Preventing diabetes: Are you at risk?

Warning signs of diabetes include fatigue, increased thirst, increased hunger, tingling or numbness of hands or feet, and blurry vision.

by Dr. Tara Peyman — 

Diabetes is on the rise in the United States. In June 2008, the total number of Americans living with diabetes increased to nearly 24 million. This is a jump of more than 3 million people in two years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition to the number of people diagnosed with diabetes, there are approximately 57 million people with pre-diabetes. This condition causes an increased risk for developing diabetes, and often these people do not even know about their risk. Pre-diabetes involves difficulty regulating blood sugar, with mild glucose elevations beyond the normal levels, but not at diabetic ranges.

For people with pre-diabetes, the hormones that control blood sugar often will be out of balance. Insulin is one of these hormones; it helps to bring glucose out of the blood and into the cells to be used for energy.

In people with pre-diabetes, insulin often has difficulty bringing blood sugar into the cells, a condition called insulin resistance. This will then lead to elevations of blood glucose, which can develop into diabetes.

Warning signs of diabetes include fatigue, increased thirst, increased hunger, tingling or numbness of hands or feet, and blurry vision. People with type 1 diabetes have insufficient insulin production; this type of diabetes usually begins in childhood and will typically cause weight loss. Type 2 diabetics will have weight gain due to increased fat conversion from sugar, and decreased fat breakdown as a result of elevated insulin.

Because of the increase in diabetes prevalence, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) has recently released new recommendations for the prevention of diabetes. The ADA now advises that all overweight people over the age of 45 should be screened for diabetes.

People with two or more risk factors for diabetes should be tested for this disease, regardless of whether the person has symptoms of diabetes. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that people with high cholesterol and high blood pressure are screened for type 2 diabetes, as well.

Diabetes risk factors include obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, a sedentary lifestyle and a family history of diabetes. Obesity centralized around the abdomen is associated with elevated risk of diabetes.

Women who have had gestational diabetes have about a 40 percent chance of developing diabetes after their pregnancy. There also is a genetic association with diabetes for people of Native American, Hispanic or African American decent. People also have greater risk as they age, with increased occurrence of diabetes after the age of 60.

With proper dietary changes and consistent exercise, medications often are not necessary to reduce the risk of developing diabetes. A few basic lifestyle changes can significantly impact your diabetes risk.

You can also reduce your risk of diabetes by following these  guidelines. If these recommendations seem overwhelming, start with one change at a time and commit to that change until it becomes a normal part of your lifestyle.

Recommendations for reducing risk of diabetes

  • Limit dietary consumption of refined sugar, white flour, pasta and processed foods.
  • Exercise regularly, optimally for at least 30 minutes per day.
  • Eat a high-fiber breakfast with at least 20 grams of protein, to boost your metabolism and stabilize your blood sugar throughout the day (example: a hard-boiled egg and a protein shake with ground flax seed).
  • Include 30 to 40 grams of fiber in your daily diet, preferably from leafy green vegetables and whole grains; supplement with flax seed, oat bran or acacia fiber.
  • Get a diabetes screen from your doctor, including cholesterol testing and a blood pressure check. • If you are overweight but have not had high blood sugar on previous tests, ask your doctor for a pre-diabetes screen of insulin resistance and glucose tolerance.

Work with your doctor to determine the most effective way to reduce your risk and improve your overall health. Your doctor can be an advocate and a coach in helping you to achieve your health goals.


ADA Updates Diabetes Care Standards: “Recommen-dations reflect ‘aggressive approach,’” says FP expert, Bittner, Barbara. AAFP News Now. 12 Feb 2008.

“Am I at risk for type 2 diabetes? Taking steps to lower your risk of getting diabetes.” NIH Publication No. 07–4805. Dec 2006.

“Number of people with diabetes increases to 24 million.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services. 24 June 2008.


Tara Peyman is a licensed naturopathic doctor who has developed comprehensive, naturopathic programs for weight loss, mood disorders, smoking cessation and anti-aging. She practices at East Valley Naturopathic Doctors in Mesa, Ariz., 480-985-0000, and Naturopathic Health Associates in Tempe, Ariz., 480-456-0402.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 28, Number  3, Jun/July 2009.

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