If you’ve recently taken a fasting blood glucose test and heard the words “slightly elevated blood glucose,” then you’ve joined an expanding group of people who are either diabetic or pre-diabetic.
Even the term “prediabetic” suggests impending diabetes, like a person with one malady on their way to having another, but the data is a bit more nuanced.
Here, we highlight the language of diabetes, the changing dialogue surrounding the disease, and the three steps you can take to enjoy a healthy lifestyle and protect your blood glucose from reaching diabetes levels.
The Language of Blood, Sugar, and Insulin
It’s easy to feel a bit “picked on” as we age. We live the reality of frequent new conditions and full-blown health problems. But the good news is that scientists are paying closer attention to senior health issues every day as the population grows. Per the Population Reference Bureau, Americans aged 65 and older are projected to double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060.
This scrutiny is good news for seniors. With the help of science, we now stay healthier and live longer as a group, and the research supports the health care system that takes care of us.
Of particular interest for medicine is how older people process and produce insulin.
As we age, we do begin to develop a level of insulin resistance, which means the insulin hormone produced by our pancreas isn’t as efficiently used. When the cells can’t uptake the insulin, the result is more sugar in our blood.
For decades, the phenomenon was called “impaired glucose intolerance.” As you can imagine, this description can easily become diluted by confusion and misunderstanding in conversation. What does it mean?
To better help you understand the language of diabetes, we highlight a handful of the most common phrases here:
- Fasting plasma glucose test: This is when you have blood drawn 8 hours after fasting to check for sugar levels. A reading higher than 126 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) is classified as diabetes.
- A1C: A test to evaluate the red blood cell protein bound to glucose. Fasting is not required. The level indicates a person’s average blood sugar over the preceding three months. A reading of 6% or higher should be considered for preventive intervention.
- Prediabetic: A fasting glucose test measuring over 100 mg/dl qualifies as prediabetes based on the American Diabetes Association standard.
- Type 1 Diabetes: Previously called “juvenile diabetes,” this is the diabetes with onset in childhood or adolescent, which means a person’s pancreas does not produce insulin.
- Type 2 Diabetes: This is when insulin is produced, but the body does not properly use it. Possible risk factors include obesity, high blood pressure, and age.
The History and Meaning of Prediabetes
In 2009, scientists in diabetic research convened to determine how to draw more attention and action to the growing problem of diabetes. The consensus was that by changing the descriptor for insulin resistance to prediabetes, and expanding the parameters for those who qualify, more could be done to reduce the risk of diabetes for patients.
As explained over at Science Magazine, scientists today are not in agreement about the strategy. Prediabetes implies that otherwise healthy patients are sick and one step away from diabetes, while data suggests that only 2% of those with prediabetes become diabetic each year.
More staggering a risk factor is that 1 in 3 seniors is classified as prediabetic.
Here are four steps you can take to lessen your risk and help turn prediabetes around:
- Early detection: Get regular physicals and annual labs as part of maintaining your overall health. The surprising problem of those with prediabetes is they often don’t know about it since they don’t have labs drawn regularly.
- Exercise: Yes, it is the oldest and most touted thing a health professional recommends, and prediabetes is just one more reason to “keep at it” at least five times a week. Activity helps your body do the work of utilizing insulin more efficiently.
- Lose some weight: Dropping some weight has been advice most of us have heard over the years, and when it comes to reversing prediabetes, the benefits are ample. A reduction of 5% to 7% bodyweight can help reduce blood sugar levels significantly.
- Eat healthy: If you’re a boomer, you grew up during the heyday of fast and processed foods. One reason the older generations might be experiencing rising levels of prediabetes these days is because of the diet we’ve had for decades. Now its time to turn the tides of that antiquated thinking about food.
If you want to help keep your blood glucose in-check, cut way back on the carbs (which turn into sugar), sweetened beverages and snacks. In fact, work to abandon the center isles at the grocery store where processed foods are parked. Make your destination the fresh food areas on the outer stations of the store instead.
Reduce alcohol intake, too, and drink plenty of water. Potatoes are not your friend anymore, either. Favor whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Lean meats are yours for the taking, too.
You can explore the keto or paleo diets, too, or tailor a modified food plan that works best for your tastes and goals. The idea is to both enjoy food and keep your body from having to work as hard to process and turn it into energy.
The “One Step at a Time” Action Plan
How many times over the years have you been told to take care of yourself with exercise and healthy eating? Chances are it’s been too many to count. Sometimes you’ve responded well, and other times life’s temptations and stresses have gotten in the way to your good intentions.
It’s not too late to turn things around and benefit by eating well even in your senior years. And if you are dealing with an elevated blood glucose, your body is telling you something.
Just remember that taking care of yourself is a gradual process. Get going and take the steps now so that prediabetes is the door to changing behaviors for your benefit.