Even slightly elevated blood glucose or hemoglobin A1c damages the heart, brain and kidneys, while increasing the risk of stroke, cancer, and type II diabetes. Comprehensive annual blood testing can detect elevated glycemic markers that are reversible.
A record number of Americans now require dialysis treatments to remove waste products from their blood. Dialysis is not nearly as efficient as healthy kidneys that work around the clock.
To put this into perspective, the five-year survival rate for patients who start dialysis was only 36% compared to 86% for those who received a kidney transplant. Neither scenario comes close to having healthy kidneys. Type II diabetes is a risk factor for kidney disease. Around 10%-40% of type II diabetics will experience kidney failure. Research shows that before diabetes is diagnosed, higher-than-normal blood sugar levels damage kidneys.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW The public is failing to realize the serious complications that arise from elevated blood sugar and insulin. Approximately 86 million people in the United States fit the clinical definition of prediabetic. Because they are not yet diabetic, they do not receive glucose lowering drugs that provide many ancillary benefits. This has led to prediabetics having higher rates of several diseases, in comparison to diabetics.
A significant part of the American population (about 27%) has blood sugar levels that are higher-than-normal—but not high enough to meet the threshold for type II diabetes.
This “prediabetic” phase places people at risk for kidney disease, potentially crippling neuropathy, heart disorders, cancer, and stroke.
Our longstanding position is that the term “prediabetes” should be abolished. Anyone with less-than-optimal glucose, insulin and hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) blood levels should aggressively intervene to reverse these glycemic markers. Instead of this logical approach, what usually happens is that elevated glucose and insulin smolder for years.
In many of these cases, type II diabetes is not diagnosed until permanent damage is inflicted. Drugs to treat type II diabetes are frequently advertised. Too bad TV commercials don’t promote comprehensive blood tests to identify diabetic risk factors before they cripple or kill. The tragedy for most victims of degenerative illness is that their disease was preventable with early-diagnosis.
In people with higher vitamin D blood levels (>50 ng/mL), transition from prediabetes to type II diabetes may be reduced as much as 80%.
Nerve Damage Starts Early
Small, capillary-like blood vessels that are embedded in nerve bundles feed the nerves throughout our bodies, including small and large nerves in our feet. An elevation of glycemic markers means that excessive blood sugar and glycation are inflicting damage to small nerve fibers by cutting off blood circulation. This is the reason why crippling neuropathic pain is often the first sign of type II diabetes. This nerve damage may have begun decades before.
A 2018 study looked at hemoglobin A1c levels in groups of people with and without diabetes. Hemoglobin A1c is a marker of long-term sugar control, whereas fasting glucose only tells us what blood sugar levels are, at a single point in time
This study found subclinical, small nerve-fiber impairments in non-diabetics whose hemoglobin A1c levels were only 5.5% to 6%, whereas those with HbA1c of less than 5.5% did not have these changes.
This study corroborates what we’ve argued for decades — that sugar-related pathologies begin long before full-blown type II diabetes is diagnosed. The authors of this study concluded:
“These findings underscore the importance of early treatment at the prediabetes and early diabetes stages to prevent nerve fiber decline that is likely irreversible.”
Most of you have your hemoglobin A1c tested each year. This 2018 study and others validate the importance of targeting HbA1c below 5.5%.
Keep Your Heart From “Shrinking”
To evaluate the effect of abnormal blood sugar levels on the heart muscle, MRI scans were performed on the hearts of diabetics and prediabetics and compared to a control group of normal-glycemic subjects. None of the study subjects had a history of cardiovascular disease.
There was a stepwise decrease in right ventricular (heart) volume in men with prediabetes (-20.4) and diabetes (-25.6) in comparison with non-diabetic controls.
This study shows that atrophy (shrinkage) of the heart muscle occurs in both prediabetes and frank diabetes, which is why we want the term “prediabetes” to be abolished.
The authors of this 2018 study that looked at the heart via MRI imaging concluded:
“This study points towards early subclinical changes in right ventricular volumes in men with diabetes and prediabetes.”
Higher Blood Sugar Increases Atrial Fibrillation Risk
In atrial fibrillation, the heart’s upper chambers beat irregularly (quiver) instead of beating normally. Quivering of the heart’s upper chambers increases the risk of a clot forming. When these clots break off and enter the bloodstream, they readily lodge in arteries in the brain causing an ischemic stroke.
Atrial fibrillation causes about 15% to 25% of strokes. The danger of these clots is so high that atrial fibrillation patients are usually placed on anticoagulant drugs (warfarin or Pradaxa®). These drugs carry the side effect of risk of internal bleeding. Yet the incidence of abnormal blood clot formation is so high in atrial fibrillation that the risk-to-reward ratio often favors use of these anti-coagulant drugs.
Atrial fibrillation is the most prevalent cardiac rhythm disorder in the elderly. A meta-analysis of 32 studies found that prediabetics have a 20% increased risk of atrial fibrillation while diabetics have a 28% increased risk.
Stroke was long ago shown to be a diabetic complication. One pathological factor is damage inflicted on the brain’s arteries by elevated blood sugar. This new data reveals another reason why diabetics suffer more strokes. They have higher incidences of atrial fibrillation. This analysis also reveals that atrial fibrillation risk in prediabetics is not that much lower than in full-blown diabetics.
DIABETES INCREASES CANCER RISK Data collected from 47 prior studies further confirm that diabetes heightens the risk for cancer. The overall findings showed that women with diabetes are 27% more likely to develop cancer while diabetic men are at 19% increased risk. Higher blood sugar levels have been associated with elevated cancer risks, including pancreatic and breast malignancies.
Long before type II diabetes is diagnosed, huge amounts of insulin are produced to suppress surging blood glucose levels. The combination of elevated insulin and glucose in diabetics fuels unwanted cell proliferation and damages cell regulatory mechanisms. The result is an increased risk of deadly cancers. Authors of this 2018 analysis concluded: “We have also demonstrated for the first time that women with diabetes are more likely to develop any form of cancer (than men), and have a significantly higher chance of developing kidney, oral, and stomach cancers and leukemia.”
We have previously reported on studies showing that higher-than-normal blood sugar sharply increases breast cancer risk in non-diabetic women. Keeping your glycemic markers in low normal ranges should be part of a cancer prevention strategy.
Impaired Cardiac Fitness
Not all overweight people are diabetic. A group of researchers examined relationships between glycemic control (as measured by hemoglobin A1c) and cardiovascular fitness in overweight/obese subjects with and without type II diabetes.
A statistically significant relationship was observed between lower hemoglobin A1c and better cardiovascular fitness. The authors of this published study commented that even a mild worsening of glycemic control can adversely influence cardiovascular health measures.
Recognizing “Prediabetic” Risks
About 86 million people in the United States fit the clinical definition for prediabetes. This represents about 27% of the entire population of the United States.
Prevalence of prediabetes increased each year between 2011 and 2014, which contributed to the nearly 2 million new diagnoses of type II diabetes made each year.
A detailed analysis published in 2018 found that type II diabetics had higher adjusted odds of suffering cardiovascular and kidney diseases compared to prediabetics.
Prediabetics, on the other hand had more of the following disorders compared to diagnosed type II diabetics:
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
One reason prediabetics have higher rates of the above diseases is that most type II diabetics are treated with a drug (metformin) that increases cellular AMPK activity.
Activating AMPK has been shown to help protect against a host of degenerative diseases.
Prediabetes and Hypertension
High blood pressure and high blood sugar severely impact the heart and kidneys.
A study published in 2018 looked at hypertensive patients with and without prediabetes. The following “cardiovascular events” were evaluated:
The incidences of these cardiovascular events were 61% higher in the prediabetic group compared to those with normal blood glucose levels. This study also found a correlation between kidney impairment and increased cardiovascular events. This finding corroborates similar conclusions from previous studies.
MECHANISM OF ACTION When a meal is consumed, their pancreas secretes insulin to move glucose into cells for energy metabolism. After meals, insulin production drops to a low level, just enough to keep blood glucose in proper balance. With aging, our cells lose insulin sensitivity. This requires more insulin to be secreted to drive glucose into cells, including fat cells. Increased fat storage occurs when the body is overloaded with more glucose than is needed for healthy energy production. Excess insulin helps cells convert glucose into fat. Unwanted weight gain is a frequent consequence.
As people become more sedentary and consume excess calories, even more insulin is secreted to maintain balanced glucose levels. Long before type II diabetes is diagnosed, many people secrete large amounts of insulin from their pancreas to keep glucose from spiking too high. The problem is that continuous secretion of insulin from the pancreas can keep fasting glucose and hemoglobin A1c at deceptively low levels.
To put this in perspective, late-stage type II diabetics often require insulin injections. This exogenous-administered insulin reduces glucose and hemoglobin A1c blood levels. But these people are still diabetic from the standpoint of their risk for complications. Common blood measures of diabetes (glucose and hemoglobin A1c) may also be suppressed in many people whose pancreas are secreting large amounts of insulin around the clock.
In other words, a person can suffer from the damaging pathologies that we usually associate with diabetes even when glucose and HbA1c blood levels appear normal. That’s because chronically elevated insulin can push down glucose (and hemoglobin A1c) for years (or decades) before cellular insulin sensitivity becomes so impaired that full-blown type II diabetes is diagnosed.
Chronically elevated fasting insulin has been associated in many studies with greater risk of diabetic complications, even before diabetes shows up on conventional blood tests.
If fasting insulin is higher than 5 uIU/mL, this is an indicator of insulin resistance and can be useful as an early warning sign to be more vigilant in preventing diabetes. This includes healthier food choices, more physical activity, and initiation of a preventive program with AMPK activators like the drug metformin.
Hemoglobin A1c Blood Level and Stroke Risk
A systematic review of 29 prior studies assessed the association between rising hemoglobin A1c and first stroke risk. In this review, the risk of ischemic strokes—the most common type—increased with each 1% increase in HbA1c. In diabetics the risk of ischemic stroke increased 24% with each 1% increase in HbA1c. But in those without diabetes, stroke risk increased a whopping 49% for each 1% increase in HbA1c.
You may wonder why stroke risk is higher in non-diabetics. My opinion is that it’s because diabetics usually receive preventive treatment for stroke risk factors (such as elevated blood pressure and lipids), adhere to healthier diets, and are prescribed AMPK activator drugs like metformin.
Non-diabetics may not take their elevated glycemic markers seriously.
This study showed that a small increase in HbA1c blood levels is associated with increased first-ever ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke risk, whether or not one is diagnosed with diabetes. This led the authors of this 2018 analysis to conclude:
“These findings suggest that more intensive HbA1c glycemic control targets may be required for optimal ischemic stroke prevention.”
Optimal HbA1c is under 5.5%. When HbA1c levels rise to 6.5%, there is a substantially greater risk of stroke. This observational analysis suggests non-diabetics (in addition to diabetics) benefit from better glycemic control.22
Each day, 5,000 Americans perish from a degenerative illness. Far more suffer from a chronic disease that impairs their quality of life. The majority of these disabilities and deaths are preventable with annual comprehensive blood tests. The absurdity is that many Americans wait for a diabetic complication to manifest (such as neuropathy, stroke, or kidney failure) before paying attention to their glycemic risk markers.
Take preventative action now!
1. Get more active
2. Start consuming a whole food, "plant-heavy" diet
3. Avoid processed foods and sugars