There is no way known to prevent type 1 diabetes, though a large-scale study has been underway to determine if medication can be used for prevention. However, there is growing evidence that lifestyle measures, especially exercise, may be effective tools for preventing type 2 diabetes. If you are at risk for type 2 diabetes, the following steps may prevent symptoms from developing and may also help prevent or reduce any later complications of the disease.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Losing weight through diet and exercise if you are overweight is the key to reducing your risk for type 2 diabetes.
- Improve your diet. Try to maintain a semivegetarian diet that is low in fat and emphasizes complex carbohydrates over simple sugars. Such a diet is also known to lower the risk of heart disease and some cancers. Limit your intake of sugary desserts, soft drinks and alcohol.
- Get daily exercise. Studies have shown that exercise may be especially helpful - and that even small amounts of exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing the disease.
- Consider vitamin E supplements. Studies suggest that this vitamin may improve control of blood sugar, notably by enhancing the action of insulin and by affecting cell membranes. Vitamin E also helps combat free radicals, which cause oxidative stress that contributes to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease as well as diabetic complications. A daily recommended dose is 200-400 IU of vitamin E, and people who are at risk for diabetes (or those who have the disorder) should probably be taking this supplement.
- Get screened for diabetes. Early detection of type 2 diabetes can identify cases that are mild or borderline, when it is possible to prevent diabetes or control it without medication. For this reason, it's important that all adults age 45 or older undergo regular blood and urine testing for diabetes as part of their regular checkups.
- Keep your heart healthy. To prevent the cardiovascular complications of diabetes, you should follow the recommendations for preventing heart disease outlined on pages 63-65. Also be sure to take any
- If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, avoid walking barefoot.
The Evidence for Exercise
- Studies have found that physical activity has an independent beneficial effect against diabetes in obese and non-obese people, and older and middle-aged ones, as well as among those with a family history of diabetes and those without. Still, those people at highest risk for developing diabetes are likely to benefit most from exercise.
- A 1999 study of 8,600 men who visited the Cooper Clinic in Dallas found that those who were least fit were three times more likely to develop diabetes than fit men over a six-year period.
- While most studies have focused on men, the well-known Nurses' Health Study has shown that women also enjoy the protection afforded by being physically active. Moderate intensity activity such as daily brisk walking was found to cut the risk of diabetes in these middle-aged women by 60 percent - as much as more vigorous kinds of exercise.
- Aging itself may play a smaller role than the inactivity that usually accompanies it. When older people stay fit (and don't gain weight), studies have found that the increased risk of diabetes is small. For instance, older athletes have blood glucose and insulin levels similar to those of young people.
The Complete Home Wellness Handbook
John Edward Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter
Updated by Remedy Health Media