We know that diabetes is a major problem in the U.S., and prediabetes is not less of an issue — but it’s also a wakeup call that can jolt someone into action. Prediabetes symptoms may go unnoticed, but the first sign is that you no longer have normal blood sugar levels. A prediabetes diagnosis is a warning sign to people who will develop diabetes if they don’t make serious lifestyle changes.
The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention National Diabetes Statistics Report says that 37 percent of United States adults older than 20 years and 51 percent of those older than 65 exhibit prediabetes symptoms. When applied to the entire population in 2012, these estimates suggest that there are nearly 86 million adults with prediabetes in the United States alone. Furthermore, the International Diabetes Federation projects an increase in prevalence of prediabetes to 471 million globally by 2035. (1)
Luckily, research shows that lifestyle intervention may decrease the percentage of prediabetic patients who develop diabetes from 37 percent to 20 percent. (2)
What Is Prediabetes?
Prediabetes is a condition defined as having blood glucose levels above normal but below the defined threshold of diabetes. It’s considered to be an at-risk state, with high chances of developing diabetes. Without intervention, people with prediabetes are likely to become type 2 diabetics within 10 years. For people with prediabetes, the long-term damage to the heart and circulatory system that is associated with diabetes may have started already. (3)
There are several ways to diagnose prediabetes. The A1C test measures your average blood glucose for the past two to three months. Diabetes is diagnosed at an A1C of greater than or equal to 6.5 percent; for prediabetes, the A1C is between 5.7 percent and 6.4 percent.
Fasting plasma glucose is a test that checks your fasting (not eating or drinking for at least 8 hours) blood glucose levels. Diabetes is diagnosed at fasting blood glucose of greater than or equal to 126 milligrams per deciliter; for prediabetes, fasting glucose is between 100 to 125 milligrams per deciliter.
The oral glucose tolerance test is a two-hour test that checks your blood glucose levels before and two hours after you drink a specific sweet drink. It explains how your body processes glucose. Diabetes is diagnosed at a two-hour blood glucose of greater than or equal to 200 milligrams per deciliter; for prediabetes, the two-hour blood glucose is between 140 and 199 milligrams per deciliter. (4)
Prediabetes is not a new condition; it’s a new name for a disorder that doctors have known about for a long time. A prediabetes diagnosis is a clear way of explaining that a person has higher than normal blood glucose levels and is in danger of developing diabetes, plus at a higher risk of chronic kidney disease and heart disease. When people understand that they ‘e prediabetic, they’re more likely to make lifestyle changes that can reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which is why noticing prediabetes symptoms is vital. (5)
The rationale behind the treatment of prediabetes is the prevention of diabetes development, prevention of consequences of diabetes and prevention of the consequences of prediabetes itself. Several research studies have displayed the success of interventions designed for treatment of prediabetes with sustained reduction in the incidence of diabetes. (6)
There are often no prediabetes symptoms and signs, and the condition can go unnoticed. People with prediabetes may experience some diabetes symptoms, such as feeling very thirsty, urinating often, feeling fatigued, having blurred vision and urinating often.
Sometimes people with prediabetes develop acanthosis nigricans, a skin condition that causes one or more areas of the skin to darken and thicken. Evidence shows that acanthosis nigricans is often associated with hyperinsulinemia and may indicate an increased risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus. (7)
Some people with prediabetes experience reactive hypoglycemia two to three hours after a meal. Hypoglycemia is also called low blood glucose or low blood sugar. It occurs when the level of glucose in your blood drops below normal. For many people with diabetes, that means a level of 70 milligrams per deciliter or less. Hypoglycemia is one of the more common prediabetes symptoms and a sign of impaired insulin metabolism indicative of impending development of diabetes. (8)
Hypoglycemia symptoms tend to come on quickly, and they can vary from person to person — but common symptoms include feeling shaky or jittery; sweating; feeling sleepy or tired; becoming pale, confused and hungry; and feeling dizzy or lightheaded.
Several studies have shown an association of increased risk of chronic kidney disease with prediabetes. Research shows that many people with prediabetes or diabetes were found to have state 3 or 4 chronic kidney disease. A 2016 study published in Diabetes Medicine found that prediabetes is modestly associated with an increase in chronic kidney disease risk. Chronic kidney disease screening among people with prediabetes and aggressive management of prediabetes in those with chronic kidney disease are recommended by researchers. (9)
7 Natural Treatments for Prediabetes Symptoms
1. Lose Excess Pounds
Several studies have shown the efficacy of lifestyle interventions in the prevention of diabetes with a relative risk reduction of 40 percent to 70 percent in adults with prediabetes. Research shows that lifestyle interventions that focus on weight loss, such as increasing physical activity and making dietary changes, can significantly reduce the risk of developing diabetes. One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that after implementing these lifestyle changes, patients had a 58 percent diabetes risk reduction. (10)
Another study conducted at George Washington University showed that for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) decrease in weight, the risk of developing diabetes in the future was reduced by 16 percent. (11) By reducing saturated fat intake, increasing fiber intake and exercising at least four hours per week, patients experienced positive results.
2. Follow a Diabetic Diet Plan
In your quest to lose weight and avoid prediabetes symptoms, you need to follow a diabetic diet plan and choose foods that help balance blood sugar levels. Choose meals that are high in protein, fiber and healthy fats. High-protein foods include wild salmon, grass-fed beef and free-range eggs. Foods that are high in fiber include berries, figs, peas, Brussels sprouts, acorn squash, beans, flaxseeds and quinoa. These foods support detoxification and help you maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Healthy fats, like coconut oil and avocados, benefit your blood glucose levels and help you reverse prediabetes symptoms. (12)
A very important component of a diabetic diet is staying away from sugar and reducing your carbohydrate intake. Refined sugar spikes blood glucose levels. Sugar from soda, fruit juice and other sugary beverages enters the bloodstream rapidly and can cause extreme elevations in blood glucose. Instead of using sugar, use stevia or raw honey in moderation.
Chromium is needed by the body in small amounts for healthy functioning. Trivalent chromium supplements can be used to maintain proper carbohydrate and lipid metabolism, reduce carbohydrate cravings and appetite, prevent insulin resistance and glucose intolerance, and regulate body composition. Dietary deficiency of chromium leads to disturbances in carbohydrate metabolism, increases risk of glucose intolerance and insulin resistance, and may lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes. (13)
Magnesium deficiency is one of the leading nutrient deficiencies in adults, with an estimated 80 percent being deficient in this vital mineral. A magnesium deficiency can lead to other nutrient deficiencies, trouble sleeping and hypertension, all risk factors for developing prediabetes symptoms.
A 2014 study published in Diabetes Care found that magnesium supplements were beneficial in offsetting the risk of developing diabetes among those at high risk. Compared with those with the lowest magnesium intake, those with the highest intake had a 37 percent lower risk of incident metabolic impairment, and higher magnesium intake was associated with a 32 percent lower risk of incident diabetes. (14) You can also get magnesium from green leafy vegetables, avocados, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Cinnamon is a rich botanical source of polyphenolics that has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine and has been shown to affect blood glucose and insulin signaling. Research has shown that cinnamon has the power to help reverse diabetes naturally. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that cinnamon intake, either as whole cinnamon or as cinnamon extract, resulted in a statistically significant lowering in fasting blood glucose. (15)
6. Coenzyme Q10
CoQ10 is an antioxidant that protects cels from the effects of aging and helps treat inflammatory health conditions like diabetes. Low-grade inflammation and oxidative stress are the key factors in the development of diabetes and its complications, and CoQ10 has a vital role in reducing these dangerous health risks.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Diabetes and Metabolic Disorders found that fasting plasma glucose and hemoglobin A1C levels were significantly lower in the group that took CoQ10 supplements. (16)
Ginseng is an herb that works as a natural appetite suppressant. Other ginseng benefits include its ability to boost your metabolism and help you burn fat at a faster rate. A study done at the Tang Center for Herbal Medicine Research in Chicago measured the anti-diabetic and anti-obesity effects of Panax ginseng berry in adult mice. After five days of ingesting 150 milligrams of ginseng berry extract, the mice had significantly lower fasting blood glucose levels. After day 12, the glucose tolerance in the mice increased, and overall blood glucose levels decreased by 53 percent. The body weight of the mice also decreased as the same dose. (17)
A human study conducted at Northumbria University in the U.K. found that Panax ginseng caused a reduction in blood glucose levels one hour after consumption when ingested with glucose. (18)
Prediabetes Causes and Risk Factors
People with prediabetes don’t process glucose properly, which causes sugar to build up in the bloodstream instead of fueling the cells that make up muscles and other tissues. Most of the glucose in your body comes from the foods you eat, especially sugary foods and simple carbohydrates. During digestion, the sugar from these foods enters your bloodstream. Then with the help of insulin, sugar enters the body’s cells, where it’s utilized as a source of energy.
The hormone insulin is responsible for lowering the amount of sugar in your bloodstream. As your blood sugar level drops, so does the secretion of insulin from your pancreas. For people with prediabetes, this process does not work properly. Sugar is not used to fuel your cells. Instead, it builds up in your bloodstream because the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin or your cells become resistant to the action of insulin. (19)
Researchers have found that there are accessible variables in determining who’s at risk for prediabetes. Risk factors for prediabetes include:
The risk of developing prediabetes increases as you get older. If you’re over the age of 45, you’re at a greater risk. This may be due to a lack of exercise or gaining weight in older age.
Women develop diabetes 50 percent more often than men.
Certain races are more likely to develop prediabetes. African-Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islands are at a higher risk of developing prediabetes.
Fasting glucose between 100 to 125 milligrams per deciliter is characterized as prediabetes. (20)
Systolic Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a risk factor for prediabetes.
If you’re overweight and have a body mass index above 25, you’re at risk of developing prediabetes. The more fatty tissue you have, especially around your abdomen, the more resistant your cells will become to insulin.
If you’re inactive, you’re increasing your chances of developing prediabetes. Exercise helps you to stay in control of your weight and ensures that your body uses up glucose as energy, thereby making your cells more sensitive to insulin. (22)
History of Diabetes in Parents or Siblings
If a first-degree relative, such as your parents or siblings, has diabetes, you’re at a greater risk of developing diabetes.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a condition characterized by irregular menstrual periods, excess hair growth and obesity. Research showed that polycystic ovarian syndrome was associated with a twofold higher odds of developing diabetes. (23)
A risk factor for prediabetes is a history of gestational diabetes or giving birth to a baby weighting more than nine pounds. Researchers suggest that a previous diagnosis of gestational diabetes carriers a lifetime risk of progression to type 2 diabetes of up to 60 percent. (24)
Research has linked sleep issues like obstructive sleep apnea to an increased risk of insulin resistance. In fact, one study found that up to 83 percent of patients with type 2 diabetes suffer from unrecognized sleep apnea, and increasing severity of sleep apnea is associated with worsening glucose control. (25) People who are interrupted numerous time throughout the night or work changing shifts or night shifts are at an increased risk of prediabetes.
Conventional Treatment for Prediabetes Symptoms
Metformin has been used for several decades for the treatment of prediabetes and diabetes. It’s typically used to help control blood sugar levels. Common metformin side effects include nausea, upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea.
A-glucosidase inhibitors, such as acarbose and voglibose, prolong the overall carbohydrate digestion time and reduce the rate of glucose absorption. These types of medications are used to help people with type 2 diabetes whose blood sugar is highest after eating complex carbohydrates.
Thiazolidinediones have been shown to reduce the incidence of diabetes in patients at risk of diabetes. However, risks of this medication, which include weight gain, edema and heart failure, outweigh the benefit in preventing prediabetes from progressing to diabetes.
Anti-obesity drugs, such as orlistat, have been used in the treatment of prediabetes. Orlistat is a gastrointestinal lipase inhibitor that’s used for the treatment of obesity and acts by inhibiting the adsorption of dietary fats.
Bariatric surgery is used to limit caloric intake. In a 2004 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, bariatric surgery was found to result in sustained weight loss and a 75 percent relative risk reduction of diabetes compared to the controls. (26)
Final Thoughts on Prediabetes Symptoms
- The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention National Diabetes Statistics Report states that 37 percent of United States adults older than 20 years and 51 percent of those older than 65 have prediabetes.
- Prediabetes is a condition defined as having blood glucose levels above normal but below the defined threshold of diabetes. It’s considered to be an at-risk state, with high chances of developing diabetes.
- Prediabetes symptoms may go unnoticed. Some signs of prediabetes include abnormal fasting glucose levels and acanthosis nigricans.
- There are several risk factors for developing prediabetes, including being older than 45, being a woman, having family with diabetes and being overweight.
- Lifestyle interventions can significantly reduce your chances of developing diabetes. These include losing weight by exercising at least four hours per week and eating a diet rich in protein, fiber and healthy fats.