Similar risks found in prediabetes and diabetes

By David Dunaief

Dr. David Dunaief

Let’s start with a quiz:

1. Compared to sitting, which has more benefit on diabetes?

a) Standing for five minutes every half hour

b) Walking for five minutes every half hour

c) Neither had benefit, the activities were too short

d) Both were potentially equal in benefit

2. True or false? Diabetes patients are predominantly obese and overweight.

Diabetes just won’t go away. It seems that every time I write about the disease, the news is doom and gloom about how it has become a pandemic. The prevalence, or the number with the disease, and the incidence, or the growth rate of the disease, always seem to be on the rise, with little end in sight.

Depression and stress

We don’t want to make you depressed or stressed, especially since these conditions combined with diabetes can have dangerous outcomes. In fact, in an observational study, results showed that diabetes patients with stress and/or depression had greater risk of cardiovascular events and death, compared to those with diabetes alone. When diabetes patients had stress or depression, there was a 53 percent increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease (1). And in those diabetes patients who had both stress and depression, there was two times greater risk of death from heart disease than in those without these mental health issues. These results need to be confirmed with more rigorous study.

Something to brighten your day!

However, there is good news. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the incidence, or the rate of increase in new cases, has begun to slow for the first time in 25 years (2). There was a 20 percent reduction in the rate of new cases in the six-year period ending in 2014. This should help to brighten your day. However, your optimism should be cautious; it does not mean the disease has stopped growing, it means it has potentially turned a corner in terms of the growth rate, or at least we hope. This may relate in part to the fact that we have reduced our consumption of sugary drinks like soda and orange juice. By the way, the answers to the quiz questions are (1) d and (2) True, although not all patients have a weight issue.

Get up, stand up!

It may be easier than you think to reduce the risk of developing diabetes. This goes along with the answer to the first question: Standing and walking may be equivalent in certain circumstances for diabetes prevention. In a small, randomized control trial, the gold standard of studies, results showed that when sitting, those who either stood or walked for a five-minute duration every 30 minutes, had a substantial reduction in the risk of diabetes, compared to those who sat for long uninterrupted periods (3).

There was a postprandial, or postmeal, reduction in the rise of glucose of 34 percent in those who stood and 28 percent reduction in those who walked, both compared to those who sat for long periods continuously in the first day. The effects remained significant on the second day. A controlled diet was given to the patients. In this study, the difference in results for those who stood and those who walked was not statistically significant.

The participants were overweight, postmenopausal women who had prediabetes, HbA1C between 5.7 and 6.4 percent. The HbA1C gives an average glucose or sugar reading over three months. The researchers hypothesize that this effect of standing or walking may have to do with favorably changing the muscle physiology. So, in other words, a large effect can come from a very small but conscientious effort. This is a preliminary study, but the results are impressive.

Can prediabetes and diabetes have similar complications?

Diabetes is much more significant than prediabetes, or is it? It turns out that both stages of the disease can have substantial complications. In a study of those presenting in the emergency room with acute coronary syndrome (ACS), those who have either prediabetes or diabetes have a much poorer outcome. ACS is defined as a sudden reduction in blood flow to the heart, resulting in potentially severe events, such as heart attack or unstable angina (chest pain).

In the patients with diabetes or prediabetes, there was an increased risk of death with ACS as compared to those with normal sugars. The diabetes patients experienced an increased risk of greater than 100 percent, while those who had prediabetes had an almost 50 percent increased risk of mortality over and above the general population with ACS. Thus, both diabetes and prediabetes need to be taken seriously.

Sadly, most diabetes drugs do not reduce the risk of cardiac events. And bariatric surgery, which may reduce or put diabetes in remission for five years, did not have an impact on increasing survival (4).

What do the prevention guidelines tell us?

The United States Preventive Services Task Force renders recommendations on screening for diseases. On one hand, I commend them for changing their recommendation for diabetes screening. In 2008, the USPSTF did not believe the research provided enough results to screen asymptomatic patients for abnormal sugar levels and diabetes. However, in October 2015, the committee drafted guidelines suggesting that everyone more than 45 years old should be screened, but the final guidelines settled on screening a target population of those between the ages of 40 and 70 who are overweight or obese (5). They recommend that those with abnormal glucose levels pursue intensive lifestyle modification as a first step.

This is a great step forward, as most diabetes patients are overweight or obese; however, 15 to 20 percent of diabetes patients are within the normal range for body mass index (6). So this screening still misses a significant number of people.

Potassium: It’s not just for breakfast anymore

When we think of potassium, the first things that comes to mind is bananas, which do contain a significant amount of potassium, as do other plant-based foods. Those with rich amounts of potassium include dark green, leafy vegetables, almonds, avocado, beans and raisins. We know potassium is critical for blood pressure control, but why is this important to diabetes?

In an observational study, results showed that the greater the excretion of potassium through the kidneys, the lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and kidney dysfunction in those with diabetes (7). There were 623 Japanese participants with normal kidney function at the start of the trial. The duration was substantial, with a mean of 11 years of follow-up. Those who had the highest quartile of urinary potassium excretion were 67 percent less likely to experience a cardiovascular event or kidney event than those in the lowest quartile. The researchers suggested that higher urinary excretion of potassium is associated with higher intake of foods rich in potassium.

Where does this leave us for the prevention of diabetes and its complications? You guessed it: lifestyle modifications, the tried and true! Lifestyle should be the cornerstone, including diet, stress reduction and exercise, or at least mild to moderate physical activity.

References: (1) Diabetes Care, online Nov. 17, 2015. (2) cdc.gov. (3) Diabetes Care. online Dec. 1, 2015. (4) JAMA Surg. online Sept. 16, 2015. (5) Ann Intern Med. 2015;163(11):861-868. (6) JAMA. 2012;308(6):581-590. (7) Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. online Nov. 12, 2015.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.

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