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November 14th is World Diabetes Day. The purpose of this day is to raise awareness of a condition affecting millions of people all over the world. It is estimated that 3 million Canadians are living with diabetes, and almost 6 million have prediabetes. Over 50% of type 2 diabetes is preventable, and early intervention is key to preventing the progression of this chronic disease. In this article I will review how to assess your risk for developing type 2 diabetes, and what to do if you are at an elevated risk.

The following factors increase your chances of developing type 2 diabetes:

  • being overweight (especially if excess weight is carried in your abdomen)
  • age 45 or older
  • family history of diabetes
  • being of African, Arab, Asian, Hispanic, Indigenous, or South Asian descent
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • lack of physical activity
  • poor dietary habits
  • history of gestational diabetes (elevated sugar levels during pregnancy)
  • polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • obstructive sleep apnea

Diabetes and pre-diabetes can be diagnosed by measuring your hemoglobin A1C, a marker of how much sugar has been floating around in your bloodstream for the past three months. The A1C test is reported as a percentage. The higher the percentage, the higher your blood sugar levels have been. Results from this test can be interpreted as follows:*

6.5% or higher = diabetes
6.0 – 6.4% = prediabetes
5.5 – 6.0% = at risk for diabetes/prediabetes
Less than 5.5% = normal

If you do find yourself with suboptimal A1C levels, take this as a call to action. While we can’t change our age or genetic predisposition, we can control other predisposing factors such as our eating habits and sedentary lifestyle to prevent or at least delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. I generally focus on improving the following lifestyle factors:

  • Modest weight loss of 5-7% of body weight. That’s only 10 to 14 pounds for someone who weighs 200 pounds.
  • Reducing carbohydrates in the diet and increasing the amount of protein, fibre and healthy fat.
  • Physical activity (from walking to resistance training), aiming for 150 minutes per week.
  • Stress reduction.
  • Sleep, aiming for 7-8 hours/night and increasing the quality of sleep.
  • Correct nutrient deficiencies, especially vitamin D, which regulates the genes related to blood sugar metabolism.

Supplements such as chromium, berberine, magnesium, gymnema and bitter melon have been shown to support healthy blood sugar metabolism and may be an appropriate addition for some patients. Check with your naturopathic doctor to determine the dosage and duration of use that is best for you.

*It is important to discuss your optimal A1C level with a healthcare practitioner who can interpret it in the context of your age, ethnicity, and medical history.


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