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Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Diabetes: New Studies

Several recent studies suggest that making lifestyle changes including losing weight, exercising and eating a healthful diet can help to prevent diabetes.

Six-year program reduces diabetes and heart attacks: For six years, 577 adults with high blood sugar levels followed a diet and exercise program to prevent and treat diabetes (The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, published online. 3 April 2014). Seventeen years later, compared to a similar group that had not been on the six-year diet and exercise instructions:
• Deaths from heart attacks were reduced by almost 50 percent,
• Deaths from all causes were reduced by 30 percent, and
• Incidence of diabetes was reduced by more than 25 percent.
The accompanying editorial called these findings "a real breakthrough, showing that lifestyle intervention can reduce the risk of long-term cardiovascular consequences of diabetes."

High triglycerides predict diabetes: 341 healthy men and women, 30 to 50 years old, with no evidence of diabetes (normal fasting blood sugar and normal blood sugar two hours after a meal), were followed for 15 years (European Journal of Internal Medicine, published online February 6, 2014). Those with blood levels of triglycerides above 150 mg/dl (1.7 mmol/l) were far more likely to develop the signs of diabetes:
• large waist circumference (belly fat),
• overweight,
• high total body fat,
• high blood pressure,
• high blood sugar levels (fasting and after eating), and
• high insulin levels (fasting and after eating).

Prevent diabetes by eating more vegetables, avoiding weight gain and tobacco: 774 girls, ages 16-17, followed for three years had a marked lowering in risk factors for becoming diabetic (fasting blood sugar and insulin) with increases in vegetable intake, and avoidance of tobacco and weight gain (Public Health Nutrition, February 2014;0217(2):361-8).

Being overweight increases chances for becoming diabetic: A person is called metabolically unhealthy when he has high triglycerides, high blood pressure, high bad LDL cholesterol, high insulin and a fatty liver, and low levels of the good HDL cholesterol. He is called metabolically healthy when he has none of these risk factors for diabetes. Researchers showed that metabolically unhealthy overweight people are almost nine times more likely to become diabetic than those who are metabolically healthy and have normal weight. Overweight people who are metabolically healthy are 4.03 times more likely to become diabetic than those who are not overweight (Obesity Reviews, published online March 24, 2014;15(4)). This shows that overweight people are at high risk for becoming diabetic, even if they have no laboratory indicators for diabetes.

Sugared drinks linked to high blood pressure: Twelve scientifically dependable studies involving 409,707 participants showed that sugar-sweetened beverages were associated with increased risk for high blood pressure, a risk factor for diabetes and heart attacks (The American Journal of Cardiology, February, 2014).

Common drugs increase diabetes risk: Four types of drugs used to prevent heart attacks increase risk for diabetes by 9 to 43 percent: statins, niacin, thiazide diuretics, and beta blockers (Am Heart J, April, 2014:421-428). Statins are used to lower cholesterol, niacin is used to lower high blood levels of triglycerides, beta blockers treat high blood pressure and irregular heart beats, angiotensin–converting enzyme inhibitors treat high blood pressure, and thiazide diuretics treat high blood pressure and fluid retention.

Taking statins can raise blood sugar levels and increases diabetes risk. Those who gain weight while taking statins are the ones most likely to develop diabetes (American Journal of Cardiology, published online March 3, 2014). Other factors that predict that a person on statins will become diabetic include high blood levels of triglycerides, low levels of the good HDL cholesterol, a fatty liver, or abdominal obesity. 7,595 patients who did not have diabetes were followed for five years. They averaged a gain of 2.2 pounds per year and those who developed diabetes gained, on the average, 3.4 pounds per year.

Other common side effects of statins include muscle and joint aches, nausea, diarrhea and constipation. On rare occasions, they can cause liver damage, muscle damage or nerve damage. If you are taking these drugs, or if your doctor recommends that you take them, be sure to discuss the possible side effects and make the appropriate lifestyle changes.

April 13th, 2014
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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