Managing Blood Sugar Levels
Hyperglycemia, otherwise known as high blood sugar, is a condition known to both diabetics and non-diabetics the world over. Marked by excess glucose in the blood, hyperglycemia can be a potentially dangerous and, for some, life-threatening event. But, armed with the right know-how, you can protect yourself by practicing proper blood sugar management.
Understanding how to manage your blood sugar is necessary if you want to lead a healthy lifestyle. However, far too often we find that blood sugar is ignored by the public. This is simply unacceptable, given the severity of blood sugar in maintaining good health and organ function.
To help you understand the importance of blood sugar, and to practice healthy blood sugar management, we put together this in-depth guide. In it, we will go over everything from how to lower your blood sugar safely to discussing the various health risks of hyperglycemia.
Do you want to find out everything there is to know about managing blood sugar levels? Read on to discover how to detect the symptoms of blood sugar complications, how to treat them, and much more. With this knowledge in hand, you can help save lives.
What is High Blood Sugar?
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, high blood sugar is any concentration of glucose in blood plasma that exceeds 200 mg/dl. However, what constitutes high blood sugar will vary from person to person.
In diabetics, being “high” will generally involve a blood sugar reading beyond 130 before meal time. By contrast, low blood sugar in diabetics is typically a reading of less than 80. To derive these figures, diabetics use blood glucose monitors to assess the sugar content in their blood.
Ultimately, what is considered hyperglycemic will depend on the individual in question. In most cases, someone who consistently finds that their blood glucose readings range between 100-125 mg/dl will be considered slightly hyperglycemic. Measurements in excess of that range are normally found only in diabetics.
Symptoms of High Blood Sugar
There are many symptoms of high blood sugar that need to be kept in mind if you want to be vigilant about managing your blood sugar levels. Occasionally, those who suffer from hyperglycemia may not exhibit any symptoms at all.
To detect high blood sugar before it turns into a serious problem, be on the lookout for the most common symptoms and telltale signs. Known as the “hyperglycemic triad”, the following three symptoms are the most prominent in diabetics and those with high blood sugar.
Polyphagia is a condition known to psychiatrists and endocrinologists characterized by excessive hunger. Those who suffer from polyphagia has appetites far greater than that of an average person. Often, polyphagia results in obesity and body weight-related illnesses.
Polyuria is a medical condition in which a subject needs to pass an excessive amount of urine. In most adults, this is considered to be more than 3 liters over a 24-hour span of time. Frequent urination can lead to many health problems and is associated with hormones disorders and neurological ailments like a migraine.
Polydipsia is a condition marked by excessive thirst. Polydipsia is a symptom of many medical disorders, which can lead to overhydration and other problematic conditions. If someone with polydipsia drinks large quantities of water, they may suffer from electrolyte loss in the body.
Minor Symptoms of High Blood Pressure
Aside from the “big three” symptoms of high blood pressure listed above, there are other conditions associated with hyperglycemia. These include: blurred vision, rapid weight loss, seizures, dry mouth, irritable or itchy skin, erectile dysfunction, restlessness, bodily fatigue, cardiac arrhythmia, stupor, and recurrent infections.
Why is Blood Sugar Important?
Glucose is a simple sugar found in everybody’s blood. However, the amount of glucose present in blood plasma is highly variable. Naturally, our bodies regulate the concentration of blood sugar in our bodies. Too much or too little blood sugar can lead to serious and sometimes life-threatening conditions, including organ failure.
Blood sugar is important because glucose is the first source of energy in the human brain and many other bodily tissues. Glucose is derived from the carbohydrates in one’s diet and enters the bloodstream via the stomach. From there, glucose is sent to major organs such as the brain and the liver.
Without blood sugar, the body would not have the means to supply itself with energy to perform day-to-day tasks. In extreme cases of low blood glucose, the brain will create ketones to compensate. The brain will rely on ketones temporarily to supply the body with energy until the body’s glucose levels are replenished.
Diabetes: What is It
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) define diabetes as a “disease that occurs when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high.” Put simply, diabetes is a disease characterised by a persistent lack of sugar in the blood thanks to improper regulation by the pancreas.
Diabetes is a serious disease that has no cure. Those living with diabetes are often at risk for many chronic health problems, so it is imperative that they carefully manage their blood sugar levels.
Although there are different varieties of diabetes, they all have the same core issue in common: diabetic bodies cannot properly regulate blood sugar levels. In non-diabetics, insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps utilize blood sugar to energize the body. However, in diabetics, the pancreas does not make enough insulin or, in severe cases, fails to produce insulin at all.
The Two Types of Diabetes
There are two main types of diabetes. Both types (Type I and Type II) are equally dangerous and carry the same chronic health risks. Therefore, all forms of diabetes need to be treated equally and with an equal degree of seriousness.
Type I Diabetes
Type I diabetics do not produce insulin endogenously. In other words, their bodies—specifically, their pancreases—cannot create or regulate the hormone responsible for using blood sugar. Those living with Type I diabetes are generally diagnosed with the disease during early childhood.
Type II Diabetes
Type II diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. This form of diabetes is characterized by the inability to properly utilize insulin. Although it can be diagnosed at any age, it is most commonly diagnosed in middle-aged or retirement-aged adults. Unlike Type I diabetics, not all Type II diabetics need to take external insulin every day to survive.
Gestational diabetes is a rare form of diabetes that occurs in pregnant women. Generally, this form of diabetes is temporary and goes away after childbirth. Those who suffer from gestational diabetes are at a greater risk of being diagnosed with Type II diabetes later in life.
How to Control Diabetes
If left untreated, diabetes can result in heart disease, eye and vision problems, nerve damage, stroke, and other life-threatening ailments. Thankfully, there are effective means for circumventing these conditions.
Diabetics can control their blood sugar levels by using exogenous insulin. Since their bodies cannot make the insulin hormone on their own, pharmaceutical grade insulin is introduced to the body via regular injections or with the use of an insulin pump.
Although medical insulin use is imperative for those with Type I diabetes and often necessary for those with Type II, there are other ways to control diabetes. For example, diabetics are encouraged to adopt a healthy diet, work out regularly, and avoid smoking tobacco. Also, diabetics should take good care of their feet to encourage proper blood flow to the extremities.
The Joslin Diabetes Center estimates that approximately 54 million Americans are prediabetic. That’s a whopping one-in-six Americans who are at a high risk of developing Type II diabetes and chronic heart disease.
Prediabetes is a condition characterized by a fasting blood glucose level of 126 mg/dl or higher on two separate occasions in one day. Those who are prediabetic have impaired glucose tolerance and are therefore more sensitive to the effects of high blood sugar.
If your doctor has diagnosed you with prediabetes, you need to carefully monitor your blood sugar levels and take precautionary steps to prevent Type II diabetes. If left ignored, prediabetes can lead to the body’s total inability to produce insulin.
How to Increase Blood Sugar Safely
The UCSF Medical Center recommends the following treatments for dealing with low blood sugar. Typically, someone is at risk of low blood sugar if they skip or delay a meal, over-exert themselves through exercise, or drink alcohol. Your blood sugar should be checked immediately if you feel weak, anxious, dizzy, or nauseated.
For blood sugar readings less than 70 mg/dl, eat between 15 and 30 grams of simple carbohydrates. After waiting 10 to 20 minutes, check your blood sugar again to see if you have reached a healthy blood sugar level. Repeat if necessary until you have reached 100 mg/dl.
The following foods are great choices for shuttling your body with fast-absorbing carbohydrates. Once in the stomach, your body will convert these carbohydrates into blood glucose.
Alternatively, you can drink any of the following beverages to supply your body with a commensurate amount of carbohydrates. However, make sure that none of the following beverages are diet or sugar-free.
If you are on the go and do not have any of the above beverages or foods available to you, you can eat small amounts of candies and sweets. Gummy bears, life savers, Skittles, Starburst, and jelly beans can be purchased from vending machines and can be used as a last resort if no other carbohydrate-dense foods are nearby.
How to Lower Blood Sugar Levels Naturally
When your body fails to make use of the sugar in your blood, you will need to take it upon yourself to lower your blood sugar levels naturally. There are many ways you can lower your blood sugar to bring it down to normal levels.
Lowering blood sugar levels is especially important for those 49 to 52 percent of US adults that have Type II diabetes or are classified as prediabetic. If you find yourself within either of those two categories, take note of the following tried and true methods for reducing blood sugar levels safely and naturally.
Get Out and Sweat
There is perhaps a no better way to reduce blood sugar levels than regularly exercising. Even light to moderate amounts of exercise, such as a leisurely stroll through your neighborhood or public park, can result in major positive benefits when it comes to regulating your blood sugar.
Getting out and breaking a sweat is also beneficial for other reasons. For instance, regular exercise has been proven to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and some kinds of cancers according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Curb the Carbs
When you limit your intake of carbohydrates, you limit the amount of glucose your body has access to. In doing so, you will reduce your blood sugar levels, which is sometimes necessary for those who are diabetic or sensitive to insulin.
Recent studies have shown that keeping track of carbohydrate intake is an effective strategy for achieving healthy blood glucose levels in those with Type I diabetes. We recommend reading the nutritional facts panel on your food labels to monitor the quantity of carbohydrates you consume throughout the day. Avoid foods that are high in carbs like candies or pastas.
Regardless of whether you suffer from chronic high blood sugar, it is always a good idea to stay sufficiently hydrated all day. Make sure you drink plenty of water from morning until night so that your internal organs can properly flush out excess sugars.
Drinking water throughout the day not only leads to greater cognitive performance and sense of well-being, but it also allows your body to release sugars through the passage of urine. In addition, a 2011 study found that adults who self-report a daily low water intake were more at risk of developing hyperglycemia.
There is perhaps no better advice for reducing your blood sugar than to exercise portion control. Often, weight gain and blood sugar spikes are the result of over-eating and excessive carbohydrate consumption. Therefore, by exercising discretion over the amount of food you eat at each meal you can help prevent sudden upticks in blood sugar.
One team of researchers found that controlling portion size was more effective for lowering blood plasma glucose than experimenting with different diet compositions. If you have a hard time managing your portion sizes, we recommend using smaller plates, measuring your food, recording the food you eat at each meal, and avoiding all-you-can-eat restaurants.
Up Your Fiber Intake
When you eat dietary fiber, you slow your body’s rate at which it absorbs sugar. Whether the fiber source is soluble or insoluble, both are important for maintaining the body’s ability to use the sugar in your blood.
We recommend eating between 25 and 35 grams of dietary fiber every day to help lower your blood sugar. To do this, try eating foods that are rich in fiber such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products.
Understand Your Food’s Glycemic Index
Every food is assigned a score on the glycemic index (GI), which assesses foods according to the body’s blood sugar response to it. Foods that score high on the GI are those are known to cause spikes and sudden upticks in blood glucose levels.
If you are trying to lower your blood sugar levels, you should avoid eating high GI foods. Instead, look for low carb or “slow” carb foods which are low on the GI. These include meats, eggs, oatmeal, sweet potato, non-starchy vegetables, lentils, beans, and legumes. You can find a more comprehensive list of low and high GI foods here.
Rest and Relaxation
When it comes to managing your blood sugar levels, nothing beats a little rest and relaxation. When you are under constant stress, your blood sugar tends to spike and you tend to make more impulsive dietary decisions that cause blood sugar surges.
Relaxation methods can help lower blood sugar levels. We recommend meditation, mindfulness-based breathing exercises, light and leisurely exercise, or reading a book in peace and quiet to lower your body’s blood glucose.
Measure Your Blood Sugar Levels
You cannot control your high blood sugar unless you know what your blood sugar levels are. Far too often we find that Type II diabetics and prediabetics fail to regularly assess their blood sugar level. This can cause both dangerously high and low blood sugar levels to go undetected, putting someone at risk for serious health problems.
If you are diabetic, you need to measure your blood sugar multiple times a day using a blood glucose monitor device. However, even if you are not diabetic you can still benefit from quantifying your blood sugar levels before and after a meal. This will also let you know how your body responds to certain high or low glycemic foods.
Quality sleep is sometimes the best medicine. Getting a full 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night allows your body and mind to reset and rejuvenate, including your blood sugar levels. Also, a good night’s sleep improves your body’s level of insulin sensitivity and promotes healthier portion control and appetite suppression.
When you are deprived of sleep, your body increases the amount of cortisol it produces. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is partially responsible for the regulation of insulin and blood glucose. A restful sleep lowers your body’s cortisol levels and improves your overall sense of well-being.
Fenugreek Seeds and Berberine
We have already discussed the many blood glucose benefits of eating foods high in soluble fiber. This is what makes fenugreek seeds great for those trying to lower their blood sugar, as these seeds are among the most fibrous in the world. Fenugreek seeds have also been shown to reduce fasting blood sugar in Type I diabetics.
If you have never eaten fenugreek seeds before, try integrating them into your diet by adding them to baked goods. Not only do they taste good, but they can help lower your risk of diabetes simply by eating 3 or 4 grams per day.
Alternatively, we recommend adding berberine to your diet if you want to better manage your blood sugar levels. This is because berberine has been proven to improve glucose metabolism by inducing glycolysis. In fact, berberine may be equally as effective as pharmaceutical drugs designed to reduce blood sugar.
It has been shown that diabetes and chronic high blood sugar is linked to several nutritional deficiencies. Most commonly, those with blood sugar problems are deficient in chromium and magnesium. To help ensure you get enough of these important vitamins, we recommend supplementing your diet with a quality multivitamin.
Medical research has shown that cinnamon extract has the potential to improve insulin resistance and lessen the effects of metabolic syndrome in diabetics. Cinnamon also has been demonstrated to help the body digest carbohydrates and use them for energy.
However, be mindful not to take too much cinnamon in one sitting. We recommend no more than six grams of cinnamon extract per day, which is roughly equivalent to two teaspoons.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has been promoted as one of the world’s leading superfoods. In large part, this is due to the fact that vinegars, including apple cider vinegar, lower fasting blood glucose levels and improve the body’s response to high GI foods. To easily incorporate apple cider vinegar into your diet, try adding it to salads or simply add a teaspoon or two to your water.
If you are overweight, you are at risk of chronic high blood sugar. Those who maintain a healthy body weight, by contrast, are significantly less likely to be diagnosed with diabetes later in life. Therefore, we recommend achieving a healthy body weight and body mass index (BMI) if you want to better manage your blood sugar levels.
The Health Risks of High Blood Sugar
Hyperglycemia carries many risks to one’s health. When your body is in a state of high blood sugar, your nerves, internal organs, and blood vessels are put under a greater amount of strain. This causes them to work harder and, in turn, to become more susceptible to major health issues. The following are some of the most serious risks associated with high blood sugar.
Blurry or impaired vision is extremely common in those who suffer from chronic high blood sugar. Often, this can result in permanent blindness or vision impairment. In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness diagnosed in those between the ages of 20 and 70. Managing your blood sugar levels can help protect your eyes from lifelong damage.
Permanent Nerve Damage
High blood sugar can cause neuropathy, a form of permanent nerve damage. Commonly, this originates in the body’s legs and feet and can cause chronic pain. Sometimes, neuropathy can manifest as numbness or tingling in the feet. If you exhibit the symptoms of nerve damage, start managing your blood sugar levels immediately.
Stomach and Intestinal Problems
It is not uncommon for diabetics and those who suffer from chronic high blood sugar to be diagnosed with gastrointestinal disorders. These disorders include ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or gallstones. Roughly three out of four diabetics will be diagnosed with a chronic gastrointestinal issue at some point in their lifetime.