The blood sugar level, blood sugar concentration, or blood glucose level is the amount of glucose present in the blood of humans. Glucose is a sugar that comes from the foods we eat, and it’s also formed and stored inside the body. It’s the main source of energy for the cells of our body, and it’s carried to each cell through the bloodstream.
Whenever we eat food, our digestive system breaks it down into glucose which is then absorbed into the blood stream. In order for the cells of our our body to be able to make use of this glucose, the pancreas secretes an enzyme called insulin, which helps push the glucose in the blood stream into the cells of the body.
If the pancreas fails to secrete insulin or if the insulin is unable to do its job due to resistance by the cells, there will be high blood glucose levels (hyperglycemia) which can lead to diabetes. Low blood glucose levels (hypoglycemia) is also dangerous to health and can lead to death. Since both hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia are dangerous to health, it is important that we work to keep our blood glucose levels within the normal range.
During the day, levels tend to be at their lowest just before meals. For most people without diabetes, blood sugar levels before meals hover around 3.8 to 4.4 mmol/L. For some people, 3.3 mmol/L is normal and for others even 5.0 mmol/L is also normal. Many people’s glucose won’t ever fall below 3.3 mmol/L, even with prolonged fasting because when you diet or fast, the liver keeps your levels normal by turning fat and muscle into sugar.
For the majority of healthy individuals, normal fasting blood sugar levels are as follows:
- Between 4.0 to 5.4 mmol/L (72 to 99 mg/dL).
- It can get up to 7.8 mmol/L (140 mg/dL) 2 hours after eating.
For people with diabetes, blood sugar level targets are as follows:
- Before meals: 4 to 7 mmol/L for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
- After meals: less than 9 mmol/L for people with type 1 diabetes and less than 8.5mmol/L for people with type 2 diabetes.
Measuring Your Blood Sugar Level
There are many ways by which blood sugar levels can be measured. Current medical trend has made it very easy for most people, especially diabetics to measure their random blood sugar levels at home with a glucumeter.
However, there are certain blood sugar tests that can only be carried out at the hospital. Doctors use these tests to find out if you have diabetes or to know how well a particular diabetic medication is controlling the blood sugar level of their patient. Here are some of the most important blood sugar tests:
- Fasting plasma glucose test : The doctor tests your blood sugar levels after fasting for 8 hours and when the result is higher than 7.0 mmol/L (126 mg/dL), it is suggestive of diabetes.
- Random plasma glucose test : A blood sample for a random plasma glucose test can be taken at any time. This doesn’t require as much planning and is therefore used in the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes when time is of the essence.
- Oral glucose-tolerance test : This test is most commonly performed during pregnancy. You typically have your blood drawn once, then drink a syrupy glucose solution and have your blood drawn at 30 to 60 minute intervals for up to three hours to see how your body is handling the sugar.
- Two-hour postprandial test : This blood test is done two hours after you have eaten (“prandial” means meal). Normal result is around 70-145 mg/dL (less than 7.9 mmol/L)
- Hemoglobin A1C test. This test measures how much sugar is stuck to your red blood cells, which generally have a lifespan of three months. Therefore, this test gauges how high your blood sugar has been in recent months. Normal result for nondiabetics is 4% to 6%, and for diabetics is above 7% or lower (some groups suggest aiming for 6.5% or lower).
Common Things That Affect Blood Sugar Levels
A lack of sleep can be especially bad fo people with diabetes, because it can also raise blood sugar levels. One study performed on Japanese men found that getting under 6.5 hours of sleep each night increases a person’s risk of high blood glucose levels. Prioritizing healthy sleep and promoting sleep hygiene are good habits for everyone, but especially for peoplediabetes .
When under a lot of stress, the body produces hormones that make it difficult for insulin to do its job, so more glucose stays in the blood stream. Finding a way to keep stress level down, such as yoga or meditation, is essential for people with diabetes.
Having a sedentary lifestyle can cause blood sugar levels to go up. In addition, exercise that is too difficult can cause stress and blood glucose levels to rise. With diabetes, it is important to get light to moderate exercise regularly, as opposed to pushing too hard.
Some medicines can cause blood sugar levels to rise, such as corticosteroids, diuretics, some blood pressure medications, a some antidepressants. A person with diabetes must let their healthcare provider know if they awe taking one of these medications.
In addition taking high dose of your diabetes medication can lead to low blood glucose levels (hypoglycemia) and missing a dose of your diabetic drug can also cause the blood sugar levels to rise.
Smoking cigarettes can make it difficult to keep blood sugar levels low. A person who smokes should make it a priority to quit. Their doctor or local health service can provide resources if needed.
Eating foods that are high in sugar or carbohydrates are more likely to raise blood sugar levels. One way to track how a particular food affect the blood glucose level is by looking at its glycemic index (GI). The GI measures how much a carbohydrate will affect the blood glucose level.
Foods with a high GI (70 or greater) include bagels, popcorn, or crackers. Foods with a low (under 55) include barley, bulgar, corn, and sweet potato. People with diabetes should try to eat GI carbohydrates.