none in tea or coffee or practically anything else." granjura
"If cakes are your weakness then write this out in large letters and pin it in your kitchen: 'I WILL NOT BE DICTATED TO BY A CAKE'." Aka
And speaking of cake, a prediabetic diet doesn't have to be boring
Diabetes.co.uk give advice on how to lower the sugar content in cakes when baking, including replacing sugar with sweetener and flour with ground almonds.
"Good luck and don't despair. Prediabetes can be beaten, diabetes is there for life." Flowerofthewest
Disclaimer: The information on our health pages is only intended as an informal guide and should not be treated as a substitute for medical advice. Gransnet would urge you to consult your GP before you begin any diet if you're concerned about your weight, have existing health conditions and/or are taking medication.