Prediabetes and diabetes are incredibly prevalent conditions, both closely related to your blood sugar levels. You may have heard your healthcare providers or others talking about blood sugar and its importance – but what is its role and how do we manage it? Find out what blood glucose is, what normal blood sugar levels should be, and how to effectively manage it for optimal health.

Understanding Blood Sugar Levels

When you ingest carbohydrates, your body breaks down this food into sugars, which are released into the bloodstream. This concentration of sugar is known as your glucose levels, also referred to as your blood sugar levels.

Your body undergoes a unique process to help respond to your blood sugar levels properly. With a rise in blood sugar, your pancreas produces insulin. Insulin is a hormone implicated in your body’s energy by regulating blood sugar absorption for either storage or energy. As sugar is absorbed into your cells, the sugar levels in your blood decrease. With low blood sugar levels, your body releases another hormone called glucagon. Glucagon communicates with the liver, telling it to release stored sugar.

Blood sugar levels are particularly important when it comes to type 2 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, your body does not make enough insulin or cannot use insulin efficiently. It occurs when your cells do not respond to insulin as they should, causing insulin resistance. This elevates blood sugar levels, which can be dangerous. Diabetes will be discussed further later in this article.

The Significance of Normal Blood Sugar Levels

The body has the blood sugar regulation process because maintaining a proper glucose level is important. Having too high of levels is known as hyperglycemia, and having too low of levels is known as hypoglycemia. Each has different symptoms and risks associated with them.

Hyperglycemia

Hyperglycemia happens when your blood sugar levels get too high. It is characteristic of diabetes and can lead to long-term complications. Roughly 90 to 95 percent of individuals with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, which means your body does not produce enough insulin to regulate your blood sugar levels. You are more likely to have type 2 diabetes if you are overweight, obese, or have a family history of diabetes.

Others may have prediabetes, which is defined as blood sugar levels that are increased but not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes. Having prediabetes means you have a higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes down the road. Additionally, you are at increased risk for heart disease compared with those with regular blood sugar levels.

Going a long time with high blood sugar levels can cause serious complications in your body.

These issues include:

Eye problemsYou can develop diabetic retinopathy, which can adversely affect eyesight
Heart attack or stroke highHigh blood glucose levels injure blood vessels, which can lead to a stroke or heart attack
Foot issuesDiabetes can cause foot problems, sometimes requiring amputation if left untreated
Nerve problems withHigh blood sugar can damage your nerves, preventing your body from sending signals from the brain to the rest of the body. This can  change how you see, move, hear, and feel

Hypoglycemia

When we think of abnormal blood sugar levels, we tend to think of hyperglycemia and diabetes. However, hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can also be dangerous. Hypoglycemia can happen when you have not eaten in a long time or after intensive exercise. It is defined as a blood sugar level of less than 70 mg/dL.

Glucose is essential to proper brain functioning. Having too low of levels can be serious, leading to disorientation, confusion, loss of consciousness, seizures, coma, or potentially death. Thus, symptoms of hypoglycemia should be treated urgently. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

  • Shakiness
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Weakness
  • Anxiety
  • Increased pulse
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Trouble concentrating

What is a normal blood sugar level?

Knowing the importance of maintaining an adequate blood sugar level, it is essential to know what your glucose levels should be.

What is defined as a normal blood sugar level will depend on when you last ate. It will also depend on whether or not you have diabetes. See the table below for reference values for your blood sugar.

Normal Blood Sugar Levels

Without Diabetes

With Diabetes

Fasting
(preprandial plasma glucose)

70-99 mg/dL

80-130 mg/dL

2 hours after meals
(postprandial plasma glucose)

Less than 140 mg/less

Less than 180 mg/dL

HbA1C

Less than 5.7 %

Less than or equal to 7%

The values for those with diabetes are based on the American Diabetes Association’s recommendations.

What affects these levels?

Several factors can influence your blood sugar levels. The major contributor is the type and quantity of food you are eating. In addition, these elements also impact your blood sugar:

  • Physical activity
  • Medication
  • Medical conditions such as diabetes
  • Age
  • Smoking and alcohol
  • Stress

How do I measure my blood sugar?

Unless your blood sugar is super high or super low, you likely will not be able to feel when your glucose levels are abnormal. Most people with type 2 diabetes do not have the typical signs and symptoms of high blood sugar, making it difficult to diagnose and treat effectively for many. The good news is that there are ways to measure and track your blood sugar levels.

To monitor your glucose levels, consider using a blood sugar meter. This is an electronic device that uses a finger stick to prick your finger and retrieve some blood for a test strip. The meter then reads the strip and provides a blood sugar measurement.

A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is another option, which is used often for those with type 1 diabetes. This is a device that is placed under the skin and tracks your blood sugar every few minutes. It can be connected to a smartphone or smartwatch to alert you when your blood sugar is out of range.

You can and should also get an A1C test twice a year at minimum. This value provides your average blood glucose level over three months. This allows you to have a longer-term view of how you are managing your sugar levels over time. ADA recommends an A1C level of less than seven percent.

Your provider can help assist you in determining when you should measure your blood sugar, at what frequency, and what your blood sugar goals are.

What do I do with these numbers?

One of the best ways to help manage your blood sugar levels over time is to track your numbers. You may want to keep a running log of your blood sugar levels, be it on paper or your smartphone. This information can inform both you and your provider how you are managing your blood sugar and diabetes, allowing you to make lifestyle and medication adjustments as needed.

How do I control my blood sugar levels?

In addition to monitoring your blood sugar regularly, there are several lifestyle habits you should implement into your day-to-day routine to help manage your glucose levels over time. These include:

  • Eating a healthy diet. Incorporating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean animal proteins, beans, nuts, and legumes will ensure a nutritious diet. Lean animal proteins include things like seafood and fish, but you can also opt for plant-based proteins as well. It is also imperative to avoid processed and sugary food and drinks, foods high in sodium, refined carbohydrates, and red meats as much as possible.
  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity is critical to any healthy lifestyle but is particularly helpful in the context of diabetes. Working out can lower your blood sugar if you already have diabetes and also lower your chances of developing diabetes.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. Keeping your weight in check can not only help manage diabetes but also prevent or delay it from happening. By combining a nutritious diet with regular exercise, you can lose or manage weight.
  • Avoid harmful substances. Stop smoking or vaping as it elevates your chances of developing heart disease, getting a stroke, getting cancer, and many other complications. Tobacco can also make it more difficult to manage your prediabetes or diabetes. Additionally, limit your alcohol intake.

Other tips include not skipping meals, eating at scheduled times, and controlling your food portions.

Conclusion

In summary, blood sugar management is an imperative part of maintaining your health and wellness. Having too low or too high of levels can be dangerous, and having too high levels for an extended period can lead to prediabetes or diabetes. Diabetes can cause further complications to your eyes, feet, nerves, and more. To help manage your blood sugar levels and prevent these adverse events, regularly track your levels and ensure they are within range. You should also implement lifestyle changes to keep your levels in check, including implementing a healthy diet and regular exercise.

References

  • https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/carbohydrates-and-blood-sugar/
  • https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes
  • https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/complications
  • https://www.woundcareinc.com/resources/hyperglycemia-vs-hypoglycemia-what-you-need-to-know
  • https://diabetes.org/healthy-living/medication-treatments/blood-glucose-testing-and-control/checking-your-blood-sugar
  • https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/what-is-a-normal-blood-sugar-level/
  • https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/in-depth/blood-sugar/art-20046628
  • https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/managing-blood-sugar/bloodglucosemonitoring.html#:~:text=Use%20a%20lancet%20to%20prick,seconds%2C%20the%20reading%20will%20appear.
  • https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/manage-blood-sugar.html