March 11, 2003

The Best Weapon vs. Diabetes — Prevention

We are getting better and better at figuring out who is at risk for diabetes. And preventing is much easier than...

Diabetes now affects 16 million Americans; more are diagnosed every day. Many of these people will suffer from diabetes for the rest of their lives. The good news is that doctors are better than ever at assessing your risk of developing diabetes and helping you to prevent the disease. And preventing diabetes is much easier — and much healthier — than treating it.

If you understand your risk for diabetes, you will have the motivation you need to lose weight, get more exercise and make other lifestyle changes that can help prevent [it].

If you understand your risk for diabetes, you will have the motivation you need to lose weight, get more exercise and make other lifestyle changes that can help prevent diabetes. It is important to remember that diabetes is not inevitable, even for those with a family history of the disease.

According to researchers, writing in the January 2003 issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter, the major risk factors are:

  • Impaired fasting glucose (blood sugar): If the level of glucose in your blood after fasting measures between 110 and 125 mg/dL, you have impaired fasting glucose. While this does not mean that you have diabetes, it does mean that you are at high risk.
  • Age: Your risk of type 2 diabetes increases as you age, especially once you are over 40.
  • Weight: Eight out of ten people with diabetes are overweight.
  • Family history: Your risk of diabetes is higher if you have an immediate family member with the disease.
  • Race: For reasons not yet clear, African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans have higher than average rates of diabetes.
  • Inactivity: The less physically active you are, the greater your risk of developing diabetes.
  • Gestational diabetes: Women who have had diabetes during pregnancy are at greater risk to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life.

TheDoctor's expert on diabetes, Dr. Eli Ipp, Professor of Medicine at the UCLA School of Medicine, Head of the Section of Diabetes and Metabolism at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and Associate Director of its General Clinical Research Center, pointed out that while many of the above risk factors cannot be changed, concentrating on those than can be, can make a huge difference.

"Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of this disease, is in the process of becoming an epidemic," Dr. Ipp said, "and the best way to deal with this is prevention or delaying the onset, rather than treating with medications once the disease is diagnosed. Recent studies have demonstrated that as little as 30-40 minutes of exercise 5 times per week and 5-7% weight loss can reduce the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes by 50% in people who are susceptible to developing the disease.

"Certainly anybody who has an immediate family member with diabetes, especially if they are overweight or belong to a high-risk ethnic group, should ask their doctor about having their fasting blood glucose level checked or perhaps even a glucose tolerance test. Both can tell you if you need to make lifestyle changes aimed at preventing diabetes."

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