How to spot the early danger signs of diabetes

Contrary to popular myth, the sugar buzz you get from your daily candy habit doesn’t make you more likely to get Type 2 diabetes, at least not directly. But any flab you gain around your waist, plus your “allergy” to exercise and your high blood pressure do amp up your odds of developing the condition. The number of Canadians with these risk factors—and with Type 2 diabetes—is skyrocketing. Between 1994 and 2005, the number of us with diabetes jumped by 45 percent. The good news? Most cases of Type 2 diabetes are preventable, says Dr. Ian Blumer, author of Diabetes for Canadians for Dummies.

One way to lower your risk of developing diabetes is to find out if you have prediabetes—a warning-sign condition where your blood sugar levels are elevated but not yet high enough to be deemed Type 2 diabetes. To treat prediabetes, you typically don’t need medication, says Dr. Blumer. “Most people with prediabetes can return to normal blood glucose levels with lifestyle changes.”

The simple changes include shedding excess weight, getting more exercise and maintaining a healthy diet. “Any improvement in weight loss is significant in reducing your risk,” says Dr. Blumer. “A few pounds can make a huge difference.”

Learning to stress less is crucial, too. New research is revealing a link between prolonged bouts of stress and diabetes. When you’re under pressure, hormones like epinephrine and cortisol kick in to spike your blood sugar levels. “Think of it this way: if you are running away from a tiger, you need sugar in your bloodstream to give you energy so you can keep running,” explains Dr. Barry Simon. “But with chronic stress, like depression, your blood sugar levels are constantly elevated, which puts greater strain on your organs, increasing your risk of being diagnosed with diabetes.” And it’s not just mental stress that wreaks havoc; the physical or emotional variety can cause the same response in your body.

At least six million Canadians have prediabetes, but many people with elevated glucose levels are oblivious. “They go around feeling fine and not knowing there is something wrong because there are no symptoms,” says Dr. Blumer.

You should be concerned about prediabetes if you are overweight, have high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. Genetics can also put you at a slightly increased risk for developing diabetes. For example, if one of your parents has it, you have a 15 percent increased chance of getting the condition, too, says Dr. Blumer. The CDA recommends screening for prediabetes every three years after your 40th birthday, but if you have any risk factors you can ask your doctor to check for elevated blood-glucose levels sooner. The earlier you know you’re at risk, the more time you have to make changes in your daily habits to avoid becoming a statistic.

Sugar Shock has been edited for; the complete story appears in the July issue of FLARE magazine.