If you were diagnosed with gestational diabetes while pregnant, it might have left you thinking – how can I prevent getting type 2 diabetes? While gestational diabetes occurs in approximately 5% of pregnancies, there are many lifestyle factors that can help to prevent type 2 diabetes post-pregnancy.
What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes (GD) is defined as any degree of glucose intolerance with the onset or first recognition during pregnancy. GD is related to dysfunction in the pancreatic beta cells, the cells in your pancreas that respond to an increase in blood glucose levels after eating to produce insulin. It can also be connected to a delayed response of the beta cells to glycemic levels. Insulin is the hormone responsible for the uptake of glucose from the blood into the cells for use. Another reason is not due to the lack of insulin, rather insulin being resistant and not taking in glucose from your blood.
During pregnancy, the placenta produces a placental lactogen hormone that causes higher blood glucose levels. This hormone is naturally released by the placenta during pregnancy and is capable of altering and modifying our insulin receptors. Due to this hormonal change, higher levels of glucose are left circulating in our blood because insulin receptors are blocked and cannot do their job.
Potential causes of gestational diabetes
Factors that are correlated with developing gestational diabetes include:
- Increased body weight
- Decreased exercise
- Low HDL (high-density lipoprotein), a.k.a. the “good” cholesterol
- High triglycerides
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- An immediate family member with diabetes
- High hemoglobin A1C
Women with GD are at a higher risk of hypertensive disorders and preeclampsia – high blood pressure that occurs during pregnancy.
A previous diagnosis of GD will increase one’s risk of type 2 diabetes by up to 60%. Weight, body mass index (BMI) and PCOS are common comorbidities that can increase a woman’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
What about the baby?
During pregnancy, if the mother has constant abnormal sugar levels, the fetus will as well. This can result in the baby growing too large, which can increase the chances of needing a caesarean section at the time of delivery.
Long-term consequences for the fetus brought on by gestational diabetes include the risk of the child developing type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and/or obesity.
Understanding type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a disease in which the pancreas either cannot make enough insulin, or cells respond poorly to insulin, and therefore take in less sugar. Diabetes is considered a metabolic disorder that is characterized by chronic hyperglycemia, also known as high blood glucose levels.
Preventing type 2 diabetes after having gestational diabetes
There are many dietary, lifestyle and supplement considerations in order to prevent or decrease the chance of developing type 2 diabetes after having gestational diabetes.
It’s vital to keep blood sugar in check by prioritizing meals that contain a combination of protein, fat and fibre. When pairing fat and protein with a complex carb, you are able to slow down the release of glucose into the bloodstream. Additional tips include:
- Choosing lower glycemic foods as they do not contain as much glucose to begin with.
- Spacing meals out into increments of 3-4 hours to avoid constantly spiking out blood glucose levels while still eating regularly.
There are a couple of key lifestyle factors that can help manage blood sugar levels:
- Breastfeeding has been associated with improved glycemic indices in the early postpartum period, which means that the rate of increase in our blood sugar levels after eating is reduced. Experts recommend breastfeeding for as long as possible.
- Exercising 5 days a week for 30 minutes or more, at a moderate to intense level has been shown to help with insulin resistance. In addition to exercising, weight management has been shown to help prevent getting type 2 diabetes after having gestational diabetes.
Key nutrients that have been shown to influence insulin sensitivity include: vitamin D, magnesium, chromium and alpha lipoic acid (ALA).
Vitamin D has been shown to act directly on the pancreatic beta cells to increase insulin secretion as well as reduce any inflammation that is associated with insulin resistance. The best source of vitamin D is the sunshine! Try to get direct sunlight, even 10 minutes every day is beneficial. If you need an extra boost of vitamin D during the winter months when the sunlight doesn’t last as long, try a vitamin D supplement.
Magnesium supplementation appears to improve glucose parameters in people with diabetes as well as improve insulin sensitivity parameters in those who are at high risk for developing diabetes. Some dietary sources of magnesium include:
- Dark leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, collards
- Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, cashews, pine nuts, and flaxseeds
- Fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, avocados and soybeans
Chromium has been shown to help enhance insulin activity by improving blood glucose control. Chromium binds to a substance that promotes the action of insulin, which is to take in glucose from our blood. This mineral comes from the soil, therefore great dietary sources are found in most fruits and vegetables as well as grass-fed meats.
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)
ALA is a potent antioxidant that is found mostly in plant oils, such as flaxseed and soybean. It has been shown to decrease oxidative stress, increase insulin sensitivity, as well as increase glucose uptake and fatty acid oxidation. One study showed that specifically in those with diabetes, ALA can help to prevent beta cell destruction, enhance glucose uptake, as well as potentially slow the development of diabetic neuropathy due to its antioxidant effects.
If you’re looking for a comprehensive all-in-one formula, CanPrev’s Blood Sugar Support features a combination of critical nutrients such as ALA, gymnema, cinnamon, fenugreek, magnesium, and chromium. These ingredients work synergistically to help maintain healthy blood glucose levels.
From nutrition and supplements, to go lifestyle factors, take control of your health in preventing type 2 diabetes post-pregnancy!