There’s an epidemic of pre-diseases out there and we’re not catching them early enough. These are health problems that portend future health problems. Some can actually damage the body while still in the “pre” stages. The problem with these pre-health conditions is we don’t diagnose them early enough. If we can diagnose these health conditions earlier and treat them through lifestyle and we can potentially prevent the full-blown condition from developing. But we have to first be aware that there’s a problem. Here are five pre-health conditions you should be aware of.
Pre-Health Conditions #1: Pre-diabetes
There’s an epidemic of type 2 diabetes in Western countries and it’s fueled partially by obesity and by the aging population. Obesity and aging both increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, when you finally learn that you have diabetes, half of the functioning beta cells in your pancreas are already destroyed. What’s more, one in three people in America has pre-diabetes, a condition where their blood sugars are too high but aren’t yet at the level that it can be classified as diabetes. Yet many people with pre-diabetes aren’t aware of it.
If you discover your blood sugars are in the pre-diabetic range, taking action can help you avoid a future diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. The most powerful thing you can do is lose weight and exercise. Eliminating ultra-processed foods and sugar also helps reverse pre-diabetes. What can you do to monitor for other pre-health conditions? Check your blood sugars regularly and ask your physician to check a HgBA1c level. This test is a better indicator of how metabolically healthy you are than a single fasting blood sugar reading. Specifically, HgBA1c is a measure of your average blood sugar over a 3-month period. Like a fasting blood sugar, it’s a simple blood test your doctor can perform.
Pre-Health Conditions #2: Pre-hypertension
Hypertension is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. When your blood rises above a certain range, your physician diagnoses you with hypertension. But, there’s a “gray area” where blood pressure readings are higher than they should be but still aren’t in the range where we call it high blood pressure. This is called pre-hypertension. What’s more, pre-hypertension also increases the risk of developing a stroke. If your blood pressure is above 120 over 80, talk to your physician about lifestyle changes you can make to bring your blood pressure down. Aerobic exercise and weight loss are two lifestyle changes that can help lower your blood pressure.
Pre-Health Conditions #3: Osteopenia
Osteopenia is the “pre” form of osteoporosis. It means you have t-scores, a measure of bone density, below what an average, healthy 30-year old has. Fortunately, osteopenia isn’t the same as osteoporosis, a disease where your bones are weak and brittle due to loss of bone loss. However, osteopenia is a warning sign that you need to focus on keeping your bones healthy.
How do you do this? Although most recent studies don’t support the role of vitamin D and calcium in preventing osteoporosis-related fractures, it’s important that you’re not deficient. Smoking and excessive use of alcohol also increase the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. Look beyond calcium and vitamin D. There’s evidence that other micronutrients, particularly magnesium and vitamin K2 are essential for healthy bones.
One of the most important things you can do to keep your bones healthy is to do weight-bearing exercise and strength train. To stimulate the formation of new bone, you’ll need to lift relative heavy, around 80% of your one-rep max or higher. However, a recent study showed you may get some benefit from lifting lighter weights and doing higher repetitions as well. Exercise that’s not weight bearing such as swimming and cycling don’t enhance bone health.
Pre-Health Conditions #4: Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Another pre-disease that can, in some cases, progress to full-blown liver disease is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or NAFLD. As the name suggests, NAFLD is a pre-liver disease that’s unrelated to alcohol consumption, one of the most common causes of liver damage. Instead, non-alcoholic fatty liver is an accumulation of fat on the liver and a marker of insulin resistance due to poor metabolic health. It’s most common in people who are obese.
Like other pre-diseases, people with NAFLD usually have no symptoms and aren’t aware that they have it. In fact, up to 20% of the population has some fat accumulation on their liver due to NAFLD. A certain percentage will progress and develop a more severe syndrome called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). NASH is an inflammatory condition that damages the liver. A small percentage of the people with NASH will progress to fibrosis and scarring of the liver that’s irreversible. This is called cirrhosis. That’s why it’s important to monitor the health of your liver and make changes to keep it healthy.
What if you already have NAFLD? Losing weight will help reverse it and keeping your weight healthy will help prevent it. Also, work on getting elevated blood sugars under control through exercise and an unprocessed, low-sugar diet. Avoid drinking alcohol and don’t take medications unnecessarily since the liver breaks most medications down. The earlier you discover that you have NAFLD, the better, so you can start making the lifestyle changes necessary to lower your risk of it progressing.
Pre-Health Conditions #5: Abnormal Lipids
Dyslipidemia, abnormal blood lipids, is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. It’s not just LDL-cholesterol and HDL-cholesterol that you need to follow. Elevated triglycerides also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and a marker of possible insulin resistance. So, follow your lipids and work on keeping them in the normal range through diet and exercise. Get your lipids under control before you have to deal with cardiovascular disease!
The Bottom Line
Prevention is important! That’s why we need to keep tabs on our blood sugar, lipids, bone density, blood pressure, and liver health. Remember, we have the best chance of successfully treating and even reversing a health issue when we discover it early. Take advantage of it!
Health24.com. “Causes of Diabetes”
Harvard Health Publishing. “Osteopenia: When you have weak bones, but not osteoporosis”
Berkeley Wellness. “Lift Lighter Weights for Stronger Bones?”
Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease”
American Liver Foundation. “The Progression of Liver Disease”
BMJ Journals. “Republished: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: a practical approach to treatment”
Int J Mol Sci. 2016 May; 17(5): 774.