Many of our Fitbit community members use the tracker functionality to monitor their blood glucose levels.
Why is blood sugar level an indicator of overall good health? Our friends at The Noe Valley Clinic and One Medical Group (based here in San Francisco near the Fitbit headquarters, with offices in NYC as well) provide valuable insight into the importance of tracking blood sugar.
By Spencer Blackman, M.D. – The Noe Valley Clinic, sister practice of One Medical Group
Most healthy people don’t think too much about their blood sugar, so why should you? Because an abnormal blood sugar level is a major preventable risk factor for some very serious diseases. Read on to learn about the risks of uncontrolled blood sugar, how to keep your own levels under control and when and how to get screened for problems.
The “sugar” in “blood sugar” is glucose, a simple molecule packed with the energy needed to power almost all the functions of your body. As you digest a meal, glucose released from the food moves into your bloodstream where its concentration is tightly regulated by hormones including insulin, glucagon and cortisol. Depending on the time of day, how much you’ve recently eaten and how much you’ve exercised, your blood glucose level might range between 70 and 150 mg/dL. After fasting overnight, your glucose levels should drop well below 99 mg/dL.
How Low Can You Go?
If you wait too long between meals or exercise too vigorously without eating, you may start to feel the earliest symptoms of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. You know the feelings: hunger, fatigue, irritability, stomach pains, headaches and decreased productivity. Fortunately, your body is extremely good at maintaining normal blood sugar, and true hypoglycemia (blood sugar levels below 70 mg/dL) is very rare except in people who are taking drugs for diabetes. Usually, you can avoid feeling poorly by eating at regular intervals, avoiding excess sugars and caffeine and including some protein in every meal (since proteins are more satisfying and less fattening than fats and carbs). But if these simple steps aren’t enough to control your symptoms, you should discuss the situation with your provider.
Too High for Comfort
A much more common problem is hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, defined as blood glucose levels above 99 mg/dL after an overnight fast. In its earliest stages, this condition is sometimes called “impaired fasting glucose” or “pre-diabetes”, and it is especially common in patients who are overweight or have family members with diabetes. Many affected patients go on to develop diabetes themselves, and face increased risks of heart disease, strokes, loss of vision, nerve damage and kidney failure – all because of excess sugar in the bloodstream. By identifying patients with high blood sugar early and helping them adopt better lifestyles, we can often prevent or forestall the development of diabetes and its dreaded complications.
Habits for Healthy Blood Sugar
Considering the health risks of hyperglycemia, prevention is definitely worth the effort. When it comes to healthy blood sugar, the following lifestyle choices are the key to success:
Weight loss. Perhaps the most important action people with elevated blood sugar can take is shedding
excess pounds: being overweight is a primary risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Avoid sodas and sweets,and eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Make sure to have a balance of fat, carbohydrates,and proteins at every meal. And eat small meals at regular intervals, rather than going long periods without food and then binge-eating.
Exercise. Getting the blood pumping brings blood sugar down because your muscles use glucose as their primary energy source. Exercise also balances the hormones that control our blood glucose levels. Even a brisk walk for a half an hour each day can have positive effects.
Stress Reduction. As our ancestors prepared to flee from a looming saber tooth tiger, stress hormones (e.g. adrenaline and cortisol) caused blood sugar levels to rise, providing a burst of energy to aid the survival process. In today’s world, our stress hormone levels are often sky-high but we rarely get enough exercise to provide balance. Reduce stress by incorporating an activity like meditation or yoga into your day, and you’ll see immediate benefits.
Coffee. Studies show that people who drink coffee may have a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes, so don’t feel guilty about your morning cup. Just keep the sugar to a minimum.
When to Get Tested
Diabetes screening usually involves a fasting blood glucose test, though non-fasting options also exist. Your One Medical provider can arrange a screening test at your next physical exam. We also offer nutrition counseling for anyone wanting to feel better through improved eating habits.
If you are healthy and don’t have diabetes in your family, we recommend blood sugar testing every three years after the age of 45.
If you are overweight or obese, or have high blood pressure, heart disease or a family history of diabetes, you should have your blood sugar tested annually, regardless of age.
If you’ve already been diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes, make sure you visit your One Medical provider at least every six months so we can help prevent or delay complications.
Spencer Blackman, M.D. is a physician at The Noe Valley Clinic, the sister practice of One Medical Group. One Medical Group provides primary care services and has doctors in San Francisco as well as New York City doctors.
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