It may be possible to prevent diabetes in people at risk for developing the disease through healthy lifestyle changes, according to a new study.
Researchers in Finland found that lifestyle changes such as eating a better diet and increasing levels of physical activity were able to stave off the onset of diabetes in people who were at risk of developing the disease.
A total of 522 middle-aged people with impaired glucose tolerance–considered an intermediate step on the way to developing diabetes–were either assigned to have personalized health counseling and guidance on diet and exercise or were assigned to a group that would just receive standard health advice and assistance.
At the end of the study, rates of diabetes among people in the intervention group–who received individualized sessions with dieticians and exercise specialists to help guide them in their lifestyle changes–were 58% lower. Among the intervention group, 27 people developed diabetes compared with 59 people in the group receiving standard healthcare.
“We have now proven, using adequate scientific design, that type 2 diabetes is preventable,” says the study’s lead author Jaakko Tuomilehto, MD, PhD, professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Health Promotion at Finland’s National Public Health Institute. “Until today, there hasn’t been a properly designed study to prove this point.”
It doesn’t take a drastic, dramatic change in lifestyle factors to prevent type 2 diabetes–“even relatively small changes are helpful,” Tuomilehto says. The people in the Finnish study lost an average of 9.26 pounds (4.2 kilograms) during their first year in the intervention program.
Talk to your doctor about your risk for developing diabetes, as well as about ways you can make your life healthier, Tuomilehto says. Other health professionals who can help you eat healthier or add more exercise to your life may be just as important as your doctor is to the fight against diabetes, if not more so, he adds.
Another benefit of lifestyle modification is that it is all natural. “We did not use any drugs in this study,” Tuomilehto says. “It’s only lifestyle, and these lifestyle changes do not only affect glucose levels,” he says. Some effects on blood pressure were seen in study participants, as well as changes in blood lipid levels, especially triglycerides, which can indicate a person’s heart disease risk.
Living a healthy life comes with no side effects, says P. Antonio Tataranni, MD, senior scientist with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and head of the NIH’s obesity, diabetes, and energy metabolism unit in Phoenix, Arizona. Tataranni and NIH colleague Clifton Bogardus, MD, are authors of an editorial that appears, along with Tuomilehto’s study, in the May 3 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Tuomilehto’s study, while not the first to show that healthy lifestyles may help fight diabetes, is the most convincing, Tataranni says.
“What the study says is something very simple: It shows that under the ideal conditions of a clinical trial, people at risk of type 2 diabetes can be coached to choose a healthier lifestyle,” says Tataranni, and it demonstrates that changes in lifestyle can have a huge impact on the progression of diabetes.
But can these results be translated from a scientific study into the real world? That’s hard to say at this point, Tataranni says.
Tuomilehto and his colleagues note that it might not be as difficult to stick with the program as some would think. Very few people dropped out of the study, which might not apply to people in other nations, but it is possible that people could be motivated to stay on track with a proven program if it was made available to them, they write.
“There are many, many reasons to recommend a healthy lifestyle. There is no question about it,” Tataranni says. “A healthy lifestyle has been proven to prevent and delay the onset of many other diseases. Now we know with a large degree of certainty–I would say beyond reasonable doubt–that it’s going to have a huge, huge impact on prevention of type 2 diabetes.”
Article By: Erin King