How to nip prediabetes in the bud

Lifestyle tweaks can make a huge difference to reversing condition

Singaporeans eat so well that diabetes has become a real problem. About one in nine people here have Type 2 diabetes, which puts us at the No. 2 spot, just behind the US, for diabetes rates.

But before the condition strikes, patients actually first go through a stage called prediabetes - when your blood sugar is higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as a diabetes patient.

This can be a make-or-break period. Continue to overeat and stay sedentary and you are on the fast track to full-blown diabetes; but if you pull the brakes and start living healthy, your condition can be reversed.

To help you nip prediabetes in the bud, Dr Philip Koh, senior family physician from Healthway Medical Group, lays down the most important facts you need to know.

Tell-tale signs

Prediabetes is hard to detect because the symptoms are mild or non-existent. People usually find out their condition through a health screening.

But Dr Koh shared that some patients with prediabetes may find darkened skin on parts of the body, particularly in skin folds on the neck, the armpits, the elbows or behind the knees. This condition is rare and is known as acanthosis nigricans.

Prediabetes can start at any age

The condition is not just for middle-aged people. A US study found that 25 per cent of obese children aged four to 10 had prediabetes.

You should go for an annual health screening to check for diabetes if you are overweight or obese, and if you have other risk factors such as family history.

Singaporeans and permanent residents can get their checks at just $5 under the Health Promotion Board's Screen for Life programme. For a start, you can try the Diabetes Risk Assessment online quiz.

Lifestyle tweaks make a huge difference

The Diabetes Prevention Programme, a three-year study done in the US, found that by making changes to diet, exercise and lifestyle habits alone, the study participants reduced their risk of Type 2 diabetes by 58 per cent.

Said Dr Koh: "I remember a patient who, through proper diet and regular exercises, lost 20kg from his original 90kg weight and had his prediabetes reversed."

You have to cover all your bases

To prevent prediabetes from turning into diabetes, you need to make changes in more areas than one.

For a start, choose low-fat, high-fibre foods such as fruits, veggies and whole grains, and choose low glycaemic index items such as wholemeal bread and brown rice over refined carbs. And aim for 30 to 60 minutes of exercise five times a week.

If you are overweight, losing just 5 per cent to 10 per cent of your body weight can help reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to Dr Koh.

On top of getting a healthier heart, you will feel more energetic and confident.

Get on a plan to quit smoking. And if you are a high-risk patient, your doctor may recommend medication to control your cholesterol and high blood pressure.

How to nip prediabetes in the bud

This article first appeared in Shape (