What is prediabetes? Prediabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. This occurs when the body has problems in processing glucose properly, and sugar starts to build up in the bloodstream instead of fueling cells in muscles and tissues. Insulin is the hormone that tells cells to take up glucose, and in prediabetes, people typically initially develop insulin resistance (where the body’s cells can’t respond to insulin as well), and over time (if no actions are taken to reverse the situation) the ability to produce sufficient insulin is reduced. People with prediabetes also commonly have high blood pressure as well as abnormal blood lipids (e.g. cholesterol). These often occur prior to the rise of blood glucose levels.

Online diabetes prevention programs: The CDC has now given pending recognition status to three digital prevention programs: DPS Health, Noom Health, and Omada Health. These offer the same one year long educational curriculum as the DPP study, but in an online format. Some insurance companies and employers cover these programs, and you can find more information at the links above. These digital versions are excellent options for those who live far away from NDPP locations or who prefer the anonymity and convenience of doing the program online.


What can people with prediabetes do to avoid the progression from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes? The most important action people diagnosed with prediabetes can take is to focus on living a healthy lifestyle. This includes making healthy food choices, controlling portions, and increasing physical activity. Regarding weight control, research shows losing 5-7% (often about 10–20 lbs.) from your initial body weight and keeping off as much of that weight over time as possible is critical to lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes. This task is of course easier said than done, but sustained weight loss over time can be key to improving health and delaying or preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes.
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The earliest predictor of the development of type 2 diabetes is low insulin sensitivity in skeletal muscle, but it is important to recognize that this is not a distinct abnormality but rather part of the wide range expressed in the population. Those people in whom diabetes will develop simply have insulin sensitivity, mainly in the lowest population quartile (29). In prediabetic individuals, raised plasma insulin levels compensate and allow normal plasma glucose control. However, because the process of de novo lipogenesis is stimulated by higher insulin levels (38), the scene is set for hepatic fat accumulation. Excess fat deposition in the liver is present before the onset of classical type 2 diabetes (43,74–76), and in established type 2 diabetes, liver fat is supranormal (20). When ultrasound rather than magnetic resonance imaging is used, only more-severe degrees of steatosis are detected, and the prevalence of fatty liver is underestimated, with estimates of 70% of people with type 2 diabetes as having a fatty liver (76). Nonetheless, the prognostic power of merely the presence of a fatty liver is impressive of predicting the onset of type 2 diabetes. A large study of individuals with normal glucose tolerance at baseline showed a very low 8-year incidence of type 2 diabetes if fatty liver had been excluded at baseline, whereas if present, the hazard ratio for diabetes was 5.5 (range 3.6–8.5) (74). In support of this finding, a temporal progression from weight gain to raised liver enzyme levels and onward to hypertriglyceridemia and then glucose intolerance has been demonstrated (77).


People with diabetes are unable to control the level of sugar in their blood, usually due to a breakdown in how their bodies use the hormone insulin. It’s not completely clear how obesity can contribute to diabetes, but it is known that excess weight is associated with chronic inflammation and a dysfunctional metabolism. And these factors in turn make it easier for someone to stop responding to the presence of insulin as easily as they once did. So by using surgery to help very obese people with diabetes lose weight, the logic goes, you can indirectly treat or prevent the condition. But doctors such as David Cummings, a senior investigator at the University of Washington’s Diabetes & Obesity Center of Excellence, are pushing back against this way of thinking.
Trick (important): Cut down on sweets, and if you can, cut them out entirely for a couple months. I still eat ice cream about once a week, and know people who are losing weight on this diet while eating ice cream almost every day. But this probably won’t be the case for everyone. Better to severely restrict sweets for the first few months, and then gradually reintroduce.
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