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101 Guide - Healthy blood glucose levels
When someone is newly diagnosed with diabetes, one of the first things they want to know is what their blood sugar levels should be; what is normal, too high, or too low? Since everyone’s personal health history and the way their body functions is as unique as a fingerprint, it may affect how the body responds to food, medication, and other factors that influence blood sugar levels.
How does Glucose move through your body?
The food you eat is digested in the stomach and intestine, and during this process, glucose is absorbed in the intestine and is released into your bloodstream. Glucose in your blood is monitored by the beta-cells of the pancreas every few seconds. In response to a rise in blood glucose levels, these cells release insulin in the blood, which acts to move glucose from the blood to body cells for energy. The glucose remaining above the required energy needs is stored in the liver (as glycogen) and in muscles.
What are the Basic Steps seen in the Glucose Travel Pathway?
Glucose released in the digestive system after food absorption has to cross various cell membranes to reach the body cells. Basic steps in the glucose travel pathway include Absorption and Cellular intake.
- Absorption : Glucose from the intestine is absorbed into the bloodstream with Sodium-dependent Hexose Transporters.
- Cellular Intake : The uptake of the glucose from the blood to cells is mediated by insulin and Glucose Transporter (GLUT).
For more on Glucose Travel and how it is metabolized, check out our article on Metabolism 101.
Should you be Concerned about your Blood Glucose Levels?
Having high blood sugar levels over time can lead to long-term, serious health problems.
It’s a delicate balance to maintain, so the following list can help you familiarize yourself with factors that can cause your blood glucose levels to go up or down.
Why your Blood Sugar Level may be High
Based on the ADA guidelines, if your blood sugar is above 180 mg/dL two hours after a meal, it is considered above the normal range. The following factors might cause your glucose or blood sugar to rise
- Consuming more carbohydrates or a larger meal than usual
- Not taking enough insulin or oral diabetes medication based on carbohydrates or activity levels
- Reduced physical activity
- Illness, stress, and pain (both short-term and long-term)
- Menstrual periods
- Side effects from medications like steroids or antipsychotics
Why your Blood Sugar Level may be Low
If blood sugar drops below 70 mg/dL, it is below normal levels. This can be caused by a variety of factors, such as:
- Not eating enough or missing a meal or snack
- Reducing the amount of carbohydrates you normally eat
- Alcohol consumption — especially if you’re drinking on an empty stomach
- Taking too much insulin or oral diabetes medication based on carbohydrates or activity levels
- Increased physical activity
- Side effects from medications (other than steroids or antipsychotics)
What are the Risks of having High Glucose Levels?
Uncontrolled high blood glucose levels affect multiple organs in your body. They can lead to cardiovascular complications (heart attack, stroke), nerve damage, kidney insufficiency, eye damage, and skin complications.
What is Insulin Resistance, and why is it Critical?
Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas to regulate blood sugar levels. Insulin is released by beta cells of the pancreas in response to an increase in blood glucose. However, when the insulin sensitivity or responsiveness to an influx of glucose in the blood decreases, the specific cells of the body become insulin resistant leading to incorrect signaling.
The key feature of insulin resistance is that it makes the cells produce more insulin to act on the increased blood glucose. Still, due to decreased insulin sensitivity, glucose is not taken by the cells, consequently leading to increased blood glucose levels and increased insulin levels. Few cells become insulin resistant, and those which are still insulin sensitive become over-stimulant.
Insulin resistance is associated with multiple chronic conditions and comorbidities. Diabetes is the most common metabolic disorder because of insulin resistance. PCOS is another prevalent condition in females associated with insulin resistance. Other serious and chronic disorders include Cardiovascular Disorders (CVD), breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and fatty liver disease (non-alcoholic). Read more about medications for diabetes.
What are the Three Basic Rules to ensure stable Blood Sugar Levels?
Eating Right is the Key to maintaining Optimal Blood Glucose Levels.
- Increase the amount of Fiber, Antioxidants, and other Supplements in your diet.
- Increase consumption of Whole Grains, Fruits, and Vegetables and reduce Processed Food.
- Consume a macronutrient-balanced diet of Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats.
What is the Normal Blood Glucose Level, How is it measured?
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Diabetes Association (ADA), the Normal Ranges across categories, for HbA1c and Blood Glucose Levels in Fasting & Post-meal are as shown in the table below.
- Fasting blood sugar level are measured while you are fasting, i.e., at least 8 hours from the last meal. This is usually the first thing done in the morning.
- Post-prandial glucose test: Post-prandial glucose levels are measured 2 hours after eating a meal.
- Glycated hemoglobin (A1C) level : A1C measures the glucose amount carried in the hemoglobin accumulated over 3 months. This blood test is taken independent of when you have eaten. It measures the amount of glucose stuck to the hemoglobin (part of your red blood cells), which accumulates over approximately 3 months.
- Another test for blood glucose measurement is the oral glucose tolerance test. In this test, the person fasts overnight, and the fasting glucose levels are measured. Then the person ingests sugar liquid, and glucose levels are monitored periodically for the next 2 hours.
What is the relationship between Blood Glucose Levels and Diabetes?
Blood glucose levels increase after meals, and insulin acts to transport this excess glucose into cells, thus maintaining the optimal glucose level for vital organ functioning. When blood glucose levels rise beyond the normal specified levels, the condition is called hyperglycemia. In a person without diabetes, insulin helps to normalize the blood sugar level within a few hours; however, if you have diabetes, the blood glucose levels are higher than normal for extended periods. So now you know why maintaining optimal blood glucose levels are important and how an increase in their levels can put you at risk of diabetes and associated complications.
To know more about the correlation between insulin resistance, insulin sensitivity, blood glucose levels, and risk of diabetes, check out our articles on Insulin Resistance and Diabetes
If you have diabetes, keep your blood glucose meter and sources of fast-acting glucose (like glucose tabs or fruit juice) close by in case your blood sugar drops. This is especially important for people with hypoglycemia unawareness, which is a condition that causes symptoms of low blood sugar to go unnoticed. Eating balanced meals and snacks at regular times throughout the day is a big part of maintaining normal blood glucose levels. Also know about glucometer.
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What Else Can I Do to Help Efficiently Manage My Blood Sugar Levels?
Some of the best ways you can implement to manage your blood sugar levels better include frequently monitoring glucose levels to check what makes them increase or decrease. You can consider using a constant glucose monitor for the same. Besides frequent level checks, you should also ensure you don’t skip timely meals, drink enough water, cut down on unhealthy food from your diet, and exercise frequently. Adopting a more healthy and active lifestyle will help you manage your blood sugar levels.
How do Carbs Affect Blood Sugar?
When you eat any food item containing carbohydrates, your digestive system breaks it down into sugar, which then enters the bloodstream. Once the sugar content rises significantly in the bloodstream, you can notice high blood sugar levels on any insulin reading device. Since carbs are responsible for producing more glucose in the bloodstream, many suggest restricting the consumption of food items high in carbs.
What are Ketones?
Ketones are chemicals produced in your liver and can be found in every human being, whether they have diabetes or not. The liver produces ketones when the body has insufficient insulin levels to turn the sugar present in the bloodstream into energy. In such cases, the body requires another source to use as fuel. It is when the body starts using fat. The liver turns this fat into ketones before sending them into the bloodstream, so it can be used as fuel.
This website's content is provided only for educational reasons and is not meant to be a replacement for professional medical advice. Due to individual differences, the reader should contact their physician to decide whether the material is applicable to their case.