Here's What Everyone Should Know About Their Glucose Levels




Your blood sugar level is known as glycemia or your glucose level. Glucose is the sugar present in your blood. It comes from food and eventually turns into the energy your body uses most throughout the day. As such, measuring the amount of it in your blood is crucial for maintaining optimal health as high glucose levels can increase your risk of myriad complications like hyperglycemia, vision problems, infections, and more.

This is especially true for anyone diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. But when monitoring your blood, it's important to know what level to look for. So, what's the optimal range your glucose should be in?

"Your blood sugar level can be affected by diet, medications, illness, sleep, and other factors," Dr. Naheed Ali, MD, PhD, and contributor to USA Rx tells Parade. "If you want to optimize your glucose levels, you need to keep track of your blood glucose levels. This will help you identify when they are too high or too low."

Keeping track of your glucose levels? Parade consulted Dr. Ali and other medical doctors regarding the optimal range glucose should be in—plus, how to check it, how to lower your levels, and when to consult a doctor.

How do glucose levels affect your body?

Since your body converts glucose into energy, it's really important that these levels don't get too high or too low. According to Dr. Jeff Gladd, MD, integrative medicine physician and chief medical officer at Fullscript, glucose that isn't turned into energy is stored as fat.

"When you consume carbohydrate-containing foods—such as fruit or grains—your body breaks down those carbohydrates into the energy unit glucose," Dr. Gladd tells Parade. "Glucose then enters the bloodstream, where it travels to different parts of the body to be used for energy or stored for later use. The storage is typically in the form of fat."

Anyone with diabetes is at an increased risk of obesity, high blood pressure, and kidney disease, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDKD).

"This is why ideally the focus is on utilizing this carbohydrate energy to support daily body processes and exercise while keeping intake moderate to prevent additional body fat storage," Dr. Gladd explains.

What's the Optimal Range for Glucose?

As Dr. Ali mentioned, glucose levels are affected by all kinds of different factors. Everything from the medications you take to the food you eat and how much you sleep can cause them to fluctuate.

According to Dr. Ali, "Normal blood sugar levels range between 100 and 70 mg/dL after fasting for eight hours."

Of course, illness is another contributing factor that can cause levels to go up or down. People with diabetes specifically struggle with their glucose levels due to a lack of insulin, the hormone that regulates glucose by transporting it into the blood. Therefore, the glucose range in someone with diabetes may vary.

"If you have diabetes, your blood sugar level is too high when it's above 126 mg/dL and too low when it's below 100 mg/dL," Dr. Ali adds. "If you're healthy and consume a normal diet, you can expect your blood sugar level to be between 100 and 130 mg/dL after eating."

To get a second opinion, Parade also consulted functional medicine Dr. Priyanka Hennis, MD, who specifically works with patients with autoimmune diseases, diabetes, and ADHD.

"Blood glucose is a big factor that plays into inflammation, and is the core component of my program with my clients," Dr. Hennis explains to Parade. "In normal individuals, fasting glucose levels are from 80-100mg/dl, right after a meal 170-200mg/dl, and 120-140mg/dl 3 hours after a meal. Anything outside this range is considered abnormal, ranging from labile blood sugars to full-blown diabetes."

Falling out of the normal range can have some serious health ramifications, Dr. Hennis warns, so it's important to monitor frequently.

"Abnormal blood glucose can affect your mood, cause palpitations when it's low, and even vomiting when it's too high. You should get checked if you are getting sugar cravings throughout the day. If you are having severe symptoms of nausea/vomiting/palpitations, you should go in [to get checked] sooner."

Symptoms of Abnormal Glucose Levels

Both Dr. Ali and Dr. Hennis provided a general range of where each individual's glucose levels should be depending on their specific health diagnoses and when they last ate. But if you check your glucose level and it falls into the category of what's abnormal, you'll want to first check for signs of other symptoms.

"Other symptoms to look out for are signs and symptoms of dehydration," Dr. Hennis explains. "Lack of adequate water will make you feel worse when having blood sugar symptoms. The glycemic index of foods affects your blood sugar, so eating more moderate/low glycemic index foods rather than high glycemic index foods improves the symptoms you feel if your sugar is out of balance."

But dehydration isn't the only symptom to watch out for.

"Common signs and symptoms of low blood sugar include fast heart rate, anxiety, shaking, dizziness, sweating, hunger, and/or dizziness," Dr. Gladd adds.

How and When to Get Your Glucose Checked

How do you know when should you get your glucose checked? And most importantly, how do you get it checked?

"Formally, individuals who are considered overweight or obese are advised to be screened for pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes starting at age 35," Dr. Gladd explains. "If you are over the age of 45 and do not have any diabetes risk factors, your practitioner may recommend fasting glucose tests every three years."

Pre-diabetes tests can be crucial in getting a headstart against a racing clock, especially if you're at risk.

"With a focus toward optimal health and prevention, integrative medicine providers know the prevalence and reversibility of pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes is high, so your practitioner may recommend screening once or twice a year," Dr. Gladd adds.

To get your glucose levels checked, ask your primary doctor for a test. Your doctor may decide to screen for pre-diabetes or diabetes especially if you are at an increased risk for developing diabetes; your doctor may also issue a hemoglobin A1C test.

"Another test of value is the hemoglobin A1C test, which represents the average blood sugar over the last two to three months," Dr. Gladd explains. "This test is often more insightful to help understand the big picture as it pertains to blood sugar levels."

How to Lower Your Glucose

According to Dr. Gladd, a fasting level between 100 to 125 mg/dL (5.6 to 6.9 mmol/L) indicates impaired fasting glucose (prediabetes), which increases one's risk of developing type 2 diabetes, whereas a fasting glucose level greater than or equal to 126 mg/dL (7 mmol/L) is considered high (hyperglycemia), and is typically indicative of type 2 diabetes.

While glucose levels that are too low are also a concern (it's called hypoglycemia and particularly presents in people with type 1 diabetes), high glucose can be particularly tricky to lower.

"It's tempting to add salt to your food because it's in almost everything, but it can also increase blood glucose levels," Dr. Ali adds. "Alcohol raises blood glucose levels, so it's [also] best to limit your intake. Getting your daily dose of exercise can help to increase insulin production and lower your glucose levels."

Dr. Ali also recommends eating five to six small meals per day rather than three large ones.

"This helps to keep your glucose levels from spiking," Dr. Ali explains.

To balance your glucose levels in general, take special note of your diet.

"Many foods and beverages can positively or negatively affect glucose levels," Dr. Gladd says. "For example, fiber-rich foods, such as vegetables and beans, slow sugar absorption and help keep blood sugar levels more balanced. In contrast, processed flours and sugary foods and beverages lack fiber and can cause rapid spikes and dips in blood sugar which often lead to additional fat storage and elevated blood sugar levels."

Dr. Gladd recommends a diverse diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and lean proteins in combination with regular exercise.

When to See a Doctor

According to Dr. Gladd, you should visit your primary healthcare provider annually, especially if you have certain factors that put you at a greater risk of developing diabetes, such as:

  • Previous history of abnormal glucose levels

  • Previous history of gestational diabetes

  • Family history of type 1 or type 2 diabetes

  • History of cardiovascular disease

  • High blood pressure (140/90 mm Hg or higher)

  • Unhealthy cholesterol levels

  • Limited physical activity

If your glucose levels fall out of the normal range, you may be wondering if you should consult a doctor.

Dr. Hennis says, "If you have very high blood glucose levels and also experience frequent urination and keep drinking liquids even when you aren't thirsty, you should go get checked as soon as you can as these are possible signs of Type 2 diabetes."

If you experience low or high glucose levels combined with any of the aforementioned symptoms, you should consider consulting a doctor in the short-term and in the long-term, and make a plan with the help of your physician.

"Working with an integrative medicine provider for designing an optimal health and optimal chronic disease prevention plan is ideal for any adult regardless of health status," Dr. Gladd adds. "Having them walk you through what your data means and what you can do about it is an empowering experience that provides a road map for your health journey."

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  • Dr. Naheed Ali, MD, PhD, and contributor to USA Rx

  • Jeff Gladd, MD, integrative medicine physician and chief medical officer at Fullscript