Understanding Numbers Part 3: Blood Glucose

This is part 3 of a 4-part series designed to help you better understand some of the tests that you get each year at your physical with your doctor. These numbers are important to your health, and understanding what they mean can help you to improve not only the numbers themselves, but your overall health and wellness.

Glucose is something you probably don’t get tested every year, or if you do you might not always get the results. This is typically tested via bloodwork, such as a blood test or finger prick. It’s an important number to know because it can be an indicator of diabetes.

Glucose and Diabetes

Diabetes is defined as “a disease in which the body’s ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin is impaired, resulting in abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates and elevated levels of glucose in the blood and urine” (dictionary.com).

Glucose is one of the body’s main sources of energy, and it comes from the food you eat. The hormone insulin helps move glucose from food into your cells, where it’s used for energy. If your body doesn’t make enough insulin, the glucose stays in your blood and doesn’t reach your cells. Over time, this build-up of glucose in the blood can lead to a number of health problems, such as increased risk of heart disease, and nerve, kidney, and eye damage.


Glucose Testing

There are two types of glucose tests: fasting and non-fasting. Typically, you’ll take a non-fasting glucose test. This just means that you have eaten and drank normally throughout the day before the test. Non-fasting norms look like this:

Non-Fasting Glucose Normal Range <100 mg/dL
Potential Risk Range 100-200 mg/dL
Abnormal Range > 200 mg/dL

If your non-fasting test results show results in the potential risk or abnormal ranges, you should follow-up with a fasting glucose test to fully understand your glucose status. Fasting glucose means that you can’t eat or drink anything for 12 hours before your test. If you need to get one of these done, it’s best to schedule it for first thing in the morning. Fasting glucose norms look like this:

Fasting Glucose Normal Range <100 mg/dL
Borderline/Possibly Abnormal 100-125 mg/dL
High Risk/Abnormal >125 mg/dL

If your fasting glucose is higher than 99 mg/dL, talk with your doctor to see if you need further evaluation.

You can also test your blood glucose at home, with a blood glucose meter. It just pricks your finger and measures your blood glucose. Typically, all diabetes patients will have one of these machines on hand. If you are concerned about your blood sugar, it might be a good thing to invest in!



On the other end of the spectrum, it is possible to have blood sugar that is too low. This is known as hypoglycemia. This occurs when your blood sugar dips below 70 mg/dL. There are a few causes for hypoglycemia, but it is usually a symptom of diabetes treatment. If you are diabetic, taking too much medication that increases insulin levels in the body can cause a dangerous drop in blood sugar. Additionally, skipping meals, eating less than normal, or excessive exercise can also lead to lower blood sugar levels. Symptoms of low blood sugar include:

  • blurry vision
  • rapid heartbeat
  • unexplained fatigue
  • headache
  • hunger
  • sweating
  • dizziness
  • shaking/unsteady
  • tingling skin
  • nausea
  • loss of consciousness

Without immediate treatment, there is a risk of seizure, coma, or nervous system damage. Very low blood sugar is considered a medical emergency. If you start experiencing any of these symptoms, short term treatment includes ingesting easily-digestible carbs, such as hard candy, juice, honey, or crackers. After eating something, check your blood sugar again in 20-30 minutes. If you continue to have symptoms, or your blood sugar doesn’t rise, seek medical attention.

If you suspect that you have low blood sugar, it’s important to get your blood sugar tested and talk with your doctor about treatment. If you’re not diabetic, it’s also important to try to figure out the cause of your low blood sugar.

Low blood sugar can be avoided by checking regularly, snacking smart, and keeping your body fueled during exercise. See below for more specifics on eating and exercising for controlling blood glucose!


Managing and Lowering Blood Glucose

If you do not have diabetes, there are ways to lower your blood glucose and take you out of the risk range for developing diabetes.

  • Control your carbohydrate intake: carbs break down into glucose, which raises glucose levels in the blood.
  • Increase fiber intake: fiber slows down carbohydrate digestion and sugar absorption. Foods high in fiber include green, leafy vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains
  • Drink lots of water and stay hydrated: water helps your kidneys flush out the excess blood sugar. Avoid artificially sweetened drinks
  • Watch your portion sizes: portion control helps to regulate calorie intake and can lead to weight loss. Measure and weigh your portions, use smaller plates, avoid all-you-can-eat restaurants, read your food labels, check serving sizes, keep a food journal, and eat slowly and stop when you’re full.
  • Eat Low-Glycemic Index foods: Low-GI foods have been shown to reduce long term blood sugar levels. These foods include seafood, meat, eggs, oats, abrley, beans, lentils, legumes, sweet potatoes, corn, yams, most fruits, and non-starchy veggies.
  • Control your stress levels: hormones such as glucagon and cortisol are secreted during stress, and these can cause blood glucose levels to go up. Exercise, relaxation exercises, and meditation are great ways to lower stress.
  • Get good quality sleep:  poor sleep habits can increase appetite and promote weight gain, which leads to higher blood glucose levels. Good sleep is about quality AND quantity, not one or the other. Get a sufficient amount (7-9 hours) of good quality sleep every night.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: weight control promotes healthy glucose levels and reduces the risk of developing diabetes.
  • Exercise regularly: 150  minutes per week of moderate intensity activity, such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming, or cardio in the gym. Additionally, include strength training activity at least 2 times per week and flexibility exercises.

It’s important to get your blood glucose checked at least once a year. Your doctor may suggest more frequent tests if your numbers are on the higher end. Developing healthy habits will help prevent and/or lower your blood glucose levels. Always discuss your test results with your doctor, and make sure you know your numbers!

Coming next week: Cholesterol



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