Blood Sugar 101: Monitor & Manage Glucose Levels for Optimal Health 
Time to read 8 min
Time to read 8 min
Diabetes management isn't about giving up the sweet things in life. It's about being vigilant, watching your blood sugar levels, and knowing how to act when they fluctuate.
Learning to monitor and manage your blood glucose levels is crucial for a healthier, complication-free life, whether you're diabetic or not. It's easy once you know a few tricks.
Consider this article your blood sugar 101 guide. We'll present everything you need to know to monitor and optimize your glucose levels to maintain a healthy and happy lifestyle.
Blood sugar, or blood glucose, is the simplest form of sugar in the body. It's the primary energy source for all the cells in your body, your organs and, most importantly, your brain.
All the carbohydrates you eat eventually become glucose. Some get burned for energy and body functions, while the rest determine blood glucose levels.
Your blood sugar levels can fluctuate throughout the day, and hormones such as insulin, which pushes glucose into cells to be burned, can regulate these levels.
If your body isn't producing enough insulin (such as if you have type 1 diabetes) or the insulin can't do its job properly (due to insulin resistance, common in type 2 diabetes), your blood sugar levels spike.
Long-term elevated blood sugar, or even low blood sugar, can have profound health complications. This is why it's crucial to monitor and manage your blood glucose.
There's no simple answer regarding "good" or "proper" glucose readings. Your optimal blood sugar levels depend on several factors, including if you have diabetes or other health issues and the type of blood test you use.
Here's how to interpret blood glucose readings:
The NIDDK (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases) considers the following ranges normal for healthy, non-diabetics:
Fasting blood sugar level: 70-99 mg/dL
2-hour postprandial glucose level: 140 mg/dL or lower
If you have diabetes, it can be challenging to stay below these ranges. The NIDDK recommends the following target ranges for diabetics:
Fasting blood glucose level: 80-130 mg/dL
2-hour postprandial glucose level: <180 mg/dL
In addition, your doctor might order an A1C test to check your glucose level over the past three months. You're considered healthy if your A1C test results are below 5.7%.
The CDC (Center for Disease Control) considers anything below 70 mg/dL low. This is known as hypoglycemia.
If you're hypoglycemic, you might experience the following signs and symptoms:
Tingling or numbness in your face (especially the lips)
Severe hypoglycemia is a life-threatening condition with dangerously low blood sugar (below 54 mg/dL). It can lead to dizziness, disorientation, seizures, and in diabetics, even death.
That's why it's important to pay attention to the causes of hypoglycemia, which include:
Taking too much insulin
Eating too little carbs compared to your insulin dose
Drinking alcohol without food
Some medications, such as quinine (malaria medication)
Some liver and kidney diseases
To treat hypoglycemia, you need to consume simple carbs or sugary drinks like fruit juice. If you're prone to low blood sugar, you can aslo keep glucose tablets with you just in case your level drops.
High blood sugar doesn't necessarily mean you have diabetes. It depends on how high it is.
The American Diabetes Association considers fasting blood glucose of 100-125 mg/dL a sign of prediabetes. With some lifestyle modifications such as diet and physical activity, you can hit your blood glucose targets and avoid medication.
On the other hand, fasting glucose levels of 126 mg/dL or higher are a sign of diabetes and hyperglycemia.
Your doctor will likely have you do an A1C test to confirm the diagnosis. If your A1C test results are 5.7–6.4%, you're considered prediabetic.
An A1c of 6.5% or higher indicates diabetes and hyperglycemia.
In addition, you might feel some signs and symptoms of hyperglycemia, such as:
Slow-healing blisters and cuts
Unexplained weight loss
Frequent infections (due to a poor immune system)
Prolonged hyperglycemia, common with poor glucose control, can lead to diabetes-related complications such as kidney failure, cardiovascular disease (heart disease), high blood pressure, and more.
High blood sugar can damage the blood vessels which travel through the body to different organs and impair their function.
Before dealing with high blood glucose levels, you first need to identify the underlying cause. These can be lifestyle factors, such as improper diet or signs of an illness like diabetes.
There are three types of diabetes:
Type 2 Diabetes: The most common type of diabetes where your insulin levels are either too low or your body doesn't utilize insulin effectively. Your doctor might include oral medication or insulin therapy in your diabetes treatment plan.
Gestational Diabetes: A temporary type of diabetes that occurs in pregnant mothers near the 24th-28th weeks of pregnancy due to hormonal changes. Your blood glucose will likely return to its healthy range postpartum.
With all of them, monitoring and maintaining your blood glucose levels is crucial, even if you're taking medications or insulin.
There are several methods of measuring blood sugar levels, both at home and at a doctor's office.
The two most common at-home testing devices are:
The continuous glucose monitor (CGM): it's a tiny sensor inserted under the skin, usually the arm or stomach. It automatically measures your glucose levels throughout the day and sends the readings to your phone or wearable device and doesn't require a blood sample;
The glucometer (or glucose meter): it's a common method where you put a drop of blood on a test strip and insert it into a small device to get a reading.
Apart from them, you also have several types of blood tests available.
Blood tests are the easiest way to measure your blood glucose levels and determine how well you're managing diabetes. Here are the most common tests for monitoring your blood sugar:
This test measures your fasting blood sugar level, meaning you must fast for at least 8 hours before the test. You're allowed to drink plain water, but food is off-limits. It gives a decent indication of your average blood sugar levels without food interference.
Doctors typically use the fasting blood sugar test first to assess your baseline glucose levels.
A random blood sugar test measures your blood glucose at any time of the day, regardless of whether or not you've eaten.
You don't need to prepare for it; you can measure your random blood sugar multiple times throughout the day.
If you take a random measurement two hours after a meal, the reading is called a 2-Hour Postprandial Blood Glucose.
The OGTT is similar to the fasting blood glucose test because you need to fast at least 8 hours before it. However, the OGTT is done at a doctor's office, where you're given a sugary drink, and your blood sugar is closely monitored.
It indicates how your body treats glucose and its effect on blood sugar levels.
The A1c, or hemoglobin A1C test, is done in a professional setting, ideally every three months, according to the American Diabetes Association.
It gives a rough estimate of your average blood sugar level over the past 2-3 months by measuring the amount of sugar stored in your red blood cells.
Proper blood sugar control is essential for healthy individuals and even more so for people with diabetes. There might not be a cure for diabetes, but there are several things you can do to keep your glucose as close as possible to normal levels.
Here are a few important tips to keep in mind:
Moderate physical activity: Exercise requires energy which makes your body burn more glucose for fuel. Exercise also makes your body more sensitive to insulin, improving your blood sugar levels. Aim for about 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
Proper hydration: Staying hydrated means more water gets absorbed into your bloodstream, diluting any excess glucose you might have. Try to drink 1.5-2L of water per day to stay hydrated.
A good night's sleep: Not sleeping enough leads to poor glucose metabolism. Make sure to get 7-8 hours of quality sleep every night.
Stress management: Stress leads to elevated blood sugar. Try to lower your stress levels by meditating, walking, or doing other activities you enjoy.
Carbohydrates counting: Tracking the number of carbs going into your body can help manage your glucose levels, and if you're taking insulin injections, follow your doctor's recommendations to the letter.
Less alcohol: Drinking alcohol can lead to dangerously low blood sugar because alcohol prevents your liver from releasing glucose into the bloodstream. It also impairs insulin production. Try to reduce your alcohol consumption to improve your blood sugar control.
Diet modification: Stick to nutrient-rich foods that won't cause fluctuations in your blood glucose levels. Protein and healthy fats positively affect your blood sugar, while saturated fats, sugars, and salt should be less present in your diet.
Pay attention to your meds: Some medications, such as statins and diuretics (cholesterol and blood pressure medications), can raise your blood sugar level. If you start any new prescription medication, inform your doctor or diabetes care team.
With the right tools, guidance, and mindset, you can monitor and optimize your blood glucose levels for a healthier, happier life.
Now that you know everything about blood sugar and how it works, you're ready for any dips or spikes that come your way.
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