Type 2 diabetes is a growing health risk, both in Canada and worldwide. Diabetes Canada estimates that diabetes and prediabetes affect at least 11 million Canadians.

Unfortunately, having diabetes can also lead to other health problems and complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that adults with type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of complications from COVID-19 infection.

Type 2 diabetes is quite well known, but prediabetes—not so much. But the more you know, the better your chances of stopping diabetes before it starts.

What is prediabetes?

Prediabetes is a condition that happens when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal. But not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis.

Unfortunately, some Canadians may not even know they have prediabetes.

Prediabetes doesn’t typically cause noticeable symptoms. But it does cause tissue damage that puts you at risk of diabetes-related complications later. And meanwhile, according to the CDC, prediabetes increases your risk of developing:

  • type 2 diabetes,
  • heart disease, and
  • stroke.

What are symptoms of prediabetes?

The main risks associated with prediabetes are:

  1. your blood sugar levels will continue to rise, and
  2. you’ll eventually meet the diagnostic criteria for type 2 diabetes.

If that happens, you might have symptoms like:

  • fatigued,
  • unexplained weight gain, and
  • increased urination (which will make you thirstier than you’re used to).

What are the health risks of prediabetes?

Your body has a system in place to keep your blood sugar (or blood glucose) within a healthy range. When your blood sugar rises (i.e. after a carb-heavy meal) your pancreas releases a hormone called insulin. It’s insulin that tells your cells to use that glucose for energy.

If you’re carrying excess weight and eating more than you need to, your metabolism works less efficiently.

“In prediabetes, many of the metabolic systems of the body are overloaded,” says Dr. David Jenkins. He’s the director of the Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Centre at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. “You end up taking glucose less readily into your muscles and other organs that need it after a meal. This is a condition called insulin resistance. Because of this, your pancreas releases more and more insulin to compensate.”

When you go without eating for several hours, even overnight:

  • liver puts out more glucose to fuel your body, and
  • pancreas in turn must secrete more insulin.

“This goes on until the pancreas can’t keep up as well,” Jenkins says. “So, it ‘gives up and you start to see your blood-glucose level rising.”

Prediabetes mimics what’s going on in your body during type 2 diabetes, but on a smaller scale. Because of this, many of the side-effects linked to diabetes can also occur if you have prediabetes.

Over time, a prediabetic state can damage your blood vessels, which raises your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. It can also damage your kidneys and eyesight, says Jenkins.

But fear not: Lifestyle changes can prevent (and reverse!) prediabetes. Even if you have prediabetes, lifestyle changes can also help you lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

How to prevent type 2 diabetes

Fortunately, you don’t need “health hacks” or pricey supplements to manage your risk of developing prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.

For Dr. Jenkins, the basics of a healthy lifestyle are the best defence. Here’s what to do:

1. Maintain a healthy body weight

Being overweight is the largest risk factor for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Research conducted at Leicester General Hospital in the United Kingdom found that even losing a small amount weight was enough, if you kept it off, to lower your risk. It might even reverse prediabetes.

2. Stay fit and active with exercise

Regular physical activity helps you maintain a healthy weight and builds muscle. This means you’ll have more muscle tissue to use up your blood glucose.

3. Eat a pre-diabetes diet

Load up on veggies. Basing your diet around plants and eating less meat may lower your risk, says Jenkins. And managing your calorie intake prevents weight gain that would increase your prediabetes risk.

4. Try to get enough sleep

Sleep is essential for your overall health. There’s even some evidence that it might manage your prediabetes risk, too.

Want to learn more about how to prevent diabetes?

Check out Lumino Health’s Type 2 diabetes prevention guide. It includes tips from experts to help you improve your lifestyle.

By catching prediabetes early, you can act fast to lower or eliminate the chance of developing type 2 diabetes. You’ll also put yourself on track to stay healthy for life.

This article is meant to provide general information only. It’s not professional medical advice, or a substitute for that advice.