How To Manage Your Blood Sugar Levels
ANSWERS IN THIS HUB:-
- What is blood sugar?
- What are normal blood sugar levels?
- Why do blood sugar levels change during the day/night?
- Intro to basics of high blood sugar (eg diabetes) and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) & their symptoms & dangers.
- How to measure your blood sugar levels
- How to manage your blood sugar levels (without medication)
- Links to great "blood sugar management" cookbooks & recommended reading.
Disclaimer: I'm not an expert on this topic but I have relatives that suffer from Type 2 diabetes, so it is important to try to understand the factors that influence blood glucose to effectively manage it. Feel free to discuss or dispute anything in this hub.
What Is Blood Sugar?
Your blood sugar level, or blood glucose level, refers to the concentration of sugar (in the form of glucose) in your blood. The unit of measurement is millimoles per liter (mmol/L).
Why is there sugar in the blood? Every time you eat food, your body has the task of breaking that food down into a useable form of energy it can use to keep you functioning properly. All foods are (generally) made up of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, fiber and water. Carbohydrate rich foods give your body its main form of energy. They get broken down into glucose and move into the bloodstream where they are absorbed by cells for use or storage. Glucose, or "blood sugar", is likened to "the gasoline that is essential to make your car run".
Normal Blood Sugar Levels
The following guide for "normal" blood sugar levels is given in "Prescription for Nutritional Healing (4th Ed)" by certified nutrional consultant Phyllis A. Balch (a highly recommended book for your home library - see link under recommended reading).
Note: to convert mg/dL to mmol/L, just divide these figures by 18.
eg 110 mg/dL / 18 --> 6.1 mmol/L
Why Blood Sugar Levels Change During The Day
Your blood sugar levels vary during the day/night. The direction it varies (up or down) is due to a number of factors such as those listed below:
1. Eating food. As the carbs in food break down, glucose is released into the bloodstream ready to be absorbed by cells. Increased glucose in the bloodstream = higher blood sugar level.
2. Exercise. Exercise provides many benefits to your body, including burning excess sugar and reducing insulin resistance (by making cells more receptive to insulin, so rather than requiring more insulin to facilitate glucose uptake, the insulin you already have becomes a bit more effective). However the effect on blood sugar depends on the type of exercise, the duration of exercise, glucose and insulin levels before you start exercising.
During long, intense workouts the body may release adrenaline which counteracts the efforts of insulin. The normal process for blood sugar would be to be absorbed by cells (via insulin) for utilization or storage. Adrenaline causes the glucose to be redirected to where it is required for use immediately rather than for storage. Read more here.
3. Your physiology. The fitter you are the better. More specifically, if you have a greater muscle to fat ratio, you will burn energy at a faster rate and therefore be more effective at reducing your blood glucose level. Also, muscles do not rely on insulin to absorb/use blood glucose - same goes for the brain.
(My sister gave me this great analogy - imagine a small muscle and a large muscle contracting at the same time. Which one would use/burn more energy to contract? The big one, simply because it is a bigger muscle!)
4. Emotions. Stress increases your blood glucose level. It also causes some people to forget to take their medication, turn to comfort foods, overeat and therefore introduce a higher than normal amount of glucose in the blood.
5. Sleeping. People often talk about "dawn phenomenon" with regard to diabetes, where your blood sugar level spikes in the mornings as a result of the body releasing hormones which increase insulin resistance (perhaps). The cause of this is unknown. However, another explanation could be a slow metabolism of dinner from the night before. Some research also suggests that not getting enough sleep causes the liver to produce/release more glucose, hence increasing your blood sugar levels.
6. Medications. Obviously, the medication you take regulates your blood sugar level and therefore your readings during the day, depending on when you took the medication.
Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar)
In contrast to diabetes, hypoglycemia is characterized by low blood sugar due to insulin excess. In a similar fashion to the release of insulin to faciliate glucose uptake when blood sugar is high, the pancreas releases glucagon (another hormone) when the blood sugar drops below a certain level. Glucagon triggers the release of glucose into the bloodstream from stores (eg from liver).
Your brain needs a minimum amount of sugar to function properly (& fortunately does not rely on insulin). With excess insulin, sugar is directed to other insulin-dependent cells in the body, potentially leaving very little for the brain. This could lead to unconsciousness. People that suffer from hypoglycemia generally carry sweets in their pocket for a quick fix.
Symptoms: trouble speaking, weakness, palpitations, a sense of urgency to go and eat
Detection: training, monitoring blood sugar levels
Dangers: Unconsciousness (diabetic coma), death
Diabetes (High Blood Sugar)
Everybody has heard of diabetes. There are a number of types of diabetes but Type 1 & Type 2 are relatively well known.
Type 1 is where your body is unable to produce insulin. In Type 2, your body produces insulin but it does not work effectively.
In both cases, blood glucose level is higher than normal (hyperglycemia). Those with Type 1 diabetes require regular insulin injections usually after meals. People with Type 2 diabetes (up to 90% of people with diabetes have this type) can often manage their condition through exercise and diet. Refer to section below on how to manage your blood sugar levels.
Symptoms: fatigue, unexplained weight loss, excessive urination, blurry vision, moody, irritability, unable to focus attention properly.
Detection: blood test (fasting), urine test
Dangers: kidney damage, heart disease, stroke
The chapters of the book deal with such practical matters as being able to identify if you have low blood sugar, what it is, how serious it is and what to do if you have the condition.
Biosensor Monitoring Technology
How To Measure Your Blood Sugar Levels
There are a number of ways you can measure your blood sugar levels.
1. At the doctor's surgery:
Your doctor can take a blood test to determine the amount of glucose present in the sample. This is usually taken after a period of fasting (fast overnight and have a test done before you eat anything the next morning).
Also, a urine test can be taken to detect the presence of sugar in the urine. The concentration of sugar in the blood needs to get up to 3 x normal levels before sugar starts spilling into urine for a quick elimination from the body. So this is also a good indication of elevated blood sugar levels.
2. At home
At home you can get a machine that gives you a digital reading of your blood sugar level. All you do is prick your finger (with a tool provided - this is very quick and doesn't hurt that much) and squeeze a dot of blood onto the tip of one of the "strips" provided. The other end of the strip is inserted into the machine which displays your reading after a few seconds.
People with diabetes measure their blood sugar levels regularly. Those that are newly diagnosed should take measurements a few times a day and at different times eg before/after meals. As you keep a record, you can see how different foods affect blood glucose levels and you can begin to tailor a diet to suit the unique response of your body.
3. In the future...
Technology is always getting better, smaller, more efficient, less painful etc. There is ongoing research to develop pain-free, blood-free non-invasive ways to monitor blood sugar levels (see attached video).
Also for people that are completely terrified of needles, check this out. Soon you can be measuring your blood sugar levels on your cell phone!
How To Manage Your Blood Sugar Levels
The glycemic index (GI) is simply a method of comparing foods based on how quickly they affect your blood sugar levels. High GI foods get converted to glucose more quickly, giving you a quick energy spike. Low GI foods are slower to digest and provide a more steadier form of energy for the body.
How and when to eat
Eating smaller meals more regularly (eg 6 meals a day instead of 3) will condition your body to "know" that the next meal is not that far away, giving a more constant supply of energy.
Which foods are low GI foods which help to manage blood sugar (and energy) levels?
A comprehensive list of low GI foods can be found at this link. Also refer to the list of specialized cookbooks below, catered for low sugar, low GI and diabetic diets to help you manage your blood sugar levels.
If you like your sugar, perhaps use some alternatives to sugar.
Are there any herbs that lower blood sugar?
This article (pdf) from the online journal of AAIM list some herbs that may be useful, however more study is needed. Some include american ginseng, chinese cinnamon, fenugreek, ginger, prickly pear and turmeric. All herbs should be taken with caution - excess could lead to hypoglycemia.
What if you are pregnant?
Pregnant women should avoid eating too many sugary foods and deserts as there is a risk of developing gestational diabetes. In particular a diet of complex carbohydrates, low fat and high in fiber helps.
You can start by making small changes to your daily routine - taking the stairs, riding a bike, walking etc. Ideally over time you would incorporate a combination of a range of different exercises such as aerobic, strength and flexibility exercises.
Don't overdo it. 30 mins a day can be enough to make a difference, however each person's situation is different. As described above, exercise can influence the way your body reacts to insulin, but the benefits are greater. A rule of thumb from Diabetes Australia: if you're not breathing faster than normal, what you're doing is not helping. On the other hand, if you can't talk while exercising, it's too strenuous.
(Also, be sure to wear comfortable shoes. When diagnosing diabetes, doctors sometimes check a person's feet for poor circulation, which can lead to infections or slow healing of bruises. Smoking also reduces blood supply to your feet - so QUIT!)
Build Muscle because since muscle tissue does not rely on insulin to make use of blood sugar, the more muscle you have, the more easily you can get rid of excess blood sugar when you work out.
Try to eliminate the cause of your stress if possible.
If not then take up a hobby, play an instrument or listen to music, learn how to release those bottled up emotions, take up self defense or boxing (if it makes you feel better).
A big factor that influences whether or not you get stressed is the way you think. If you find you are getting stressed often then consider that you may have to "control your thoughts". Try to see things from the other person's point of view and become an observer to your feelings to a situation rather than giving in to instinctive reactions. (People that master this go a long way.)
Also, prevention is the key! So practice deep breathing, take up meditation or yoga and continue exercising to benefit from the endorphins! You might be surprised but prayer really helps as well.
Join a support group or internet forum
This is great especially if you are struggling. If you join a support group in your community or post on an internet forum you will meet other people who may have advice or can help you on your journey to blood sugar level mastery.
This is the least preferred method and should be used as a last resort. If you have Type 1 diabetes, then regular insulin injections are required.
Often other conditions are found in conjunction with diabetes, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol. Medication may be given to help control these as well.
Blood Sugar Diets & Cookbooks
200 natural food recipes that can be used to make the hypoglycemic's life more enjoyable
Great Hubs on Diabetes & Hypoglycemia
- On Having Type II Diabetes
Hubber Bob Ewing has learned to manage his Type II diabetes and overcome the temptation of butter tarts...
- Some Facts About Diabetes
What is diabetes? Diabetes is also known as diabetes mellitus, it is a disease of abnormal carbohydrate metabolism in which glucose cannot enter the body's cells and be utilized...
- Food and Diabetes: Part Two
The fact that you have type II diabetes does not mean that you cannot enjoy food. It does mean that you will need to learn more about what your safe options are. One tool that I find useful when meal...
- Vitamins for Hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia can be effectively treated and prevented with a some simple changes in diet and proper supplementation.