Welcome to Diabetes Prevention Thursdays! Today, let’s discuss how to prevent type 2 diabetes in children. There’s a growing type 2 diabetes problem in our young people. But parents can help turn the tide with healthy changes that are good for the whole family.
Until recently, young children and teens almost never got type 2 diabetes, which is why it used to be called adult-onset diabetes. Now, about one-third of American youth are overweight, a problem closely related to the increase in kids with type 2 diabetes, some as young as 10 years old.
People who are overweight—especially if they have excess belly fat—are more likely to have insulin resistance, kids included. Insulin resistance is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that acts like a key to let blood sugar into cells for use as energy. Because of heredity (traits inherited from family members) or lifestyle (eating too much and moving too little), cells can stop responding normally to insulin. That causes the pancreas to make more insulin to try to get cells to respond and take in blood sugar.
As long as enough insulin is produced, blood sugar levels remain normal. This can go on for several years, but eventually the pancreas can’t keep up. Blood sugar starts to rise, first after meals and then all the time. Now the stage is set for type 2 diabetes.
Insulin resistance usually doesn’t have any symptoms, though some kids develop patches of thickened, dark, velvety skin called acanthosis nigricans, usually in body creases and folds such as the back of the neck or armpits. They may also have other conditions related to insulin resistance, including:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
Being physically active lowers the risk for type 2 diabetes because it helps the body use insulin better, decreasing insulin resistance. Physical activity improves health in lots of other ways, too, from controlling blood pressure to boosting mental health.
Kids who get type 2 diabetes are usually diagnosed in their early teens. One reason is that hormones present during puberty make it harder for the body use insulin, especially for girls, who are more likely than boys to develop type 2 diabetes. That’s an important reason to help your kids take charge of their health while they’re young.
More Risk Factors
These factors also increase kids’ risk for type 2 diabetes:
- Having a family member with type 2 diabetes.
- Being born to a mom with gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant).
- Being African American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American/Alaska Native, Asian American, or Pacific Islander.
- Having one or more conditions related to insulin resistance.
If your child is overweight and has any two of the risk factors listed above, talk to your doctor about getting his or her blood sugar tested. Testing typically begins at 10 years old or when puberty starts, whichever is first, and is repeated every 3 years.
Take Charge, Family Style
Parents can do a lot to help their kids prevent type 2 diabetes. Set a new normal as a family—healthy changes become habits more easily when everyone does them together. Here are some tips to get started:
- Drink more water and fewer sugary drinks.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables.
- Make favorite foods healthier.
- Get kids involved in making healthier meals.
- Eat slowly—it takes at least 20 minutes to start feeling full.
- Eat at the dinner table only, not in front of the TV or computer.
- Shop for food together.
- Shop on a full stomach so you’re not tempted to buy unhealthy food.
- Teach your kids to read food labels to understand which foods are healthiest.
- Have meals together as a family as often as you can.
- Don’t insist kids clean their plates.
- Don’t put serving dishes on the table.
- Serve small portions; let kids ask for seconds.
- Reward kids with praise instead of food.
- Aim for your child to get 60 minutes of physical activity a day, in several 10- or 15-minute sessions or all at once.
- Start slow and build up.
- Keep it positive—focus on progress.
- Take parent and kid fitness classes together.
- Make physical activity more fun; try new things.
- Ask kids what activities they like best—everyone is different.
- Encourage kids to join a sports team.
- Have a “fit kit” available—a jump rope, hand weights, resistance bands.
- Limit screen time to 2 hours a day.
- Plan active outings, like hiking or biking.
- Take walks together.
- Move more in and out of the house—vacuuming, raking leaves, gardening.
- Turn chores into games, like racing to see how fast you can clean the house.
Young kids and teens are still growing, so if they’re overweight the goal is to slow down weight gain while allowing normal growth and development. Don’t put them on a weight loss diet without talking to their doctor.
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I wanted to talk about this topic because it is absolutely possible to prevent and even reverse Type 2 Diabetes (but you cannot reverse Type 1). Yes, it’s possible! and emerging studies looking at lifestyle medicine and prevention support this! But I always tell my patients that you must be dedicated and diligent in adopting a healthy lifestyle to get the best results. You can create certain behaviors and practices that will not only enrich your life, but that you can pass on to your family, friends, and community, to help break the cycle of this chronic disease so that you can leave a legacy of health to your loved ones.
I use functional medicine and lifestyle medicine as the first line of treatment, before medications, to treat lifestyle-related chronic diseases. Lifestyle-related chronic diseases include diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and some cancers, just to name a few. Lifestyle practices, such as eating a low glycemic, whole-food plant-based diet and regular physical activity, can help you improve your blood sugar levels, maybe reverse type 2 diabetes. In certain cases, these approaches may even outperform pharmaceutical therapy. But I always tell my patients that conventional medications may be appropriate at this time to prevent catastrophic illness, but over time, you can work to make the necessary lifestyle changes to possibly reduce and/or eliminate medications. Please remember to always consult your physician for your particular needs and circumstances prior to making any decisions whatsoever.
Is Dietary Supplementation Right For You?
When it comes to managing your blood sugars (in general), pre-diabetes, and diabetes, there are many things that you can do to help control your blood sugar levels. One important aspect is diet. What you eat affects your blood sugar, so it’s important to be mindful of what goes into your body.
But it is very important to note that we are not eating the same foods we ate years ago because the soils have been depleted of critical nutrients through current industrial farming practices. And because the soil is not as good as it used to be, the food supply (grown from the depleted soil) is not as good as it used to be. For example, you are not getting the same levels of chromium and magnesium as you would have gotten 30 or even 50 years ago.
Second, much of the food has been processed and genetically altered, which can impact the inherent and unique nutritional composition that each food possess. For example, ancient einkorn wheat has less gluten, more protein, more Vitamin A, and more beta carotene, than modern genetically modified wheat.
Third, the toxic load in the environment today is much higher than 100 years ago. We can see this with global warming, toxic landfills, polluted oceans and waterways, etc. Toxicity levels interfere with nutrient assimilation and absorption not just into the foods, but into our bodies as well. We often see elevated blood sugar levels with poor nutrition and toxicity.
In addition to diet, there are dietary supplements that can have an impact on blood sugar levels. Dietary supplements for diabetes are becoming increasingly popular as people look for ways to improve their blood sugar control.
For some people, vitamin and mineral supplements offer important health benefits. Supplements are designed to fight deficiencies found in our diet and complement the food we eat regularly. Supplements are basically “helping hands” to our daily food.
If you suspect that you aren’t getting the nutrients you need, consider shifting your focus from supplements to eating better.
And if you are unable to eat better, the supplements in my Blood Sugar Support Bundle may provide the extra boost you need.
These are my favorite Diabetes Prevention Supplements to use! This Blood Sugar Support Bundle will ensure you have the intake of the important vitamins, minerals, and probiotics to decrease inflammation and boost your innate wellness day and night. Taken together, it’s a solid plan for increasing your body’s natural resiliency while encouraging healthy blood sugar levels.
For best results make sure you use these supplements with dietary changes including a whole food plant-based diet, regular exercise (at least 2-3x per week), regular sleep (8 hours per night), and intermittent fasting (at least 1-3x per week).
It’s important to note that supplements are NOT a replacement for your regular medication regimen prescribed by your doctor. However, they can be used in addition to help manage your blood sugar levels.
Supplements have the potential to interact with diabetes medications, so it’s important to speak with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen. Have you tried any dietary supplements for your diabetes? Share your experience in the comments below!
Tools For Diabetes Prevention and Monitoring
Blood Sugar Monitoring
As you know, I always stress the importance of taking control of your health. Monitoring your blood sugar levels is one of the best ways to do this. To do this, a single drop of blood is collected with disposable lancets and placed on a disposable test strip, which you insert into a home blood-sugar monitoring device, called a glucometer.
The common times for checking your blood sugar are when you first wake up (fasting), before a meal, 2 hours after a meal, and at bedtime; however, you should check your blood sugar as many times a day as your health care team suggests.
Monitoring your blood sugar level provides you and your doctors with important knowledge about how food, activity, medication, stress, and other elements might affect your blood sugar levels. This data will assist you and your doctor in developing a therapy plan that is suited to your demands.
There are several types of blood glucose meters, lancets, and test strips to choose from. I often recommend this glucometer, lancets, and test strips.
Since weight management is very important in combatting chronic diseases such as diabetes, I recommend that you be mindful of your weight and its fluctuations, and that you monitor your weight AT LEAST on a weekly basis. I recommend a scale that includes a body composition monitor (*this scale cannot be used with a pacemaker or other implanted devices).
Physical activity (or exercise) can improve your health and reduce the risk of developing several chronic diseases like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, just to name a few. Physical activity actually improves insulin sensitivity. Physical activity can improve your mood, boost your immune system, and even help you maintain a healthy weight.
I often recommend yoga and resistance training for physical activity, but as you are aware, there are plenty of forms of “movement” that you can do! But for the basics, especially if you’re just getting started, yoga and resistance training are where I would start.
Yoga can be a great way to improve your strength and flexibility, manage your stress, improve your heart health, and lose weight! I recommend using a grounded yoga mat to connect yourself with the earth and reduce inflammation.
Resistance training is the mainstay for overall health. It not only has beneficial effects on reducing body fat, it also increases muscle size and strength. Here are some basic dumbbells/free weights that I recommend to everyone.
Another alternative for dumbbells/free weights are resistance bands. They are great for physical therapy, yoga, strength training, and excellent for traveling.
Remember, living a healthy lifestyle including eating a whole foods plant-based diet and regular physical activity are the best ways to prevent diabetes. Please talk with your doctor about any complementary health approaches, including supplements, you use. Let me know what you think in the comment section below.
PS. I am always asked what tools and resources I recommend to help you reach YOUR health goals. Here is the ever-growing, always updated list for you.
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