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Tom Hanks has Type 2 diabetes: How to curb risk for the disease

Tom Hanks is now one of the estimated 25.8 million people in the U.S. who struggle with diabetes.

In an interview on CBS's "Late Show with David Letterman," Hanks revealed that he has been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. The 57-year-old award-winning actor said he had been struggling with his blood sugar for more than two decades.

Diabetes is a metabolic disease where the patient has high blood sugar because their pancreas cannot produce enough insulin (a hormone that regulates fat and metabolism in the body) or because the body cannot use the insulin in the system. Insulin is necessary to break down sugars found in food, called glucose, into energy.

It is dangerous because the disease causes glucose to build up in the blood instead of being absorbed in the cells. This can zap a person's energy, and the high levels of glucose can cause eye, kidney, nerve or heart damage.

Type 1 diabetes, which is when the body does not produce insulin, is something that a person is born with and cannot be prevented or cured. It can be controlled with insulin injections.

Type 2 diabetes can be treated -- and more importantly prevented, Dr. Ronald Tamler, clinical director of the Mt. Sinai Diabetes Center in New York City, told CBS News.

Often before people develop Type 2 diabetes, they have a condition called prediabetes. These patients have higher than normal blood glucose levels, but the levels aren't elevated enough for them to be classified as diabetics.

People with prediabetes may have some diabetes symptoms, which include urinating often, feeling very thirsty or hungry, extreme fatigue, blurry vision, cuts and bruises that are slow to heal, weight loss despite eating more, or tingling, pain or numbness in the hands or feet. But many have no obvious symptoms at all.

Having prediabetes necessary doesn't mean you'll get Type 2 diabetes, especially if you make some lifestyle changes. Tamler points out that only about 50 percent of people with prediabetes will progress to the more serious form of the disease.

Obesity is a major risk factor for prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes. Currently, more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, according to government statistics. The American Diabetes Association reports that by losing just 7 percent of their body weight, a person can lower their risk for Type 2 diabetes by 58 percent.

Hanks said he had weight issues in the past. His various roles have required him to gain as much as 30 pounds to play baseball coach Jimmy Dugan in "A League of Their Own" and to slim down to 170 pounds for "Castaway."

"My doctor said 'If you can weigh as much as you weighed in high school you will essentially be completely healthy and will not have Type 2 diabetes' and I said, 'Well, I'm gonna have Type 2 diabetes cause there is no way I can weigh as much as I did in high school,'" Hanks said, adding that he weighed just 96 pounds in high school.

Exercising moderately by doing something as simple as walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week, can lower risk for the disease, according to the American Diabetes Association. Studies have shown that exercise may be just as effective as taking medications when it comes to treating prediabetes.

Walking or cycling to work has also been shown in a recent study to lower the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by as much as 40 percent. Short 15-minute walks after meals may also be effective.

Tamler suggested people can start by parking their car at the far end of the parking lot and walking the longer distance to their office.

For more information on diabetes, visit the American Diabetes Association's website.

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