You Absolutely Need To Lower Your Blood Sugar, Part 1 — The Five Symptoms
Chances are, you need to lower your blood sugar, because it’s likely to be high enough to compromise your health and shorten your life. A bit dramatic, you say? Well, take a look and find out yourself.
IT’S A SIMPLE observation that the people living in industrialized societies are living longer, but are unhealthy. Another way to say it is that our “healthspan” (the number of years lived healthily) is far less than our “lifespan” (the number of years breathing, whether on a ventilator or not.)
The main reason for this is the advent and ubiquity of chronic disease. Chronic disease, such as heart disease, arthritis, obesity and diabetes, have become the norm experienced by the majority, because our longer lives combined with unhealthy lifestyle choices have given disease more time to take root and mess with us. Our bodies are now exposed to more toxins and unhealthy foods, and we are less active than ever before.
Toxins in our air, carpets, plastics, foods, drinks, water (and even our mouths in the form of mercury contained in dental amalgam filings) slowly collect in our bodies, degrade our health, and eventually can cause various chronic illnesses.
Over consumption of processed foods containing unhealthy fats, abundant sodium and blood sugar-spiking sugars/carbohydrates contribute to two big time chronic diseases: heart disease and diabetes.
Dr. Mark Hyman cites a study that estimates two-thirds of those going to the emergency room because of heart attacks had prediabetes or undiagnosed diabetes. (See the video below.)
This isn’t particularly surprising given that the prevalence of type-2 diabetes in America has tripled since the 1980s. There are now 27 million Americans with diabetes (25 percent of whom are not diagnosed) and 67 million with prediabetes (90 percent of whom are not diagnosed). (1)
My worry for myself is that I may become one of those prediabetics.
My worry for you is that you may become one of those prediabetics.
In this article, you’ll discover:
- The five symptoms/risk factors that indicate unhealthy blood sugar; and
- How the acceptable level of blood sugar is getting lower, and why it should be lower still.
Let’s dive in…
How Many Symptoms/Risk Factors for High Blood Sugar Do You Have?
If you’ve made it this far and are wondering if this blood sugar topic is relevant to you, ask yourself if any of the following risk factors and symptoms of high blood sugar apply to you.
Risk factors and symptoms of high blood sugar:
- You’re overweight
- You regularly eat fast/processed foods and drinks
- You don’t exercise nor have a physically active life
- You experience an uncomfortable tingling or needle-prick sensation in your toes and/or hands
- You’re over 45 years of age (although these days many youngsters are prediabetic too)
These are not necessarily the same symptoms of very high blood sugar that would indicate full on diabetes, but rather symptoms that might be related to a prediabetic condition, which (depending your source of information) could be at a level as low as 100 mg/dL, as you’ll soon see.
The basic contention is you need to lower your blood sugar. Could be wrong. Let’s find out.
Click here to read WebMD's symptoms of high blood sugar.
Mild high blood sugar
If your blood sugar levels are consistently higher than your target range (usually 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) to 350 mg/dL in adults and 200 mg/dL to 240 mg/dL in children), you may have mild symptoms of high blood sugar. You may urinate more than usual if you are drinking plenty of liquids. Some people who have diabetes may not notice any symptoms when their blood sugar level is in this range. The main symptoms of high blood sugar are:
- Increased thirst.
- Increased urination.
- Weight loss.
- Increased appetite.
Moderate to severe high blood sugar
If your blood sugar levels are consistently high (usually above 350 mg/dL in adults and above 240 mg/dL in children), you may have moderate to severe symptoms of high blood sugar. These symptoms include:
- Blurred vision.
- Extreme thirst.
- Flushed, hot, dry skin.
- Restlessness, drowsiness, or difficulty waking up.
If your body produces little or no insulin (people with type 1 diabetes and some people with type 2 diabetes), you also may have:
- Rapid, deep breathing.
- A fast heart rate and a weak pulse.
- A strong, fruity breath odor.
- Loss of appetite, belly pain, and/or vomiting.
If your blood sugar levels continue to rise, you may become confused and lethargic. You also may become unconscious if your blood sugar levels are very high.
For more on all of the above, go to WebMD’s article, from which this information was taken.
Courtesy of Google, I’ve found a graphical depiction of four of the five factors/symptoms of high blood sugar. As they say, a picture’s worth a thousand words, so rather than reading the thousand, spend a few moments with each graph to grok its message.
#1 Are You Overweight?
As I’ve explained before, for some people BMI is an inaccurate test for labeling body composition as being “overweight” or “obese”, because it doesn’t factor in the extra muscle weight derived by exercise, particularly resistance training focused on building muscle.
However, BMI is fairly accurate for the average non-exerciser, and is used ubiquitously. In the bar graph below, you can easily spot a trend — the higher the BMI, the greater the chance a person has diabetes
Body Mass Correlates With Diabetes
The good news indicated by the BMI/Diabetes graph is that only 10% with a BMI of about 40 have diabetes, and 40 BMI is very high, as in very obese.
The bad news is that you don’t have to be fat to be heading toward diabetes. In the video below, Dr. Hyman addresses how prediabetes and”diabesity” can kill you through heart attacks, strokes and cancer; moreover, it can cause dementia.
Learn more about “diabesity” here.
#2 Do You Consume Lotsa Processed Foods/Drinks?
There’s an admonition to shop only along the circumference of a grocery store, because that’s where most of them display their inventory of produce that looks anything like what you’d see on a farm. Everything in the middle is stacked with “food” that has been engineered and processed to some degree, and is presented in a bewildering number of cans, bottles, boxes and plastic containers.
Most of those processed foods can spike your blood sugar.
As DayTwo blog explains the insulin/blood sugar dance steps:
“Our body tries its best to keep blood glucose levels constant (ideally between 4.0-6.0 mmol/L or 72-108mg/DL when fasting). Whenever blood glucose levels rise, your pancreas releases insulin. Insulin is often described as a “key”, that unlocks our fat, muscle and liver cells for glucose to get inside. Once the body has used the glucose, or energy it needs, the remainder is stored in our liver in the form of glycogen, but only enough to last a day.
“After a few hours of not eating, your glucose levels will drop, and the pancreas produce a different hormone called glucagon which essentially does the opposite to insulin. Glucagon signals to the liver to break down the glycogen into glucose, again enabling a stable blood glucose level.
“Up until recently, recommendations were around avoiding certain foods that were known to cause a sharp rise in blood glucose levels, while including other foods for a slower rise in blood sugar. However, we now know that the same food will result in a different blood glucose response in different people. Consequently, each person should include and avoid foods that are right for them in their diet.”
I want you to know about “the same food will result in a different blood glucose response in different people”, a topic I explored in depth in my article, Your Personalized Nutrition, because it’s something about which most of us are unaware.
But just because there are individual differences in blood sugar (glucose) response, until you know better, assume that when you eat processed carbohydrates your blood sugar will spike, and if done habitually, your pancreas will get worn out trying to produce sufficient insulin to deal with the sugary blood.
The following graph shows the direct correlation between the level of refined wheat and the body’s blood sugar/insulin response. There’s a similar response to any processed, carb-dominate food you ingest. As you can plainly see, highly processed “fine wheat flour” pumps up the blood sugar levels considerably higher than “whole wheat (grain)”.
Blood Sugar Response To Wheat
#3 Do You Exercise Regularly?
If you think that exercise could lower your blood sugar, you’re both right and wrong. It depends on when you’re looking.
College professor, self-experimenter and overall bright bulb, Ned Kock explains the effect of exercise on blood sugar quite well:
“Exercise appears to have a positive effect on insulin sensitivity in the long term, but also increases blood glucose levels in the short term. That is, exercise, while it is happening, leads to an increase in circulating blood glucose. In normoglycemic individuals, that increase is fairly small compared to the increase caused by consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods, particularly foods rich in refined carbohydrates and sugars.”
The next graph (which I pulled from Ned Kock’s article) basically reveals that glucose (sugar) increases during exercise, but that at the same time, insulin production declines — a strange phenomenon until you dig deeper.
The Effect of Exercise on Glucose and Insulin
The reason that glucose and insulin move inversely during exercise has to do with the body’s need for glucose to fuel the energy output required by the exercise. In effect, during exercise muscle tissue becomes more insulin sensitive because it’s taking up glucose, even though insulin levels are dropping.
Insulin sensitivity is a good thing, because it means that less insulin is required to either transport the glucose to the muscles that require it (like during exercise) or to store it in body fat if not needed (like during couch surfing).
But what about later; meaning, what happens to blood sugar levels after exercise?
Glad you asked.
This has been studied, naturally, and my most wonky readers will want to dash off and read The impact of brief high-intensity exercise on blood glucose levels. Once you’ve done that, please explain it to the rest of us in the Comments below.
For the rest of you, know this: moderate intensity exercise improves blood sugar if you exercise for 25 minutes or more.
For a primer on high intensity interval training, read HIIT It Hard for Your HGH Boost.
#4 Do You Experience Neurological Needling?
Some of the most common complications of diabetes include diabetic retinopathy, neuropathy, nephropathy, and large vessel damage leading to heart disease. (2) None of these are likely in the prediabetic range of 1oo to 15o mg/dL.
I say “maybe” simply because I have an unexplained symptom, which I’ll explore further in Part 2, but suffice to say, from time to time (and usually while in bed) I get these sharp needle-like pricks in my large toe.
As that picture of me up there at the start of this article shows, just this morning my fasting blood glucose test was 99 mg/dL, seemingly way too low for some kind of neuropathic pain sensation, isn’t it?
The Cleveland Clinic reports that high blood sugar is toxic to your nerves, and that “when a nerve is damaged, you may feel tingling, pins and needles, burning or sharp, stabbing pain,” says Robert Bolash, MD. (3)
Dr. Bolash goes on to say that diabetic neuropathy typically starts in your toes, feet or ankles and creeps up your body as the condition worsens. However, nerve damage also can affect your hands and wrists as well as your heart, digestive system, sex organs and more.
I’m thinking that I need to get this toe needling thing figured out, but frankly my blood sugar numbers don’t coincide with neuropathy.
Dr. Otis Brawley Chief Medical Officer, American Cancer Society, says that about 30 percent of patients with diabetes for more than a decade have some neuropathy, but these are folks who test out at 200+ ng/dL, twice my number. (4)
If you’re experiencing most of the symptoms in this list of five, including strange neuropathic pain, it’s time to get your blood sugar tested.
#5 Are You Over 45?
There are two things to know about age relative to blood sugar:
- Your blood sugar naturally rises as you get older, and
- Blood sugar seems to be somewhat predictive of lifespan.
The next two graphs tell the tale.
The graphs below show, respectively, the blood glucose levels for women and men in five lifespan (“LS”) groupings. Each line shows how a particular group’s blood sugar increases as they age.
As you can see, blood glucose levels go up even for long-lived individuals depicted in the cure furthermost to the right.
Mean Blood Glucose Over Time, Females
Mean Blood Glucose Over Time, Males
Conclusion: It’s a pretty good idea to maintain low blood sugar.
But how low?
What’s the Ideal Blood Sugar Level?
People in the medical field wrestle for the answer to that question.
The aforementioned Dr. Otis Brawley says that the definition of diabetes has changed over time. In 1997, the American Diabetes Association definition of normal blood glucose decreased from 120 to 110 mg/dL (6.1 mmol/L). In 2002, the American Diabetes Association defined a normal fasting blood glucose as less than 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L). (4)
He says that today fasting blood sugars of 100 mg/dl to 125mg/dl is in the realm of glucose intolerance which is sometimes called prediabetes. Several fasting glucose levels over 125 or a single random glucose over 200 mg are considered diagnostic of diabetes. (4)
This is why I’m writing this article and Part 2 next week. My fasting blood sugar hovers between 98 and 110 mg/dL, and I’m supposed to be as hale as a horse.
Here’s a picture I took some time ago of me holding the result of a fasting blood sugar test:
110 then, 99 today — the direction is right, but there’s more work to be done, despite a potential caveat.
There’s a proposition (which I’ll get into in Part 2) that someone like myself who practices intermittent fasting and has a low-carb diet can produce high fasting blood sugar numbers without it being problematic; however, I don’t want to chance it.
Take a look at this:
That table comes from the American College of Cardiology, and represents standard medical orthodoxy regarding blood sugar levels. (5) But check out those annotations in red. I put them there. They come from the Life Extension Foundation’s (“LEF”) article, Glucose, The Silent Killer, which maintains that the blood sugar levels widely acceptable by the medical establishment is too high.
Here’s the LEF take on the matter:
“You should strive for fasting glucose levels of no greater than 85 mg/dL (optimal range: 70-85 mg/dL). In response to eating, your blood glucose reading should increase no more than 40 mg/dL above your fasting value. This means if your fasting glucose is 80, your after-meal glucose should be no higher than 120 mg/dL.” (5)
In Part 2, I’ll delve into this:
- Why H1Ac2 is a better biometric for blood sugar than fasting blood sugar,
- Why the postprandial blood sugar test is more important than fasting blood sugar,
- My blood sugar story in all it’s sordid detail, and
- The food, drink and supplements to drive those sugary number down!
Until then, remember this…
Unless you are very active, lean, young and eat like a gorilla, there’s a pretty good chance that your blood sugar is too high for comfort, although I do get that eating those nachos can be comforting.
How do you know if you can blithely skate away and ignore everything that you read here?
Test your blood sugar would be definitive, or you could check off how many of the five risk factors/symptoms you experience.
Three or more, ouch.
You need to be vigilant. That means you need to assess your lifestyle and dietary habits, and then test for whatever chronic ills you may have that’s going to wear you down and make the second half of your life very encumbered.
You need to test solutions. Unless there’s no other approach, try to make lifestyle and dietary changes before you relent to a lifetime of pharmaceutical drugs.
The last thing to say is that, if you want to lower your blood sugar make sure you read Part 2, which will get up on this site next week. If you’re not already a subscriber, become one, so you don’t miss a thing.
For you overachievers:
Click here for 22 factors that can affect blood glucose.
Below is a screenshot from How many factors affect blood sugar, written by Adam Brown, Senior Editor of diaTribe and Chief of Staff/Head, Diabetes Technology at Close Concerns.Go here to read more about these factors and for active links.
I help people live with more vitality and strength. I'm a big believer in sustainability, and am a bit nutty about optimizing my diet, supplements, hormones and exercise. To get exclusive Updates, tips and be on your way to a stronger, more youthful body, join my weekly Newsletter. You can also find me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.