There’s a lot of talk these days about the importance of maintaining a “normal” blood sugar level. That’s because if your blood sugar (also known as blood glucose) levels are “high” you are at risk for developing diabetes and a host of dangerous complications, including obesity, nerve damage, kidney failure and blindness—all of which, among other problems, are linked to diabetes. For instance, did you know that having diabetes may actually double your risk for heart disease?
However, it’s not just diabetes that you need to worry about if you have high blood sugar. If your blood sugar is anything but in the normal range, your health is at risk. High blood sugar is also a problem for people who are not yet face to face with diabetes. Some common symptoms that suggest you may have high blood sugar levels include increased thirst, frequent urination, headaches, blurred vision and fatigue.
What Happens When Blood Sugar is Low?
And if your blood sugar levels are “low,” there are a whole host of other health issues that you may find yourself up against. For example, hypoglycemia—the term used when your blood glucose is too low—may make it difficult for your brain, heart and even your digestive system to work properly, as your cells require energy from glucose to function. Although this might seem counterintuitive, low blood sugar often occurs in people with diabetes, generally as a result of too much insulin or oral medication being used to treat diabetes, both of which may lower blood sugar levels.
But low blood sugar can occur in people without diabetes if your body is manufacturing too much insulin. Some symptoms of low blood sugar include weakness or feeling tired, shaking, sweating, headache or hunger. Sometimes there are no symptoms, but dangerous consequences include fainting, seizure or even falling into a coma may occur. This article explains low blood sugar in more detail.
Before we get to what “normal” means when it comes to blood sugar levels, let’s first walk through some things to know about high glucose levels and diabetes.
There are three common types of diabetes—type 1, type 2 and gestational. (There are a few other types of diabetes, but according to the American Diabetes Association, they are rare.)
Type 1 diabetes, sometimes known as juvenile diabetes, generally shows up in children, adolescents or young adults. But the fact is you can be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at other stages of your life. It is thought to be an autoimmune condition that can be inherited from your parents. Insulin, or lack of it, is the calling card of type 1 diabetes because with this condition, your body doesn’t produce enough insulin.
What Happens When Blood Sugar is Too High?
Type 1 diabetes comes on quickly in contrast to type 2 diabetes where the disease starts off with vague symptoms, things you might not even notice, building in your body over time. The precursor to type 2 diabetes is prediabetes (which often goes undiagnosed) and, if not caught in time and managed, can turn into full-blown type 2 diabetes. The key is testing, testing, testing—which we’ll get to.
The simplest explanation for type 2 diabetes is that the illness results when your blood glucose levels are too high. Glucose—from the food you eat—serves as your body’s main source of energy. From there, your body produces insulin, a hormone that moves the glucose to your cells and acts as energizers. In people with diabetes, your body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or doesn’t properly make use of insulin. This means that the glucose doesn’t make its way into your cells but rather builds up in your blood. This effect, called hyperglycemia, over time can create serious health problems, which is why it’s so important to learn how to understand and manage your blood sugar levels.
Gestational diabetes affects seven out of 100 pregnant women in the U.S. and can impact not only the mother-to-be but also the baby. This form of diabetes, too, is related to high blood sugar levels and requires attention to managing your diet. In this case, the condition often reverses itself post-pregnancy; however, gestational diabetes may put you at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes, so managing your blood sugar levels should not stop after you give birth.
Think of it this way: managing your blood sugar levels is a life-long habit. And it all starts with knowing your numbers.
What Blood Sugar Level is Normal?
There are several ways to test your blood sugar levels and we’ve previously blogged about those tests. A blood sugar level in a healthy adult resulting from a fasting blood test is < 100 mg/dL. This article explains in more depth.
Low blood sugar is considered to be below 70 mg/dL. If you’ve taken a fasting sugar level test, results between 110 – 125 mg/dL puts you in the prediabetes range, with impaired fasting glucose, while 126 mg/dL or higher (confirmed by more than one test on separate occasions) means you have diabetes.
There is another test that gives you greater insight into how your body metabolizes glucose. It is known as the Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) test or more simply called the A1c test. Results from the fasting glucose test measures your blood sugar levels at that current time. On the other hand, the HbA1c is a non-fasting test that reflects your average blood glucose over the past three months. Therefore, the HbA1C better reflects how your body processes glucose as part of your regular routine, rather than one day in time.
It’s not only those with diabetes who can use the A1c test. People who want to better understand and manage their blood sugar levels before those numbers become too high find this test to be a valuable tool. The goal is to keep your glucose blood levels in the normal range, so you don’t reach prediabetes, the range above normal but before full-blown diabetes. If you’re not managing your blood glucose levels, it’s very easy for those numbers to creep up without you knowing it until diabetes sets in.
Keep in mind that high levels of glucose in your blood over time are unhealthy for you. And that’s why testing as a means to know where you stand is important.
Let’s talk about what’s normal when it comes to testing through the HbA1c blood test. The results are measured as a percentage of your blood. With this test, a normal (also known as healthy) A1c level is below 5.7% (but not as low as below 4.5%); 5.7-6.4% is in the prediabetes range, increasing your risk for developing type 2 diabetes; and 6.5% and above is a diagnosis of diabetes.
Why Should You Test Your Blood Glucose Levels?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 37 million Americans (about 1 in 10) have diabetes. And, about 1 in 5 with diabetes don’t even know they have it. An additional 96 million American adults (ages 18+)—more than 1 in 3—have prediabetes. And that last number is particularly concerning because more than 8 in 10 of those adults aren’t aware that they have prediabetes.
These numbers are so important because diabetes is a disease for which there is no cure. There is a silver lining though. There are things that you can do to help manage your blood sugar levels and, and potentially, help keep them in normal range.
And our goal with this blog is to help you learn to manage your blood sugar levels so that you don’t develop the problems associated with high sugar levels and diabetes.
Lifestyle and Other Changes May Help You Manage Your Glucose Levels
Here are seven things you can do to help you manage your blood sugar levels.
- Start with a test so you know your baseline numbers. You may be able to get a blood sugar test in your doctor’s office or she or he may send you to a lab. These tests will either take a blood sample from a needle in your arm or a finger stick. At OmegaQuant, we recently introduced an HbA1c test that can help people manage a healthy blood sugar level from the convenience of their home. This test is easy and affordable and involves a finger prick to collect blood. You register the test, collect and mail your sample to OmegaQuant, and receive a report back that can be shared and discussed with your doctor. It’s recommended the HbA1c test be taken approximately every three months, to make sure you are staying on track or getting back on track. This timeframe can also demonstrate whether the dietary and lifestyle changes you are making are having an impact.
- Pay attention to your diet. Limit added sugars and ultra-processed foods. You need carbohydrates because your body needs glucose for energy but aim for carbs that are low on the glycemic index. Try to include protein and healthy fats with every meal along with complex carbs to reduce blood sugar spikes, improve satiety, and increase digestion time. (As an aside, here is a link where you can learn more about the glycemic index.)
- Exercise. We know you’re not surprised by this one. As it turns out, movement, physical activity, and pretty much any kind of exercise on a regular basis—especially when combined with a healthy, balanced diet—can not only help you maintain a healthy weight but also may help lower blood sugar levels in the process.
- You really do need a good night’s rest. You’ll figure out what’s right for your body; but aim for no less than seven (and probably no more than nine) hours a night to keep your blood sugar levels healthy.
- Stay hydrated. High blood sugar levels lead to dehydration. Drinking water, says this article, can help your blood sugar levels stay within healthy ranges by rehydrating the blood, helping your kidneys flush out extra sugar and help reduce your risk of diabetes. Stay away from the sugary stuff; water works!
- De-stress yourself. Stress signals your body to release cortisol, a hormone whose main function is to increase glucose output from your liver. Over time, this can lead to elevated blood sugar.
- Medication. After evaluating your blood sugar levels, your doctor may make recommendations as to whether you should consider medications to help you better manage your blood sugar.
Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is not a one-and-done situation. Rather it is a life-long goal that is vital to keeping you healthy. For more information about OmegaQuant’s new HbA1c test, learn more here.