Diabetes Network News | Published March 2, 2012 | Written by Amy Leffard, RN, certified diabetes educator, Mount Nittany Health Diabetes Network

Diabetes runs in my family. How can I lessen my risk of getting the disease?

Today, approximately 28.5 million Americans have diabetes, making diabetes a growing health epidemic. There are many causes of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Heredity is a major risk factor in developing type 2 diabetes, so it is important to know your family's medical history and other risk factors for getting diabetes. Having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes greatly increases your risk for getting diabetes at some time in your life.

There are some lifestyle changes you can make now to lessen your chance of getting diabetes. It is important for everyone - whether they have a family history of diabetes or not - to follow these steps in an effort to avoid developing type 2 diabetes, and to enjoy better health overall.

A healthy, well-balanced diet should include high-fiber foods, whole grains (as opposed to enriched flour products), more fruits and veggies (preferably ones that are darker in color) and heart-healthy fats. Also, try eating certain foods like canola oil instead of vegetable oil, and whole grain pasta rather than regular pasta. Some other tips to follow: Avoid foods that are high in saturated or trans fats; choose low-fat dairy products; lower your salt intake by avoiding sodium-loaded foods like canned products, pickles, bacon and ham.

Regular exercise is also important for someone who would like to head-off hereditary diabetes. Partaking in physical activity for at least 30 minutes most days of the week is key to preventing the disease. You do not need to own a gym membership to stay active. Try walking outside, using exercise DVDs, riding a bike or swimming. Even simple changes like taking the stairs rather than the elevator or escalator and parking far from the entrance to work or a store can help you increase your daily physical activity.

Smoking and excessive drinking can also heighten the odds of a diabetes diagnosis. If you smoke or are a heavy drinker, you should consider taking steps to quit.

Finally, open communication with your healthcare provider is crucial. Symptoms of diabetes may include increased thirst, frequent thirst, extreme hunger, unexplained weight loss, fatigue and slow-healing sores. But often there are no warning signs in the early stages of type 2 diabetes. Make sure you talk to your physician if you suspect you have diabetes or feel you are at increased risk of diabetes due to a family history of parents or siblings that have type 2 diabetes. To determine your risk of developing diabetes or pre-diabetes, talk to your physician about getting an early screening test, or call Mount Nittany's diabetes team for more information at 814.231.7095.