SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - Diabetes is a quickly growing disease, as seen during the past 10 years.

Today, more and more young people in their 20s and 30s are being diagnosed with diabetes, whereas in the 1990s, it was rare for people under 40 years old to develop the disease.

There is no single culprit that causes diabetes, and prediabetes rarely has symptoms that can be detected, aside from a slight increase in thirst or the need to urinate more frequently.

Major risk factors associated with diabetes include: a family history of diabetes or prediabetes, weight gain, inadequate exercise, low fiber intake, and high blood pressure or cholesterol.

Prediabetes is a beginning stage in the illness, which is often reversible by simple lifestyle changes. However, once the threshold into full-blown diabetes is crossed, the disease is lifelong.

Let me explain what happens when you take in food and the body attempts to digest it for fuel.

Once you've eaten the food, the nutrients travel to the stomach to be processed. When the food is digested, the intestines transfer the nutrients, including glucose, into the bloodstream. This is when the pancreas starts cranking out insulin.

Insulin is the hormone that shuttles glucose into the cells so it can be used as energy, or converted into fat and stored in the body.

In prediabetes, the pancreas either does not produce enough insulin, or your body stops responding to normal levels of the insulin hormone, rendering your body unable to use insulin properly.

This causes an insulin resistance, which in turn causes the blood sugar levels to remain high. Since the cells don't react, more insulin keeps being produced until they do.

If prediabetes is ignored and sugar levels continue to soar to dangerously high levels, you can develop full-blown diabetes. Exercise and weight loss will reduce the amount of insulin the your body needs and, in turn, reduce the risk of diabetes and prediabetes.

Prediabetics are more prone to have health problems such as heart attacks or strokes, compared to someone with normal blood sugar levels.

To help prevent prediabetes, keep in mind the following five lifestyle factors:

<b>1. Know the numbers. </b>

High blood pressure or high cholesterol increases the risk for diabetes.

Bad cholesterol, or LDL, should be below 100 and good cholesterol, or HDL, should be higher than 50.

Blood pressure should be below 130/80, and the cutoff for blood sugar level after a fasting glucose test should be 99.

<b>2. Be strong. </b>

Muscle contraction during exercise makes cells more sensitive to insulin, which allows them to use glucose more efficiently.

The more muscle built, the more calories burned and the more weight lost.

<b>3. Learn the history. </b>

If you have any blood relatives with diabetes, the risk for the condition increases and increases significantly if those relatives are parents or siblings.

<b>4. Strap on a pedometer. </b>

A pedometer will guarantee an increase in activity levels.

Shoot for 10,000 steps a day, and make it a daily challenge to beat the previous day's step count.

<b>5. Fill up on fiber. </b>

Aim for at least 25 grams of fiber per day by eating complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables and whole grains, which aid in weight loss.

If you're worried that you're at high risk, or already show signs of prediabetes, get screened.

Your doctor will perform either a fasting-glucose test to measure blood sugar levels after an eight-hour fast or a glucose-tolerance test to check how your body responds to being flooded with sugar.

Review the five factors, watch your diet, ditch fast food and go for a good old-fashioned run instead.

<i>(Editor's Note: Information was compiled from "The Tufts University Guide to Total Nutrition.")</i>

Page last updated Mon July 12th, 2010 at 21:01