Managing blood sugar (glucose)
What’s blood sugar? The job of glucose and insulin1
Glucose, also known as blood sugar, is the main source of energy for our cells. It mainly comes from the foods we eat and may go up or down depending on when and how much we eat. Our pancreas helps manage these levels by making insulin, a hormone.2 The job of insulin is to take the glucose from our blood and help it move into our cells, creating energy for our bodies.
What happens if our insulin may be out of control?
With diabetes, the body may either stop making insulin, slow way down or “forget” how to use insulin. When the insulin is either gone or not working properly (also known as “insulin resistance”), the glucose can’t get into the cells where it needs to go. This is what happens with type 2 diabetes.1
With type 1 diabetes, there’s no insulin to let glucose into the cells, so sugar piles up in the bloodstream.3 In response, the kidneys may go into overdrive, trying to get rid of that glucose. This may make a person urinate more often or feel really thirsty, tired or hungry, among other side effects. Many of these side effects may be symptoms of diabetes.4
Frequently asked questions about managing blood sugar
Many factors might make blood sugar spike or drop. Those factors may include:5
Too much or not enough food
Type of activity (strength training can raise blood sugar; aerobic activity can bring numbers down)
Puberty, pregnancy, menopause
Medication side effects
Too much or not enough insulin
Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is when blood sugar falls below 70 mg/dL. It may be caused by strenuous physical activity, skipping a meal, drinking alcohol or taking too much insulin.6
When blood sugar is too low (and insulin levels are high), the warning signs may include feeling:7
If your blood sugar is too low, you may be advised to take a glucose tablet or drink something sugary, like juice.
High blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, may be caused by eating too much, getting sick, feeling stressed or not administering enough insulin.8
Warning signs of high blood sugar (and low insulin levels) may include:9
- Blurred speech
- Blurred vision
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
If you may be under the weather with an illness or infection, or feeling particularly stressed out, your body might react by making more adrenaline and cortisol hormones, reducing how well insulin works. This may make it more challenging to control your blood sugar.10 For times like these, you may want to consider asking your doctor about purchasing a ketone test kit to check if your ketones are elevated, a condition which may put you in danger of ketoacidosis.11
Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when a lack of insulin causes your body to break down fat at an accelerated rate, making your blood acidic and potentially poisoning your bloodstream.12 One tell-tale sign of ketoacidosis is when your breath smells like nail polish remover. Other signs may include stomach pains, vomiting, blurred vision, frequent urination and rapid breathing.13 If you believe you may have ketoacidosis and it’s left untreated, it may become life-threatening, leading to a coma or death.14 If symptoms are noticed, call your doctor right away to make an appointment.
Keeping your blood sugar levels in your target range as prescribed by your doctor may be one of the trickiest parts of living with diabetes. Check in with your doctor, but you may need to monitor your blood sugar to have more energy and heal more quickly, as well as to help prevent serious complications including kidney disease, vision loss or cardiovascular disease.16 There are two ways to check blood sugar:
- Daily blood glucose tests: At-home testing kits and glucose monitors may help you check blood sugar levels at a single point in time. If you require insulin medication, your doctor may recommend checking your blood sugar multiple times a day.16
- A1C test: Another test that may help with long-term diabetes control is the A1C test, measuring blood sugar levels over the past three months.17 Target levels may vary based on age, weight and activity level.
If you have diabetes, here are a few questions to ask your doctor about dining out.
How can I follow my meal plan when dining out?
Should I adjust my insulin or other medicines?
Would it help me to meet with a registered dietitian? Can you refer me to one?
How can I lower my blood sugar or keep it at a normal level?
Checking your blood sugar may help you keep your levels in a normal, healthy range. You may further reduce the chance of complications through:
- Eating low-carb, high-protein meals.18
- Maintaining a healthy weight. If you don’t have diabetes but may be borderline, you may benefit from the National Diabetes Prevention Program, designed to help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Choosing foods that are lower in saturated fat, trans fat, sugar and salt.19
- Exercising regularly. Regular exercise may help keep blood sugar in a healthy range.20
- Managing stress21
- Getting enough rest11
- Drinking more water to flush glucose from the blood22
- Seeing your doctor at least twice a year for an A1C test, foot check, weight check, blood pressure check and to talk about your self-care plan. These appointments may help stop potential problems and help make sure that you’re doing what you can to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible.