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Rising blood sugar: How to turn it around

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Rising blood sugar signals a need for weight loss and more exercise.

Whenever you have routine blood tests at a physical exam, chances are one of the numbers will be a measurement of your glucose, or blood sugar. A normal blood sugar level is less than 100 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL) after an eight-hour fast. You have diabetes if your blood sugar is 126 mg/dL or higher. But between those two numbers lie many opportunities for action.

Think of high-normal blood sugar as an early warning signal that should put you on alert for greater health concerns down the road. “If your sugar is rising, it is not inevitable that you will develop diabetes, but you are certainly at higher risk,” says Dr. David Nathan, professor of medicine at Harvard-affiliated -Massachusetts General Hospital.

Half of men with high-normal blood sugar may eventually cross the line to diabetes, which can lead to vision loss, kidney disease, lost limbs, erectile dysfunction, heart disease, stroke, and possibly memory loss. To halt that trend, you may need to lose some weight and be more physically active.

Blood sugar basics

When you eat, your body digests carbohydrates in your food—not just those found in breads and other grain foods, but also those in the fruits and vegetables that are the mainstay of a healthy diet. After meals, glucose rises sharply in the blood. Your pancreas responds by releasing the hormone insulin, which helps the glucose to enter cells, where it’s used to produce energy.

The most common way to measure blood sugar is with a fasting blood glucose (FBG) test. You don’t eat for at least eight hours before having blood drawn for this lab test.

A different test, called hemoglobin A1c, is used to monitor blood sugar in people already diagnosed with diabetes. It provides a longer-term view of glucose levels, in contrast to the FBG, which can fluctuate from day to day. The hemoglobin A1c test is more expensive, but doctors are using it more often for identifying those at risk of diabetes. “It’s an average of your blood sugar for the previous three months,” Dr. Nathan says. “You don’t have to fast, so you can come during the day, at night, or after work.”

If your blood sugar is high

When average blood sugar starts to rise, it indicates a breakdown in normal metabolism. The American Diabetes Association has popularized the term “prediabetes” to indicate blood sugar that is elevated and probably heading upward, but that term may send the wrong message. “It gives the sense that these people are going to have diabetes, but they just don’t have it yet,” Dr. Nathan says.

Rising blood sugar does mean you are at elevated risk of eventually becoming diabetic, but it’s far from a sure thing. Life-style change is your best defense.

An important study known as the Diabetes Prevention Program showed that moderate weight loss and exercise can really make a dent in rising blood sugar. In middle-aged people who were sedentary and seriously overweight—as in 75 to 80 pounds over their healthy weight—losing 7% of their current weight and adding 30 minutes a day of walking on five days a week cut their risk of progressing to diabetes by more than half.

Risk factors for high blood sugar

Every man should have his blood sugar tested periodically. If you have any of the risk factors below, annual testing is recommended. Otherwise, testing every three years may be sufficient. Ask your primary care doctor.

  • Age of 45 and older

  • Overweight (body mass index of 25 or higher)

  • A sedentary lifestyle

  • Family history of type 2 diabetes

  • High blood pressure or high cholesterol

  • African American, Hispanic, American Indian, or Asian American heritage

How to lower your blood sugar

  • If you are overweight, lose 5% to 10% of your current body weight.

  • Exercise moderately 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

  • Consult with a dietitian to formulate a healthy eating plan.

Try these dietary changes this week

  • Build your dinner around a generous helping of leafy greens and a moderate portion of whole grains.

  • Replace half of snacks of chips or crackers with fresh vegetables like carrots, celery, and radishes.

  • Limit beverages containing caloric sweeteners to one a day, or switch to water or diet beverages.

  • Finish your meals with fresh fruit instead of sweetened desserts.

Posted by: Dr.Health

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