Prediabetes & Neuropathy

Neuropathy, also known as peripheral neuropathy, is a condition that occurs when the peripheral nerves become damaged or is disrupted as is often the case in individuals with type 2 diabetes.  But a recent study from John Hopkins University School of Medicine found that prediabetes may cause more nerve damage that what was once previously thought.

Prediabetes occurs when blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as having diabetes.  But having prediabetes does make a person much more likely to eventually develop type 2 diabetes then people with normal blood sugar levels.  National data suggest that 1 in every 3 adult Americans has prediabetes and in older adults it could be as high as 1 in every 2.

People with neuropathy commonly experience tingling, burning or numbness sensations in the extremities often beginning in the toes and feet and then traveling upward.  It can also sometimes affect the hands and fingers resulting in weakness, numbness, and pain from damage to the nerves.  Neuropathy is one of the most common complications people with type 2 diabetes have.  

The prevailing thought was that people with prediabetes did not experience much nerve damage until later on if they went on to develop type 2 diabetes. 

The study covering over three years, analyzed 62 participants, including 52 who had tingling and pain in their hands and feet or neuropathy.  Out of the 52 participants with neuropathy, 13 of them had prediabetes, 14 had type 2 diabetes and the remaining 25 had normal blood sugar levels.

At the end of three years, the researchers found that those with prediabetes had damage over the entire length of small sensory nerve fibers, instead of just at the longest ends first.  The researchers were surprised by this finding as they expected the participants with type 2 diabetes to be worse but what they weren’t expecting was to find those with prediabetes had a similar rate of degradation of their small nerve fibers.

It was cautioned that there could be other contributing factors other than the prediabetes that might have contributed to their nerve damage such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. 

However, the study does point to the necessity to take prediabetes seriously.  It is telling the researchers that when there is nerve damage that has already begun to occur during the stage of prediabetes, it adds to the urgency of conducting additional screening of people who have prediabetes but do not know it yet. 

Ways to prevent prediabetes

According to the American Diabetes Association, a person can reduce and possibly reverse their risk of prediabetes by following certain lifestyle habits.  If a person who currently has prediabetes does nothing to slow or reverse it, they will likely develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years. 

There are ways to combat this.  Scientists with the Diabetes Research Center at the University of Leicester in Great Britain found that adults who lose weight and decrease their waist size within one year of a prediabetes diagnosis are twice as likely to return to normal glucose tolerance as people with prediabetes who do not.  Those who lost 3% of their body weight in one year (for a 150 pound person, that’s about 4.5 pounds) they were likely to return to normal glucose levels than those who did not lost weight or those who gained weight.  There was a similar effect in those who decreased their waistlines by more than 1 ¼ inches.

Here are some other ways to reverse or prevent prediabetes:

·         Eat a healthy diet 

 Meeting with a registered dietitian (RD) or a certified diabetes educator (CDE) can help a person create a meal plan where the goal is to control blood glucose levels keeping it in a normal range.  The meal plan should take into account a person’s overall health, physical activity and what they like to eat.

 ·         Increase exercise

Exercising helps the body to use more glucose thus it helps to lower blood glucose levels.  Also when a person exercises, the body doesn’t needs as much insulin to transport glucose so the body becomes less insulin resistant.  Exercise also helps a person to lose weight reaching a healthier body weight, keeps the heart healthy, improves sleep, and improves mood.

·         Lose weight

If a person is overweight, as soon as they are diagnosed with prediabetes, they need to focus on losing weight.  Losing just 5-10% of their current weight can significantly reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.  By combining eating well with exercising more, this is a great start to losing weight and being able to maintain a new healthy weight.  It is recommended to get in at least 150 minutes each week of moderate to vigorous exercise – an example would be brisk walking for 30 minutes 5 days a week.