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How to Avoid Diabetes -- Landmark Results Unveiled

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The diet was centered around lowering fat intake to less than 25% of overall calories, but those in the study also got training in goal-setting and problem-solving and were invited to participate in group events.

Spiegel said that the 30-minute daily exercise regime "should be easily achievable" by most nondiabetic overweight Americans with high blood sugar levels.

Not only did making these lifestyle changes reduce their risk of getting diabetes by 58%, but these individuals also lost 5%-7% of their body weight. Scientists believe weight loss can lower diabetes risk by helping muscle cells to more efficiently handle insulin and blood sugar.

Another 1,000 or so patients took Glucophage, and a third group of 1,000 took placebo pills.

Glucophage is already a highly profitable drug for Bristol Myers Squibb; it was approved by the FDA in 1995 for treating type 2 diabetes. The drug does not yet, however, have clearance for use in preventing diabetes. The drug is off-limits for people with kidney or liver problems or for heavy drinkers.

Tommy Thompson, President George W. Bush's secretary for Health and Human Services, said the study's results proved that "prevention works." He said his agency would work on recommendations, to be issued by the end of the year, to help put the results into national practice.

Meanwhile, researchers still have numerous unanswered questions. Can diet/exercise or Glucophage prevent diabetes indefinitely? Those in the study have only been followed for three years. "We simply don't know how long, beyond the three-year period studied, diabetes can be delayed," said Nathan.

And could Glucophage and the diet/exercise changes together provide an even greater benefit than either does alone?

"One could speculate that [Glucophage] would be additive, but it may be that once you get to 58% reduction with the lifestyle [changes], you can't do any better than that," Nathan tells WebMD. "It's just unknown. We'd all like to know whether it would make a difference."

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