The Lasting Effect of Lifestyle Changes in Preventing Diabetes

Hunter Yost M.D. | Jul 9, 2012, 6 a.m.


Hunter Yost

For years, medical studies have shown that lifestyle and dietary changes could provide long-lasting protection against Type II or Adult Onset Diabetes, but doctors weren’t sure for how long. Now, in a study just published in The Lancet journal, the longest follow-up of patients from the Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group provides more clarification.

This study followed 3,234 non-diabetic patients with elevated fasting glucose and impaired glucose tolerance. The rate of new diabetes fell by 58 percent with intensive lifestyle intervention and by only 31 percent in those patients taking metformin (a common drug for diabetes), compared to placebo over 2.8 years.

Over the next 5.7 years, the original lifestyle intervention group maintained their low diabetes onset rate. When researchers combined the two time periods to cover 10 years, the rate of new diabetes fell by 34 percent in the lifestyle intervention group and by 18 percent in the metformin group. The authors concluded, “… a carefully followed diet-exercise combination seemed to be superior in preventing or delaying the development of diabetes compared to the effect of anti-hyperglycemic drugs ... ”

For those who would prefer to rely on medicine alone to treat their diabetes, there is bad news. In 2008, The New England Journal of Medicine published a study of 10,000 people showing that those who took medicines only to lower their blood sugar had a higher risk of death. Why? Because the medicines don’t treat the underlying cause of the diabetes (in this case insulin resistance when the cells of the body don’t respond to the insulin signal to lower blood sugar) and the drugs make the problem worse by elevating insulin levels.

Contrary to the television commercials saying, “When diet and exercise aren’t enough …” medical studies now show diet and exercise are not only effective, but long-lasting for preventing diabetes.

The low-tech approach of lifestyle change is not advertised since there is no profit to be made. Yet the improved quality of life and prevention of the serious consequences of diabetes is priceless to those who want to take charge of their health. The Mediterranean diet is used in most of these studies and is the most widely studied diet in all of medical literature for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis. It can also help to reverse the problem of insulin resistance.

Hunter Yost M.D. has a private practice in northwest Tucson: www.hunteryostmd.com.

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