Prediabetes is often caused by lifestyle habits such as a diet high in processed foods, a sedentary lifestyle and stress. However, this makes it very receptive to lifestyle changes. Diet and lifestyle changes paired with targeted supplementation can help to reverse pre-diabetes and help to prevent the progression of the disease.
What is Prediabetes?
Prediabetes is a health condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. Those with prediabetes also tend to have issues with insulin sensitivity (insulin resistance). Prediabetes is often found on routine blood work and may or may not present with symptoms. Prediabetes does increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
If you are diagnosed with pre-diabetes, changing your diet and lifestyle can help reduce the risk of progressing to type 2 diabetes and work to reverse pre-diabetes.
How is Prediabetes Diagnosed?
Pre-diabetes can be diagnosed using blood work. There are a few different tests that can be used to confirm a diagnosis of pre-diabetes:
– HbA1C of 5.7%-6.4%
– Fasting plasma glucose of 100-125mg/dL (measured after 12 hours of fasting)
– 2-hour post 75g oral glucose challenge test 140-199mg/dL
Both a Medical Doctor and a Naturopathic Doctor can order these tests in Ontario.
What are the Symptoms of Prediabetes?
Prediabetes can often present with no symptoms or mild symptoms. Some symptoms that may be present with prediabetes or may indicate the progression to diabetes include:
- Increased thirst and increased urination
- Increased hunger
- Fatigue/ low energy
- Blurred vision
- Numbness or tingling in the feet or hands
- Frequent infections
- Slow-healing sores
- Unintentional weight loss
- Darkened areas of skin
Because prediabetes can often be asymptomatic, it is essential to know the risk factors. It’s important to work with your doctor and monitor blood work if you have any of the following risk factors:
- Overweight or obese (having a BMI over 25)
- 45 years or older
- Having an immediate family member with type 2 diabetes (parent, siblings)
- Being physically active less than 3 times a week
- A personal history of gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant) OR giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds.
- Having Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
How to Reverse Prediabetes Naturally
1. Eat a Healthy Diet
A diet high in processed food, refined carbohydrates, and refined fats is associated with prediabetes. In contrast, a diet high in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats can have several benefits for the body, including helping blood sugar regulation and the reversal of pre-diabetes.
Low levels of chronic inflammation can also reduce insulin sensitivity and drive the progression of prediabetes. Some foods that help lower inflammation in the body include:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, and anchovies
- Nuts and seeds
- Spices such as turmeric, fenugreek, cinnamon, and ginger
- Dark chocolate (unsweetened)
2. Engage in Regular Exercise
Lower levels of physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle are associated with prediabetes. Focusing on a combination of strength training and cardiovascular exercise can help improve insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar levels and aid in weight loss.
Resistance training has shown to be particularly helpful for those with metabolic conditions such as prediabetes, as it helps to increase muscle mass. An increased muscle mass can help to increase basal metabolic rate (BMR), allowing you to burn more calories at rest, aiding in weight loss. In addition, increased muscle mass will increase skeletal muscle glucose uptake and improve insulin sensitivity.
However, finding a form of exercise that you enjoy and can incorporate into your life regularly is most important.
3. Lose Excess Weight
Weight loss has been shown to help improve blood sugar levels and aid in reversing prediabetes. A weight loss of 5-10% of body weight is often beneficial in those with prediabetes.
Lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet combined with exercise, stress management, and adequate sleep can help to aid in sustained weight loss.
4. Prioritise Sleep
Sleep plays a significant role in controlling hunger, hormonal levels and metabolic function. Ensuring adequate quality and quantity of sleep can be a powerful tool for reversing prediabetes.
Adults should aim for 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep through the night. Anything less than 7 hours has been associated with metabolic dysfunction, weight gain, obesity and type 2 diabetes. This is due to several mechanisms, including altering food intake and timing, increased inflammation, decreased glucose tolerance and impaired insulin sensitivity.
Some tips to improve sleep include:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
- Avoid screens and bright lights in the last 30-45 minutes before going to bed.
- Sleep in a cool dark room (67-69 degrees Fahrenheit or 19-21 degrees Celsius).
- Reserve the bed and bedroom for sleep and sex (avoid lying in bed during the day).
- Avoid napping during the day.
- Avoid food in the last 2 hours before bed.
- Get 5-10 minutes of sunlight exposure in the first 30 minutes of waking up.
5. Reduce Stress
High levels of stress cause the extended release of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol has several roles in the body; one of the main jobs is to mobilize glucose stores from the liver. This means chronically elevated stress levels can lead to high blood sugar levels. Chronically elevated blood sugar drives inflammation and can lead to poor insulin sensitivity, glucose regulation and pre-diabetes. Incorporating mindfulness techniques into your day and looking for ways to remove stressors from your life can help lower cortisol and aid in reversing pre-diabetes.
Some tips for reducing stress include:
- Regular exercise
- Deep breathing
- Social interactions
- Practicing a hobby
- Lowering stress triggers
- Practicing a healthy work-life balance
- Spending time in nature
6. Stay Hydrated
There are several reasons being hydrated is important for those with pre-diabetes and diabetes. When hydration levels fall, the body releases stress hormones, such as cortisol, that can raise blood sugar. In addition, those with poor blood sugar control are more susceptible to dehydration, as increased urination is often a symptom of poor glucose control.
Adults should aim to drink 2-3 litres of water per day, although this varies depending on their weight and activity level.
7. Avoid Alcohol
Alcohol has several adverse effects on the body. However, it can be especially detrimental for those struggling to maintain healthy blood sugar control.
Some of the ways that alcohol can be especially detrimental to those struggling with diabetes and prediabetes include:
- Alcoholic drinks contain a high amount of carbohydrates. Beer, sweet wine and mixed drinks are quite high in carbs. This can lead to increased blood sugar levels.
- Alcohol impacts appetite. Alcohol increases appetite, which can cause overeating, especially of highly palatable foods such as refined carbohydrates and fats.
- Alcohol increases caloric consumption. Alcohol is high in calories and may make it more challenging to lose weight or may lead to excess weight gain.
- Alcohol may also increase blood pressure and triglyceride levels.
8. Botanical Medicine
While diet and lifestyle will be the most effective solution for reversing pre-diabetes, some herbs can help to improve insulin sensitivity. When considering herbal supplements, working with a naturopathic doctor or herbalist is essential to ensure you take the correct herbs and doses.
Some herbs that have been shown to lower blood sugar levels include:
How Can a Naturopathic Doctor Help Reverse Prediabetes?
Naturopathic doctors take a holistic approach to health and healing. This can be especially beneficial for those who have diabetes and prediabetes. These conditions are often associated with other conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, infertility and kidney disease.
Some additional ways that a Naturopathic Doctor can help include:
Individualized Nutrition Counselling
Working 1:1 with a Naturopathic Doctor, nutritionist, or dietitian is often beneficial when making diet changes. This ensures that the diet recommendations will be individualized for your needs and realistic for you to incorporate daily. Naturopathic doctors not only take into account what foods would be beneficial for you but also your lifestyle, cooking habits, food preferences and schedule.
Making lifestyle and exercise changes can often seem overwhelming. Working with a Naturopathic Doctor can help you navigate the changes and implement substantial habits to improve your lifestyle. Focusing on exercise, daily movement, sleep, and stress reduction can help reverse prediabetes and prevent further disease progression.
Botanical/ Herbal Medicine
Herbs can be helpful to support diet and lifestyle changes in those looking to reverse pre-diabetes. It is important to work with a trained professional, such as a Naturopathic Doctor, when introducing herbal supplements into your diet. It is also essential to communicate any medication you are on to your Naturopathic doctor, as these can sometimes interact with herbs.
Naturopathic doctors can offer guidance on stress reduction, mindfulness practices, and nervous system control. Practices such as meditation, journaling, yoga, deep breathing and nervous system regulation are all helpful tools for lowering stress and improving outcomes in those with pre-diabetes.
Encouragement and Accountability
Working with a professional such as a naturopathic doctor provides a source of encouragement and accountability when making diet and lifestyle changes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is prediabetes/ diabetes genetic?
Having a family member with prediabetes or diabetes does increase your risk of developing the disease. However, other factors, such as diet and lifestyle are strong predictors of disease development.
Can prediabetes be reversed permanently?
Yes, Prediabetes can be reversed through sustained diet and lifestyle changes.
How long will it take to reverse prediabetes?
The reversal timeline is highly personal and depends on the disease’s progression, patient compliance, environmental factors and genetics. Depending on the individual, the reversal can take six months to a few years.
Is fasting good for prediabetes?
Fasting may be beneficial for those with prediabetes. Studies have shown that fasting improves insulin sensitivity and lowers blood sugar levels. Fasting may also help individuals decrease the amount of food they eat, further aiding in weight loss.