The statistics are sobering.  Diabetes is an epidemic among African-Americans, yet it’s also among the most preventable diseases that face our population. According to the National Diabetes Education Program, 4.9 million African-Americans in the U.S. are diabetic and don’t even know it. Yes, it’s true, something has to kill you, but the significantly reduced quality of life that many diabetics face is reason enough to try to prevent diabetes before it happens to you. Diabetes is a an illness that significantly impacts the body’s major health systems – cardiovascular disease, loss of limbs, kidney failure and blindness are extreme examples of what happens when diabetes is poorly managed or goes untreated. But beyond those extremes there is what your life becomes when you must check sugar levels every few hours, when you can no longer enjoy anything sweet, and when even your sex life can be threatened. According to, men over 50 with diabetes are 50%-60% likely to have problems with impotence if they are diabetic. Instead of managing diabetes, African-Americans should strive to prevent it. Here are five ways to prevent diabetes from happening to you.


In 2002, the Diabetes Prevention Program released a comprehensive study of a group of over 3,000 men and women who were at risk of diabetes. The study found that both men and women could significantly reduce their risk of developing diabetes by following a modest protocol that emphasizes losing weight by becoming more active and changing their diets. The results of lifestyle intervention were almost double that of a group in the study that was put on metformin, a common drug prescribed in high-risk patients to reduce the chance they will become diabetic. The study shows just how much significant illnesses like diabetes can be impacted by weight loss. As our country becomes more obese, diabetes is expected to skyrocket, with more children being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the type that is more common in adults.  According to the National Center of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health, if diabetes rates continue at the same rates, 1 out of 3 children born in 2000 will develop diabetes.


Because diabetes impacts blood vessels and the cardiovascular system, it often comes with heart disease and high blood pressure. Exercise, once you’re cleared by a doctor, can help with all of these ailments. Even if it’s a daily half-hour walk at a relatively brisk pace, becoming more active can help those at high-risk for diabetes to lose weight and can normalize the elevated blood sugars in pre-diabetes, often a significant indicator of future diabetes. Overweight and sedentary African-Americans, especially those with a history of diabetes in their family are at the very highest risks for diabetes. If you can get moving, even if you start out walking one block, you can start reducing that risk.


There is some evidence based on a 2006 study done by the National Institutes of Health as well as the recommendations of several prominent doctors and nutritionists that a diet higher in plant-based foods can be helpful to prevent diabetes. This includes vegan and vegetarian diets but even decreasing the amount of meat and dairy in many diets can help weight loss, heart health and diabetes. Adding more vegetables, whole grains and fruits to your diet creates a healthier eating profile that can make a difference for those who are at high-risk for diabetes. For more information on health, African-Americans and plant-based or vegan and vegetarian diets, including recipes, check out


Stress is not officially a cause of diabetes but it’s been shown that diabetes can develop in times of high stress and if you already have diabetes, stress can raise your blood sugar levels. If you’re in a highly stressful job or life situation and you have any of the other risk factors– you’re overweight or inactive -it’s important to consider how you manage your stress. Meditation, t’ai chi, yoga and massage are healthy ways to reduced stress levels. If time is an issue, there are mediation CD’s available that you can download and play on your daily commute (as long as you’re not driving). Something as simple as taking deep breaths in stressful situations or a soothing bath can also manage stress.  Talk therapy can also make stress manageable and is usually covered at least in part by most health insurance.


If you believe that it’s possible that you have undiagnosed diabetes or pre-diabetes, get screened. If you are one of the millions of Americans who have diabetes and don’t know it, you want to start treating it before it causes other health problems, like kidney disease. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease in the U.S. There are two important tests that can determine diabetes and prediabetes – the fasting plasma glucose test (FPG) or the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). For both tests, you must fast overnight. Ask your doctor about both of these tests.

For more information on diabetes prevention, symptoms and treatment go to the American Diabetes Association website and watch this video about prediabetes.

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