The Alarming Truth About Blood Sugar and What You Can Do About It
If you live in a developed, Westernized country like the US, there’s a very good chance you know someone with type II diabetes; maybe a relative, friend, or even yourself. What you may not realize is there are roughly 30 million Americans with diabetes, that’s about 1 diabetic person in every 10 American. Even scarier is that 1 of 4 people with diabetes doesn’t even know they have it [source] ! And while we’ve largely known since Ancient Greece that type II diabetes is a preventable condition caused by lifestyle and environment, it’s even more horrifying to see the number of diabetics continue to rise!
So how do you go ensure you’re not heading down the path to blood sugar issues? How do you make the invisible visible? How do we make sure that all the time and energy we put into choosing healthy foods, exercising, and diet books are actually working to keep us healthy? This article will explain some of the current testing methods to help keep you on the right track when it comes to preventing chronic dysglycemia.
Quick Figures: The annual cost to treat diabetes in the U.S. is estimated at $266 billion. 2017 Gallup Poll
The Standard of Diagnosing Diabetes
The standard for diagnosing an individual with diabetes is shown in the table above from the CDC. The problem with this approach is that it catches the disease in the very late stages of blood sugar dysregulation. Up to 25% of people with prediabetes will develop full-blown type 2 diabetes in 3-5 years [source].
The standard lab range that most clinicians refer to for a (12-hour) fasting glucose blood test is 70-99mg/dL (under 5.6mmol/L). Knowing the progression from prediabetes to diabetes, there is a problem with these ranges. A 2013 study from the European Journal of Internal Medicine showed that subjects who had fasting glucose levels between 90 and 100 mg/dL (5mmol/L to 5.6mmol/L) were at higher risk for metabolic syndrome [source]. Why is this significant? I’m so glad you asked!
Here’s why: Blood sugar issues oftentimes don’t become obvious until long after it’s progressed into the late stages of the disease. Early warning signs go undetected or unnoticed by many seemingly “healthy” individuals.
Quick Quote: “Obesity is adversely affecting the welfare, economic, and in some cases military security of the United States, Mexico, and China [source].”
The Many Faces of Blood Sugar Problems
Although seemingly benign at first, high blood sugar leads to a list of serious health consequences:
- High Blood Pressure [Source]
- Chronic Kidney Disease and Kidney Failure [Source]
- Dementia and cognitive decline [Source]
- Depression [Source]
- Increased risk of heart disease and stroke
- Increased risk of various cancers (liver, pancreas, endometrium, colon and rectum, breast, bladder) [Source]
- Gangrene and possible amputation
- Deficiency in trace nutrients such as magnesium, zinc, copper, and selenium [Source]
- Lifetime of costly doctor’s visits, medications, and possible surgeries [Source]
If your fasting blood sugar falls with the range of 90 – 100 mg/dL, most doctors will consider this “within normal limits” since the American Diabetic Association doesn’t consider this a major health concern. The research reveals that results in this range are associated with a host of health problems including metabolic syndrome [Source].
Quick Quote: “The rise of diabetes is a threat to national security [source].”
Letting a patient with blood sugar issues stroll out of his/her doctor’s appointment thinking they are “healthy” is a huge disservice to their future health. We now have the knowledge to prevent severe health complications that come with blood sugar disorders. Put another way, the majority of risk of these complications can be largely reduced and/or mitigated if we address the metabolic issues that precede them.
So how do you go about measuring your blood sugar the right way to make sure you’re not heading into the danger zone. Here are a few markers I recommend for most patients to see if/how blood sugar is influencing their health:
Fasting plasma glucose – This reading is taken after 12 hours of fasting. A 2006 BMJ study of “healthy” non-diabetic men shows that even fasting glucose of 87 mg/dL revealed a progressively increased risk of type 2 diabetes [Source].
HbA1c – Hemoglobin A1c is an estimate of your aggregate blood sugar levels over the past 3 months. It has been used regularly to screen for insulin resistance and diabetes for the past decade or so. Unfortunately, there is some controversy as to whether A1c is as reliable as once thought since the average lifespan of red blood cells in high blood sugar patients is less than healthy individuals [Source]. For this reason, we should avoid relying too heavily on just this biomarker. Blood sugar is best analyzed with a panel of multiple tests.
Fructosamine – This marker of glycation shows the extent of how “sticky” certain peptides within the body become in the presence of high blood sugar. Imagine pouring a can of cola onto a kitchen counter and letting it sit for a day. The sticky, gooey after effect mimics the effect on the inner tissues of our body, causing AGEs (advanced glycation end-products). All cells of the body can be affected, and the brain is no exception. This study of over 500 women showed that higher fructosamine concentration was associated with cognitive decline [Source].
Post-meal (postprandial) finger stick test – This self-administered, at-home test is how many diabetic adults regularly test their blood sugar levels. A pinprick is performed to measure blood at regular intervals following a meal. Healthy ranges for this test are as follows:
- 140 mg/dL or below at 1 hour after eating
- 120 mg/dL or below at 2 hours after eating
As you can see, there is a variety of methods to test blood sugar. However, because no one single biomarker is accurate, multiple test methods should be used. Also, because conventional lab ranges are not in agreement with current research findings, use scrutiny when analyzing results. For a holistic, preventative approach, see how a functional medicine can help detect early signs of this unfortunate disease.