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Pre-disease: Warning to Change Your Life

February 22, 2016 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

This may sound like a peculiar thing to say, but if you have early signs of a serious disease, today’s a good day to count your blessings.

The emphasis, of course, is on early. That’s because our diagnostic tools have improved so much that we can now detect more symptoms than ever, sooner than ever.

These super-early diagnoses represent a sea change in practice. So much so, they even get their own name: pre-diseases—as in prediabetes, prehypertension, and so on.

What is pre-disease?

Pre-disease signals that you don’t have the disease now, but you might be heading in that direction. If you’re prediabetic, for example, you have higher blood sugar levels than normal, but not high enough to be officially diabetic.

The good news:

  • Not all pre-diseases progress to the full disease. Some don’t progress at all. They show up…and just hang out.
  • Much pre-disease can be slowed or even reversed with lifestyle and dietary changes. No medications or other interventions required.

Keep yourself off meds and out of the hospital

Before this degree of diagnosis was available, you might have had symptoms of a serious disease—but no signs that anyone could detect. The disease was free to grow its toehold in your system into a full invasion.

Next checkup? The symptoms are now visible. So here come the expensive tests and the powerful, life-disrupting drugs.

Take predementia, for example. With pre-disease diagnostic tools available, we can see that more than 70 percent of adult predementia cases never progress beyond mild cognitive impairment (MCI)—a condition patients don’t know they have because it doesn’t affect their ability to perform the tasks of daily living.

But before these pre-disease tools, we doctors couldn’t detect MCI problems until more robust, i.e., more dangerous, symptoms appeared. By then, a more potent intervention is required to tackle the more potent symptoms…with an increased likelihood of undesirable, even dangerous, side effects.

But if MCI had been detected earlier, natural, effective lifestyle and behavior changes might have easily done the trick.

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Reducing a serious health threat, naturally? I’m loving it, and I’m not too proud to beg you to get your checkups, making sure your doctor knows about the new pre-disease model.

Proof that natural remedies work

Here’s another example of why I’m keen on intervention at the pre-disease stage.

Roughly 38% of Americans are prediabetic. We know that prediabetics who make healthy lifestyle changes lower their risk of developing type 2 diabetes, within 5 years, by up to 30 percent. (CDC)

That’s a brilliant return on an investment in exercise, healthy diet, socializing, and de-stressing with yoga, tai chi, or meditation. Especially when all you’re investing is time.

How to treat a pre-disease

Lifestyle changes are more effective against pre-disease symptoms than medications. The same goes for just about any intervention.

Number 1 target for change: eat a healthy diet. Stay away from processed foods, soda, genetically modified anything, sweets (except good quality dark chocolate) with their added sugars and omega-6 fatty acids.

Eat like a 95-year old Greek fisherman—that’s how he got to be 96. Go Mediterranean, rich in fresh, organic vegetables, especially dark green ones like kale and spinach. Eat fruits of every color—each signfying a potent antioxidant—and whole grains. Go for omega-3-rich fish or, to avoid contamination, an omega-3 rich supplement.

Are we sure this works?

Prediabetics who lost 7 percent of their body weight by eating healthier and exercising for about 20 minutes a day, reduced their risk of type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. And those who maintained healthy habits reduced their risk by 27 percent over 15 years of follow-up.

Be “pre-pared.” Make sure your doctor knows about the pre-disease model.

References

  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/obe/risks.html.
  • Zhang, W., Li. Review Article Prevalence, Risk Factors, and Management of Prehypertension http://dx.doi.org/10.4061/2011/605359. International Journal of Hypertension Volume 2011 (2011), Article ID 605359, 6 pages
  • Mayo Clinic. Prediabetes. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prediabetes/basics/definition/con-20024420
  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diabetes Prevention Program. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/about-niddk/research-areas/diabetes/diabetes-prevention-program-dpp/Pages/default.aspx
  • Prediabetes. http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/prediabetes.html

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