By James B. LaValle, RPh, CCN
What would you guess if someone asked you, “What is one of the biggest threats to your health today?” Most people think of cancer and heart disease but never stop to think about diabetes—which will take more Americans this year than AIDS and breast cancer combined. Diabetes has reached epidemic numbers in the United States, with nearly 1 in 10 adult Americans now diagnosed as diabetic.
The numbers are staggering. In 2012, almost 30 million Americans had diabetes and another 86 million had prediabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, that’s 1.7 million new cases of diabetes being diagnosed every year. Yet, in my experience, people seem to take this disease for granted, never stopping to think it will happen to them.
No one wants to take medications or insulin or have to take their blood sugars daily to monitor and manage their levels, so people are very upset when they are told they have diabetes. What I often hear is, “Where did this come from?” In other words, it seems like it came out of nowhere. Yet when I look back at the patient’s history, I can see they had many warning signs in their lab tests.
For example, gaining weight is a risk, especially if it’s around the waist. But the biggest indicator was that these patients had blood glucose levels that had been putting them at risk long before their diagnosis, and they never knew. Why? Because their levels were still in the normal range, but they were trending toward diabetes risk. This is a shock to most people. How can a normal blood glucose level mean you are at risk?
An ideal blood glucose range is 70 to 85 mg/dL. A large study published in 2008 found that for every point over 84 mg/dL, a person has a 6 percent increased risk of becoming diabetic. That means by the time you reach a blood glucose of 93, you have almost a 50 percent increased risk of becoming diabetic over the next 10 years. In the 94 to 99 range, the risk of becoming diabetic more than doubled.
Most physicians are not aware of the results of this study, which confirmed what I’ve seen in practice for quite some time now—once a person’s blood glucose levels reach 90 and higher, if something isn’t done to intervene, it’s not a matter of if the person will develop diabetes, it’s usually just a matter of how long it will take.
Prevention is the watchword in the public health campaign to rein in diabetes, and there is well-documented scientific evidence that you can prevent it. Typically, medication is not used until people reach the prediabetic blood glucose levels of 100 to 120 mg/d. Lifestyle changes are the preferred option, so changing up diet, getting exercise, and ensuring adequate sleep can have a big impact on your future diabetic risk. Here are some recommendations for type 2 diabetes prevention using supplements and lifestyle changes:
- Exercise is important and can improve insulin sensitivity by 23 percent (30 to 60 minutes, 3 or 4 times a week).
- Take in plenty of magnesium. Low levels increase risk of diabetes dramatically. The best food sources are nuts and seeds.
- Keep carbohydrate consumption under control by limiting your intake of refined sugars and other high glycemic index foods like white bread and cereals. Studies are now consistently finding that people with high intakes of carbohydrates and sugars along with low fiber intake are at much higher risk for becoming obese and diabetic. Learn how to count your carbohydrates.
- Supplement your diet: If you can’t get enough magnesium in your diet to reach a daily intake of at least 350 to 500 mg of magnesium, I recommend taking a supplement. Another supplement that can be helpful with managing carbohydrate intake is Phase 2 white kidney bean extract that has been clinically proven to block up to 65 percent of carbs eaten at a meal. People can be very poor judges of their actual intake, and there are times when you have no choice over the foods available to you, like white bread. Phase 2 decreases glucose absorption and significantly reduces the glycemic index of white bread. (For more information, visit phase2info.com.) In addition, you can use cinnamon. Add one-quarter teaspoon of cinnamon to your daily intake of food; this small dose can drop blood glucose levels by 18 to 29 percent.
James B. LaValle, RPh, CCN, is an internationally recognized clinical pharmacist, author, and board certified clinical nutritionist. His latest book, Your Blood Never Lies, helps patients easily decode blood test results into simple language for a more accurate assessment of current health conditions. Learn more at jimlavalle.com.