What is Prediabetes and Is It Reversible?By Carole Anderson Lucia Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, RDN Science-Backed
If you’re like many Americans, you’ve likely heard about Type 2 diabetes, an increasingly common medical condition that causes higher-than-normal blood glucose levels.1 But have you heard about prediabetes? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this condition is often a precursor to diabetes and is even more common: While an estimated 30.2 million American adults had Type 2 diabetes in 2015, 84 million — one in three — had prediabetes. Yet 90 percent of people with prediabetes didn’t even know they had it.2,3 And the condition is on the rise.4
Prediabetes is a serious condition, according to the CDC, as it increases your risk of developing not only Type 2 diabetes, but heart disease and stroke as well.5 And if you do go on to develop Type 2 diabetes, the disease can damage many vital body systems over time, including your blood vessels, eyes, heart, kidneys and nerves.6
But the good news is that even if you have prediabetes, there are steps you can take now to help reverse it — and prevent Type 2 diabetes from developing at the same time.3 Here’s how.
What is prediabetes?
According to the CDC, prediabetes is diagnosed when your blood glucose levels — also known as your blood sugar levels — are higher than normal but are not high enough for you to be classified as having diabetes.5 With prediabetes, your body doesn’t use insulin well (sometimes referred to as insulin resistance), which causes glucose to accumulate in your bloodstream rather than moving into the cells of your body, as it is supposed to do.7
If you have prediabetes, you are at high risk for developing Type 2 diabetes8 unless you take steps to reverse the condition; it’s estimated that between 15 percent and 30 percent of people with prediabetes will develop Type 2 diabetes within five years if they do not make the recommended lifestyle changes.9 In fact, people who develop Type 2 diabetes almost always have prediabetes first, according to the American Diabetes Association.10
How to know if you have prediabetes
While there are no clear symptoms of prediabetes, and often times people with the condition don’t have symptoms, you may find that symptoms similar to those with diabetes, including the following, begin to show as the condition progresses:11
- Blurred vision
- Cuts or bruises that are slow to heal
- Extreme fatigue
- Feeling very hungry
- Feeling very thirsty
- Frequent urination
- Tingling, pain or numbness in the hands or feet
According to the American Academy of Dermatology,12 having dark patches of velvety skin — called acanthosis nigricans — on your armpits, the back of your neck, or elsewhere can also be a sign of prediabetes.
If you do have any of these symptoms, be sure to check with your doctor, as the only way to know for certain whether you have prediabetes is through blood tests. If you do have prediabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends getting a blood test for Type 2 diabetes every one to two years.10
What causes prediabetes?
Experts aren’t sure what causes prediabetes, but your genetics and family history seem to be important factors. Other factors that increase your risk include:13
- A history of gestational diabetes. You — and your child — are at higher risk of developing prediabetes if you developed gestational diabetes while pregnant
- Waist size. Men with waists larger than 40 inches and women whose are larger than 35 inches are at increased risk
- Being inactive. In fact, the less active you are, the greater your risk of prediabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic
- Being overweight. The more fatty tissue you have — especially in your abdominal area — the more resistant your cells become to insulin
- Disordered sleep. Having a sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea increases your risk. Working night shifts may increase your risk as well
- High blood pressure.
- High levels of triglycerides.
- Low levels of HDL cholesterol. Known as the “good” kind of cholesterol found in foods like nuts, avocado and olive oil
- Your age. The risk of prediabetes increases after the age of 45
- Your dietary habits. Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with an increased risk, as is eating excessive amounts of processed and red meat
How to help prevent Type 2 diabetes
If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes, that doesn’t mean you are destined to develop Type 2 diabetes. In fact, according to Harvard Health,14 the vast majority of diabetes — and even prediabetes — can be prevented through lifestyle and diet changes.
According to the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study conducted by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases,15 losing weight and getting regular exercise are the two most important steps you can take to help prevent Type 2 diabetes. Specifically, the study found you can lower your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 58 percent by doing two important things:
- Losing 7 percent of your body weight
- Getting 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week — such as walking briskly for 30 minutes, five days a week
What should you eat if you’re prediabetic?
In addition to getting more exercise, Harvard Health recommends the following dietary modifications if you are at risk of Type 2 diabetes:14
- Reduce your intake of processed foods and added sugars. This includes refined grains such as white flour and white rice, as well as sugary drinks, including sodas and juices
- Choose whole grains. Foods made from 100 percent whole grain (such as whole wheat) are a good choice, but intact whole grains — brown rice, corn, oatmeal and quinoa, for instance — are better
- Increase your fiber. Most vegetables and fruits are high in fiber, as are legumes such as beans, chickpeas, edamame and peas
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. At least half of what you eat every day should be non-starchy fruits and vegetables — the more colorful, the better
- Avoid processed red meat. Eating one serving of processed meat a day (such as deli meat and hot dogs) is associated with more than a 50 percent increased risk of developing prediabetes
- Eat healthier fats. Saturated fats, especially from meats, are associated with an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. Plant oils, such as extra-virgin olive oil and canola oil, carry less risk, while omega-3 fats, such as those found in walnuts, flax seeds and some fish, are actually healthy for you
You also might want to consider trying intermittent fasting, a type of eating pattern which has been shown to be beneficial for people with prediabetes. In one study of prediabetic men,16 study participants followed an intermittent fasting schedule of eating between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. for five weeks. After the study period, the participants showed improved insulin sensitivity and other measures of metabolic health, as well as lowered blood pressure and less oxidative stress. Interestingly, they also experienced less hunger in the evening.
Jenny Craig’s Rapid Results program integrates time-restricted feeding, a type of intermittent fasting, where you eat over a 12-hour time frame and refrain from food for the following 12-hours (which includes sleep) to let your body’s cells rejuvenate. This allows you to eat in accordance with your circadian rhythm, where you’ll be working with your body by consuming the majority of your calories when your metabolism is working most optimally.
We hope you’ve been inspired to take steps to help prevent yourself from developing prediabetes. And if you have already been diagnosed with the condition, remember that you have the power to help reverse it — and avoid diabetes at the same time.
If you’re ready to focus on improving your diet and lifestyle, Jenny Craig can help! Click here to set up a free appointment with a personal weight loss consultant to discuss your goals and start working towards a healthier you!
Carole Anderson Lucia
Carole is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California who specializes in health and wellness topics. Her work has appeared in Parents, Fit Pregnancy, Mom & Baby, Yahoo News, Viv magazine and Lifescript. She's won several national awards for her work including a National Science Award and two National Health Information awards. A frequent contributor to Jenny Craig’s Blog, Healthy Habits, she enjoys gardening, spending time at the beach and adopting far too many rescue animals in her spare time.
Favorite healthy snack: jicama dipped in homemade hummus.
Reviewed by: Briana Rodriquez, RDN
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs. Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!).
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and is written by experienced health and lifestyle contributors and fact-checked by Briana Rodriquez, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
This article contains trusted sources including scientific, peer-reviewed papers. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.