What is Prediabetes, and How Can it Be Reversed?

Written by Hayley Esdaile on

Prediabetes can lead to regular diabetes when not caught or treated early on but can be successfully reversed with several healthy lifestyle changes.

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Prediabetes occurs when your body stops processing sugar generally as it should. That causes sugar to build up in the bloodstream, which is why your blood sugar level gets higher when you have prediabetes and diabetes.

Continue reading to learn more about prediabetes and about the many ways you can reverse this potentially serious health condition.

What Is Prediabetes?

Prediabetes is a condition in which your blood sugar level is higher than it should be but not relatively high enough to be diabetes. Having a fasting blood sugar level of 100 to 125 mg/dL means you have prediabetes. A level of 99 mg/dL or lower is normal, and a level of 126 mg/dL or higher means you have diabetes.

According to the CDC, more than 84% of people with prediabetes have no idea they have this condition. If you have prediabetes, your body may have already started to experience some long-term damage. Diabetes can affect your heart, kidneys, and blood vessels. It can also lead to many complications, including heart disease, nerve damage, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.

See your doctor right away if you think you have prediabetes so you can be screened for it. If you have prediabetes, you can immediately make lifestyle changes to become healthier and reverse your symptoms.

What Are Signs and Symptoms Of Prediabetes?

Prediabetes doesn’t usually cause apparent signs and symptoms, which is why many people with this condition don’t know they have it. The best thing you can do to find out if you have prediabetes is to see your doctor regularly. Your doctor can check your fasting blood sugar level to see if you have prediabetes.

Some people with diabetes develop darkened or yellowed skin on certain parts of their bodies. Check your armpits, elbows, knees, back, knuckles, and sides of the neck for discoloration. Prediabetes may also cause one or more small skin growths, or skin tags, in these same areas.

illustrated examples of symptoms

What Causes Prediabetes?

Prediabetes occurs when your body stops processing sugar generally as it should. That causes sugar to build up in the bloodstream, which is why your blood sugar level gets higher when you have prediabetes and diabetes.

Insulin is the hormone that moves blood sugar into cells in your muscles and tissues, where it can get used for energy. Insulin gets made by your pancreas.

When you have prediabetes, your pancreas makes higher amounts of insulin. It does this to try to move all the excess blood sugar into your cells. However, high amounts of sugar can overwork the pancreas. That can make it difficult for the pancreas to produce enough insulin to move blood sugar into your cells.

Sometimes your cells can even become resistant to insulin and won’t allow sugar into them. Both of the above scenarios can cause sugar to build up in the bloodstream. That can lead to prediabetes or diabetes.

What Are Risk Factors For Prediabetes?

Anyone can develop prediabetes, which is why it’s essential to practice a healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk for prediabetes and many other illnesses, diseases, and chronic conditions.

Risk factors for prediabetes include:

  • Poor nutrition and diet. Eating high amounts of sugar regularly can overload the pancreas and lead to very high blood sugar levels. Sugars get added to many processed foods, including condiments, frozen meals, and sweets. They also get added to drinks, including energy drinks, sodas, and fruit juices.
  • Being overweight or obese. Having lots of fat tissue can prevent your organs from working usually and can lead to insulin resistance.
  • Lack of exercise. Being inactive can prevent your body from using sugar for energy. That can lead to a high blood sugar level and weight gain.
  • Being 45 years of age or older. People who are 45 years old and older are more likely to get prediabetes than younger people.
  • Family history of diabetic conditions. Having family members with diabetes can increase your risk of getting prediabetes or diabetes.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). People who have sleep apnea are more likely to get prediabetes than those without sleep apnea.
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a hormone condition that affects women. Women with PCOS are more likely to get prediabetes than women without PCOS.
  • Cigarettes and tobacco products get made with lots of harmful chemicals. These chemicals can damage your cells in ways that prevent them from responding to insulin.
  • Race and ethnicity. Black, Hispanic, Asian American, and Asian American people are more likely to get prediabetes than other races.

See your doctor regularly to be screened for prediabetes if you meet one of the above risk factors.

How Do You Reverse Prediabetes?

Prediabetes can get reversed if you make specific lifestyle changes that improve your overall health. Diet and exercise are some of the most critical factors affecting your risk for prediabetes and many other health problems.

Improve Your Nutrition

Eat whole, healthy “one-ingredient” foods that contain no sugars or unnatural ingredients. Sugars and preservatives can often lead to weight gain and high blood sugar levels.

Stop eating frozen meals, fast food, baked goods, sugary drinks, and processed meats like sausage and bacon. All these foods have lots of sugars and ingredients that may contribute to prediabetes. Start eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains, seeds, nuts, sources of lean protein, and low-fat dairy.

Eat Smaller Portions

Reduce the amount of food you eat in one sitting. Many Americans eat large portion sizes, especially those who eat out regularly at restaurants. Ask your doctor or nutritionist about the portion sizes you should be eating. People who exercise a lot may need to eat more food than those who are less active.

Exercise Regularly

Start exercising several days a week. Exercise offers lots of health benefits even if you do not have prediabetes. Exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight and improve the way your body uses sugar and insulin.

If you don’t exercise, start small with walking and progress from there. As you start feeling better and more energetic, you can try other activities, including biking, hiking, swimming, running, and strength training. If you already exercise, ask a fitness trainer about the best ways to increase the intensity of your workouts. That could help you get better results in terms of fat loss and muscle building.

Stop Smoking

Stop smoking cigarettes and all other tobacco products. Your body and lungs will start healing and repairing themselves the moment you stop smoking. This can reduce your risk for lung disease, cancer, prediabetes, and other smoking-related health problems.

Talk to your doctor about smoking cessation treatments if you need help quitting or if you’ve tried quitting several times in the past without success. Your doctor can recommend the best smoking cessation treatments or prescribe medication that can help you quit for good.

Receive Treatment For OSA and PCOS

OSA and PCOS are risk factors for prediabetes, just as prediabetes is a risk factor for OSA and PCOS. If you have one or both of these conditions, receiving treatment for them may help reverse prediabetes.

Also, it’s vital to know that smoking and excess weight are risk factors for OSA. High insulin is a risk factor for PCOS. Quitting smoking, losing excess weight, and reducing high insulin can effectively treat OSA and PCOS. That may then lead to the reversal of prediabetes.

Can Prediabetes Be Prevented?

Prediabetes may get prevented by practicing the same lifestyle behaviors that can reverse this condition. Educate yourself about prediabetes risk factors, especially if it runs in your family. Then, evaluate your lifestyle to learn where you can make positive changes to avoid prediabetes.

Healthy lifestyle changes can do much more than just prevent prediabetes. Certain healthy behaviors can increase your energy and metabolism. They can improve your mood and boost your confidence. They can also strengthen your immune system and make you less likely to get sick.

If you need to make several lifestyle changes to prevent prediabetes, start making small, gradual changes. That can prevent you from becoming overwhelmed or discouraged. For example, start with eating smaller food portions and taking short walks in your neighborhood. Then, gradually start cutting out sugary and processed foods and increase the intensity of your workouts.

It can sometimes take several months or years to adopt a healthy lifestyle, which is entirely normal. Ask your doctors for help along the way, as they can offer sound advice and tips on nutrition and fitness. They can also treat any persistent health problems you may still be dealing with.

Diabetes Treatments At Lompoc Valley Medical Center

Lompoc Valley Medical Care is home to a large team of board-certified medical doctors who can treat nearly every health condition, including prediabetes and diabetes. Visit our provider page today to make an appointment and learn more about our many available healthcare services for you and your family.

Hayley Esdaile
Written By Hayley Esdaile , Registered Dietitian
Hayley Esdaile is a Registered Dietitian at Lompoc Valley Medical Center. She works closely with both inpatient and outpatient services and is also involved in nutrition education outreach. Hayley holds a bachelor's degree in Nutrition Science with a concentration in Dietetics from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.