Dear Sports Medicine Counsel,
I went for a check up with my doctor and explained to him how I was constantly feeling tired, always thirsty, and my vision has gotten worse. For some reason he checked my blood sugar and said it was higher than normal and that I likely had pre-diabetes. How can that be? I thought you either had diabetes or you didn’t. Could you please explain this to me?
Dear Confused Pre-diabetic,
I understand your confusion, as most of the public is only aware of Type I and Type II diabetes. Your question can be answered by looking at Type II as a scale, rather than seeing it as black and white. You can imagine Type II diabetes as something you can start to develop and even reverse before it is too late.
First, I want to explain that Type II diabetes is caused by constantly high levels of blood glucose (which is the amount of sugar in your blood). Always having these high levels of blood glucose causes the tissues in your body to become numb to them, which causes your pancreas, the organ responsible for balancing your blood sugars, to work extra hard to produce enough insulin to combat the glucose levels. In the end, your pancreas begins to tire and can no longer produce enough insulin for the glucose in your blood and your body can no longer use this insulin to balance out the levels. This results in what is known as Type II diabetes (diabetes mellitus).
However, individuals such as you, who go for regular check-ups with their doctors, can have their blood tested to see if they are beginning this process. Luckily, your doctor saw the signs of diabetes and tested your blood, and now you are aware that you have unusually high levels of glucose. This is known as pre-diabetes because it comes before Type II diabetes. Some of the common signs of pre-diabetes include the sensation of always being thirsty, weight change (gain or loss), peeing frequently, lack of energy, and blurred vision.
Thankfully, this stage of diabetes is often reversible with healthy lifestyle changes.
The two most popular lifestyle changes that people such as yourself begin to do are simple: diet and exercise. Being conscious of what you are eating is the first step to reversing high blood sugar. Avoiding processed foods that are high in unnatural sweeteners (ex. high fructose corn syrup) is crucial, as well as avoiding foods with a high glycemic index (how much a certain food will raise your blood sugar) such as white potatoes, white bread, soda, and white pasta will help with lowering your blood sugar. I am not asking you to cut these foods completely from your diet, but to substitute them with healthier options such as sweet potatoes, whole wheat bread, and water. Being aware of what you are eating and how much sugar the food contains will aid in the reduction of your blood sugar levels.
Exercise is also popular in combating pre-diabetes. Increasing your physical activity each week from where you are now and eventually building up to 150 minutes of moderate intensity activities per week will reduce the amount of extra fat in your body, which will increase your insulin sensitivity. This means that your body will be able to use the insulin that is produced how it is normally supposed to. You do not need a gym to complete these activities; they can include a brisk walk, gardening, household chores, or even playing with children. Anything that will get your heart rate above normal is always good for you, as long as you are not completely out of breath (unless you already have physical training). If you are looking for any more advice or have any more follow up questions please feel free to contact a local kinesiologist in the Thunder Bay area. Good luck with everything!
Sports Medicine Column