How To Lower Risk of Diabetes | Natural Preventions

It’s alarming how many people are diagnosed with diabetes, but its prevention doesn’t have to be complicated. A few minor lifestyle tweaks can have a major impact, helping you avoid this condition, which comes with serious health consequences, including heart attacks.

This article discusses how to not get diabetes, with a focus on those foods that prevent diabetes. We look at ways to prevent type 2 diabetes, the most prevalent diabetes type.

How to reduce the risk of diabetes: Natural diabetes prevention

Diabetes is a chronic and progressive disease in which your blood sugar is often high (1). 

There are ways to prevent certain types of diabetes, but you can’t do much about the risks involved in other types.

Is diabetes preventable? Know your risk factors

Before we discuss ways to avoid diabetes, let’s explore what puts us at risk.

How To Lower Risk of Diabetes 02

Type 1 diabetes 

In type 1 diabetes, the body produces little or no insulin (the hormone that helps sugar in the blood enter our cells for energy). People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day (2).

In this type, your immune system mistakes the insulin-producing β (beta) cells in your pancreas as foreign invaders and attacks them (1).

Figuring out the risk factors for type 1 diabetes isn’t straightforward. Yet, some known factors include family history and even race. In the United States, white people are more likely to be diagnosed compared to African American or Hispanic people (3). 

Unfortunately, no one has found a way to prevent this autoimmune disease (3).

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes causes an insufficient use of insulin, called insulin resistance (2, 3). To compensate, β cells start pumping extra insulin. However, as time goes on, they can’t keep up with the demand and fail to make enough insulin, causing a surge in blood sugar (1).

These risk factors are the danger zone for type 2 diabetes (3):

  • Prediabetes
  • Age 45 or older
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes
  • Less than three times a week of physical activity
  • History of gestational diabetes or giving birth to a baby weighing over 9 pounds
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian, Asian American, Pacific Islanders, or Alaska Native descent

The good news is that you can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes by following some natural diabetes prevention techniques. 

You can’t change your genes or age, yet dropping extra weight, eating a nutritious diet, and staying active can all provide safeguards (3, 4).

Gestational diabetes

Some women get diabetes for the first time when they’re pregnant. This type is also known as gestational diabetes, which resolves after giving birth (1, 2).

The odds of getting gestational diabetes may increase if you (3, 5):

  • Gave birth to a baby weighing over 9 pounds
  • Have excess weight 
  • Have more than 25 years old
  • Have relatives with diabetes
  • Have prediabetes
  • Suffer a hormonal disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Are of African American, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic/Latina, or Pacific Islander American descent.

Essentially, lifestyle modification early in pregnancy, including healthy eating, exercise, and appropriate weight gain is important to prevent and control gestational diabetes (4).

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How does exercise help diabetes?

Physical activity appears to answer the question of how to lower diabetes risk. 

Exercise can lower insulin resistance by improving the activity of β cells and stimulating the cellular intake of glucose (6, 7). 

When your muscles work, your cells take glucose from your bloodstream and convert it into energy. This keeps your blood sugar down for 24 hours or even longer after the workout (8). Ideally, you should make exercise a habit to prevent diabetes. 

Foods that prevent diabetes

Wondering how to prevent diabetes with a family history? The key is simply making wise food choices. 

A study suggested that eating processed foods can increase your diabetes risk by 30 percent, while opting for wholesome foods reduces it (9, 10).

You should reach for foods that are less likely to raise your blood sugar (11, 12), including:

  • Non-starchy veggies and fruits
  • Resistant starch
  • Healthy fats (unsaturated fat) 
  • Lean proteins

It’s not necessary to include them all in every meal. Still, aim to eat various foods from the major food groups to ensure you get all the essential vitamins and minerals (11). 

Experts suggest that you should eat at least 9.7 oz of carbs daily. Yet, carbs are converted into sugar in your blood (13). That’s why we should opt for complex carbs and fiber, which take longer to digest. 

Avoid simple and refined carbs since they lack natural fiber and nutrients. Besides that, it’s smart to avoid (11):

  • Alcohol
  • Processed food like candy or snacks 
  • Trans fat in margarine, snacks, packaged baked goods, and fried foods
  • Sugary drinks like fruit juice, sports drinks, and soda

Is water good for diabetes?

Water helps when it comes to fortifying your defenses against diabetes (11). In fact, drinking water, but not diet beverages, may improve insulin resistance (14). 

When blood sugar levels increase, water intake can help the kidneys eliminate excess glucose through urination (15).

Moreover, simply drinking one cup of plain water daily lowered HbA1c in men. HbA1c refers to a blood test indicating blood sugar levels over time. Water helps the body better manage blood sugar (16). 

Natural ways to prevent gestational diabetes

Around 6 to 9 percent of pregnant women face the challenge of gestational diabetes (17). 

Even if gestational diabetes resolves, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes within 5 to 10 years increases. Your child might also have a higher likelihood of battling obesity and type 2 diabetes as they grow older (4).

What can you do to prevent diabetes without medication in pregnancy? In general, you should eat (18):

  • Lots of fruits and vegetables
  • Lean proteins and healthy fats
  • Whole grains
  • Less sugary foods

Keep in mind that exercise boosts the fight against gestational diabetes, regardless of the number on your scale. 

Just 30 minutes of strenuous activity 3 to 4 days a week can lower your blood sugar levels. Swimming, cycling, and brisk walking are all good options. However, sports like martial arts, skiing, and soccer are too risky during pregnancy (19).

If you are overweight (BMI > 25) or obese (BMI > 30), try to do more workouts and get to a healthy weight before becoming pregnant (19). 

Yet, once you are pregnant, dropping some pounds is not good for your baby. The newborn needs to get enough calories and nutrients. It’s best to consult your doctor about how much weight gain is right for you (5, 19). 

Even if your blood glucose stabilizes after gestational diabetes, you should see your doctor every three years to make sure you’re not developing type 2 diabetes (4).

In type 1 diabetes, the body produces little or no insulin due to many risk factors that we can’t control. Type 2 and gestational diabetes occur when your body is resistant to insulin. These types are preventable by eating wisely, staying active, and keeping your weight in check. Drinking plenty of water will also help remove extra glucose.

How to prevent type 2 diabetes: Top 13 methods

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A staggering 96 million (roughly 1 in 3) U.S. adults have prediabetes, which increases the risk of progressing to type 2 diabetes. Over 80 percent of them don’t even realize they have prediabetes (4, 20, 21). 

However, with a bit of effort, we can prevent type 2 diabetes. The principle boils down to four words: Get lean and active

Below are several simple ideas for avoiding type 2 diabetes. Choose the ones that resonate with you and create a space to practice until a new routine becomes second nature.

1. Check if you have prediabetes 

People with prediabetes often have insulin resistance. In this condition, the pancreas may produce extra insulin to move sugar from the blood into the cells. After many years, this state can develop into type 2 diabetes (22, 23). 

You’re at a higher risk for prediabetes if you (3, 4):

  • Are overweight
  • Are more than 45 years old
  • Have family members with type 2 diabetes
  • Have a sedentary lifestyle
  • Have had gestational diabetes

The symptoms of prediabetes and insulin resistance are often vague. For some people, it can include (22, 24, 25, 26):

  • Belly fat, fat gathers around your organs like the liver and pancreas 
  • Brain fog (your brain gets most of its energy from glucose) 
  • Frequent urination, especially at night
  • Frequent cravings (you need a snack between meals) 
  • Tiredness after having a meal 
  • Tingling feet

Prediabetes is not always a gateway to diabetes. In fact, it can be a powerful motivator that drives you to apply impactful ways to prevent type 2 diabetes.

If you suspect prediabetes, it’s best to check with your doctor who will order some lab tests. These cut-off values may be an indicator of diabetes (22, 23, 27): 

  • Fasting plasma glucose (FPG) of around 5.6–6.9 mmol/L, or 100 to 125 mg/dL. 
  • Plasma glucose of 7.8–11.1 mmol/L (140 to 200 mg/dL) two hours after taking 75g of oral glucose.
  • Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c, or glycated hemoglobin) levels of 5.7 percent to 6.4 percent. However, since this test can be impacted by your genes, it’s not always accurate.

When diagnosing prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, your doctors may further use an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) to predict whether you will develop diabetes later (23, 28).

2. Maintain a healthy weight

Almost 90 percent of adults with diabetes are also overweight or have obesity (17). Obese people may be more prone to inflammation and hormonal changes. In fact, obesity raises your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by almost 7 times in men and between 7 and 12 times in women (26, 29).

Yet, just a 7 percent weight loss can reduce the onset of type 2 diabetes by 58 percent (24).

Avoid fad diets when designing your weight-loss plan. Although you can quickly lose weight following fad diets, it’s hard to sustain it. Besides that, most of these diets are not good for your health (11). 

Your diet plan doesn’t need to be trendy. Make sure that it is based on wholesome foods and is easy to follow for the rest of your life (11). Specifically, the key is to avoid processed foods, sugary snacks, and soft drinks. Instead, focus on consuming high-fiber foods, whole grains, and lean meats.

3. Exercise regularly

The relationship between exercise types and blood glucose is unique for each of us. Forget a one-size-fits-all approach and explore what suits you best. It could be:

  • Aerobic (cardio) exercise, including walking, hiking, swimming, running, bicycling, or anything that makes your heart race.
  • Strength (resistance) training, like lifting weights or resistance bands or doing push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups.
  • Flexibility (stretching), such as yoga, pilates, and tai chi.
  • Interval training, like high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
  • Balancing, such as single leg stance, heel-to-toe walk, and tai chi.

Generally, longer durations of exercise sessions tend to provide better results (6). Yet, if you are a beginner, don’t sweat it too much! Start low, go slow, and observe how your body reacts and what you feel. 

If the exercise suits you, gradually increase its duration, intensity, and frequency. The final goal is to be active at moderate intensity for at least 150 minutes weekly (11, 28). The best option is to distribute the exercises throughout the week. 

A great trick is to make exercise social by involving your friends, colleagues, or family. Physical activity is a win-win for everyone. Organize exciting activities that let you bond and create lasting memories while staying on track together (30).

Make safety a top priority. While individuals of any age can safely perform high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or endurance training, be aware of any risks before trying a new exercise (31).

4. Get moving more

Every two hours of watching TV per day increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 20 percent (32). This can be attributed to a sedentary lifestyle that causes blood sugar spikes (1).

Believe it or not, a single stroll can decrease those glucose levels (11). Even if you are short on time, breaking up sitting time every 30 minutes can make a big impact if you (33):

  • Shake it up with a dance
  • Do some stretching
  • Get moving and have fun with your friends and colleagues
  • Do household chores
  • Do shoulder rolls
  • Stand up and do whatever works for you

As time passes, you will find many fun ways to be active. Apart from reducing the risks of diabetes, adding movement to your day can also prevent you from heart disease and even stroke (30). 

5. Quit smoking

Type 2 diabetes is another reason for you to quit smoking. If you are a smoker or exposed to second-hand smoke, your chances of developing diabetes increase by roughly 50 percent. However, quitting smoking can lower that risk (29, 34, 35).

Around 10.3 percent of diabetes cases in men and 2.2 percent in women worldwide can be linked to cigarette consumption (35).

Smoking and nicotine have long been well-studied and proven to impair insulin sensitivity and pancreatic β cell function (36, 37). 

A massive study from Japan involving over 53,000 adults revealed that when smokers quit their habit, their diabetes risk gradually decreases. However, their risk may take ten years or longer to match that of someone who never smoked (38).

As a result, giving up your cigarettes forever is vital to prevent type 2 diabetes.

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6. Choose your carbs wisely

When you consume carbs, your blood sugar levels tend to spike more than they do when you have proteins or fats (39).

The recommended carbs intake is 9.7 oz daily (8). This value varies based on sex, activity level, and age. For this reason, talk to your doctor to find out what is right for you. In fact, if healthy carbs account for 45 to 65 percent of your calorie intake, you may not be at increased risk for type 2 diabetes. Moreover, the risk is not lower when you eat less carbs (40).

If over 70 percent of your calories come from carbs, your risks can significantly rise (40). Any type of carb can drive your body to release more insulin (41, 42). 

There are two main types of carbs: complex carbs and simple carbs. 

Simple carbohydrates, such as table sugar, honey, donuts, and fruit juice tend to cause a rapid surge in blood sugar and insulin. That’s why you should avoid them (43). 

Breakfast cereals, potatoes, pasta, white bread, or white rice can also be a matter of concern. The complex carbs in them, including fibers, are often stripped during the refining process. What remains after can cause sustained spikes in your blood sugar (44, 45).

On the other hand, whole grains contain bran and fiber that delay digestion and the conversion of starch into glucose. In effect, your blood sugar and insulin can rise more slowly after eating, putting less stress on your body (43, 45). 

Moreover, whole grains contain essential vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals to bolster your immunity (45). Common sources of whole grains include (17): 

  • Brown rice or any wild rice
  • Amaranth
  • Barley (not pearled)
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Dark rye
  • Whole-grain cornmeal, cereals, and crackers
  • Whole-wheat bread and chapati

7. Focus more on plant foods

Eating plenty of fruit and non-starchy vegetables can be one of the most powerful ways to prevent type 2 diabetes (39, 46). 

Research shows that following a plant-based diet could lower the risk of type 2 diabetes by 23 to 30 percent (47).

Not all vegetables are created equal since some contain more sugar and starch. It’s optimal to include all types in your diet (17, 39, 48):

  • Dark-green vegetables: These include any leafy vegetables (e.g., collards, chard, kale, spinach) and broccoli.
  • Red and orange vegetables: These types include carrots, calabaza, winter squash, tomatoes, and 100 percent tomato juice.
  • Beans, peas, lentils: Different types include bayo beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), edamame, kidney beans, lima beans, mung beans, pigeon peas, pinto beans, etc. Yet, avoid green beans or green peas. 
  • Fruits: Embrace them for a guilt-free sweet treat.

These plant foods are high in fiber, which can (43, 49, 50):

  • Help better manage blood sugar
  • Improve insulin sensitivity
  • Benefit your gut health and weight control
  • Improve your cholesterol profile
  • Safeguard yourself from inflammation
  • Reduce diabetes risks better than resistant starch

8. Stay hydrated properly 

People in the United States and Europe consume great quantities of soft drinks, syrups, fruit juice, and fruit punch. However, these drinks are closely linked to weight gain and type 2 diabetes (39, 41).

In a study, women who drank one or more sugary drinks a day had a significant 83 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes compared to those who drank less than one per month. Even sipping fruit punch also doubled the risk (51).

Water is always the best choice: It is free of calories, sugar, preservatives, and many unnecessary ingredients. 

Yet drinking plain water may not appeal to everyone. There are many healthy alternative options (52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57), including:

  • Infused water with fruit slices or herbs: This small topping can enhance flavors without adding calories unless you eat the fruit.
  • Sparkling water without added sugar: The bubbling texture can make it a more delightful and entertaining beverage to share with friends.
  • Plain apple cider vinegar: It can help support your digestion and manage your blood sugar levels.
  • Black coffee: Drinking a cup of joe (8.5 fl oz) daily can help prevent inflammation and diabetes. 
  • Unsweetened tea: This popular drink may improve glucose control and insulin sensitivity.
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9. Consider your vitamins and minerals

The effect of insulin is not limited to sugar absorption. In fact, insulin is involved in regulating various minerals.

Many studies confirmed the defect of insulin sensitivity due to insufficient magnesium and potassium in your diet. Fortunately, you can get these minerals easily from vegetables to prevent type 2 diabetes (58, 59).

However, pay close attention to your calcium intake. The imbalance of calcium in your cells is a major problem in diabetes. To be more precise, it can lead to glucose spikes and insulin resistance (60, 61).

Fixing any calcium problem is not about how much calcium you consume, but rather how your body uses it. Try to include more vitamin D in your meals, which helps regulate calcium levels in your cells, and (61, 62):

  • Improves blood sugar control
  • Prevents β cell death
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Affects genes related to diabetes

Fatty fish (salmon, tuna), dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt), mushrooms, and orange juice (48) are great sources of vitamin D. 

10. Embrace healthy fats

Losing weight can be tough for many, and eating more healthy fat can be a helpful alternative. Although it might sound odd, let’s explore why this is so. 

It’s all about improving your fat quality. According to a study, high fat intake from vegetables was linked with a lower type 2 diabetes risk in females (42). 

Consuming more unsaturated fats (like those in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds) and fewer carbs could help improve insulin sensitivity (63, 64).

However, you should avoid saturated and trans fats, like those in red meat and dairy products. If you want butter for a creamy flavor, try to use vegetable oils and margarine instead. Besides that, low-fat dairy products without added sugar, lean chicken, and pork can help you limit saturated fats.

Interestingly, even polyunsaturated fats from fish, or long-chain omega-3 fats, may not boost your protection against diabetes (64). 

Olive oil has been proven to lower the risks of diabetes within the context of a Mediterranean diet. Also, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed, and canola oils are great sources of good fats (46, 65, 66).

Still, some plant oils, such as coconut or palm oil, are controversial due to unstable results (66). 

11. Limit protein and red meat

High-protein diets can benefit overweight people by supporting weight loss and improving blood lipids. However, they could also increase the risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes (67, 68).

Protein has long been suggested as an alternative to carbs to reduce insulin after meals. However, this replacement doesn’t seem to build a barrier against insulin sensitivity (63). 

In fact, a high-cereal-fiber diet may be a better choice to improve insulin sensitivity (69). 

Proteins break down into amino acids when you digest them. Consequently, too much protein also means high levels of blood amino acids. That way, your body may find it harder to use glucose and respond to insulin (70, 71).

There is increased evidence suggesting that eating red meat (beef, pork, lamb) and processed red meat (bacon, hot dogs) can increase one’s chances of diabetes by 12 to 32 percent. This holds true even if you consume these meat types moderately (72, 73).

So, what is the threshold? If protein sources account for more than 30 percent of your total calories, your insulin sensitivity will start to decrease (44).

It’s also important to take into account the quality of your protein. Some research suggests that replacing your daily red meat fix with a serving of healthier protein options (nuts, low-fat dairy, or whole grains) could reduce your type 2 diabetes risk by 11 to 18 percent (74).

12. Practice portion control

It’s always good to control portion size, but don’t be extremely strict. Make sure that you act according to your plan (11). 

Instead of strictly cutting on your calories, just enjoy nutritious foods. It’s better to opt for whole food. However, if you buy processed (canned, packed) foods, here are some tips for you (75, 76):

  • The package size does not equal the serving size. Instead of eating straight from the package, take one serving and put it on a plate. 
  • Choose snacks with lower calories and try not to eat them in front of the TV.
  • Get more dietary fiber, vitamin D, and minerals (just don’t consume too much calcium). They should be high in percentage of daily value.
  • Consume less saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. 

Besides that, take your time eating so your brain can catch up with your stomach, which might take about 15 minutes. Maintain consistent meal timing since skipping or delaying meals may lead to overeating later (76).

13. Tips on tracking your progress

To maintain your new habits, take time to (11, 77):

  • Check in on your plan regularly. Put it on the calendar and make a specific time for your daily activity. 
  • Measure how you’re doing with the goals you set. Many free tracking apps will surely motivate you. 
  • Avoid curveballs by planning ahead for setbacks.
  • Reward yourself. 

We’ll never stay with a program we don’t like, so don’t force yourself. Add small, consistent steps toward your goals. 

Consistency is always the key to producing fruitful returns. Are you ready to maintain this consistency for the rest of your life?


Recognizing prediabetes symptoms is important to prevent type 2 diabetes. You should maintain a healthy weight based on what you like and avoid a sedentary lifestyle or smoking. Plant-based food is better for all your nutrients, including carbs, fats, proteins, and micronutrients. 

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How to get rid of diabetes: Potential strategies to reverse diabetes

When you have diabetes, make an effort to keep your blood sugar levels in your target range. This can help prevent or delay many chronic health problems, such as heart disease and vision loss (39). 

It’s always helpful to be informed about the worst consequences to be better prepared to deal with them before they occur. Carefully discuss the possibilities of extremely high blood sugar with your doctor or diabetic educator.

In addition, taking insulin and other medication entails precautions for diabetes. Don’t skip a dose or take your missed meds too close to your next scheduled dose. 

It’s best to consult your doctor to decide when and how to use your medications safely and manage their side effects. Besides that, call your doctor if you miss several doses (2). 

Diabetes is a chronic and progressive disease. Therefore, you may need to work with your healthcare team to plan for reversing your diabetes:

  • Try the Mediterranean diet, which can help with glycemic control, body weight, and even cardiovascular risk factors (78).
  • Think about intermittent fasting under medical supervision. Studies show this method works even better than the typical diabetes drugs in reducing blood sugar levels (79, 80).
  • Track your food, drinks, and exercise to maintain a healthy weight. Avoid smoking and alcohol (39).
  • Be more active. When your muscles contract, your cells can absorb glucose for energy regardless of whether insulin is available. Yet, never exercise when your blood sugar is too high. It can increase your ketone levels (6, 28, 81).
  • Watch for your overall well-being. Anxiety may increase your blood sugar (82).
  • Check your blood sugar as suggested by your doctor. Your doctor may suggest using a glucometer or a continuous glucose monitor (CGM).

To manage diabetes effectively, it is important to maintain blood sugar levels and strictly follow your medication dosage. A plan to reverse diabetes may include adopting a Mediterranean diet, intermittent fasting, being physically active, and managing anxiety.

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How to keep the pancreas healthy to avoid diabetes?

To ensure the function of your pancreas, don’t let extra fat gather around it. You may realize this easily by watching your belly. You may need to plan a balanced and nutritious diet and a good exercise routine to lose the fat. Besides that, get your regular check-ups (26). 

What are natural remedies for prediabetes?

In fact, there is no clear cure for prediabetes. Yet, some diet tweaks may help manage it and prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. These include eating lots of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins (in moderate amounts), and unsaturated fats. Some herbs, including cinnamon, berberine, and fenugreek, can also be helpful (22, 23).

What are 10 warning signs of diabetes?

The four common signs of diabetes are frequent urination, excessive thirst, fatigue and weakness, and sudden weight loss. Other alarming symptoms include increased cravings, blurred vision, slow healing, frequent infections, tingling or numbness, dry skin, and persistent itching (83, 84).

Who usually gets diabetes?

If you carry extra pounds, sit around most of the day, and enjoy too much junk food, you will be prone to diabetes. Also, smoking or drinking alcohol can increase your risk. Some health problems like heart, kidney, and pancreas disease can also increase your risk (81). 

Do healthy people get diabetes?

Many lifestyle factors and ethnic backgrounds increase the risk for diabetes. That’s why this chronic disease can impact even healthy people (3).


Since type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, there is no known way to prevent it.

As for type 2 and gestational diabetes, even minor lifestyle changes, such as exercise, healthy eating, and drinking more water, can prevent them.

Note that some diets that help with weight loss might not actually help prevent diabetes. Opt for plant-based foods, such as green, red, and orange veggies and fruits, that prevent diabetes.

Being active and quitting smoking habits are other ways to prevent type 2 diabetes.

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Amy20MD 1

Medical reviewed by Amy Rogers, MD MPH FACPM

Preventive Medicine, Public Health, Lifestyle Medicine, Pandemic Response, Global Health

Amy20MD 1

Medical reviewed by Amy Rogers, MD MPH FACPM

Preventive Medicine, Public Health, Lifestyle Medicine, Pandemic Response, Global Health

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