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5 Reasons You Should Lower Your Blood Sugar

If you have prediabetes, the sooner you make this a priority, the better the payoff and the longer you could live. Plus, four simple ways to lower your A1C

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When Ron Wojcik found out that he had prediabetes, he knew he had to do something about it.

The 77-year-old, who lives in a suburb of Chicago, had been walking 4 miles daily and working out regularly at a local recreation center. But his weight had “spiraled up,” he says, and he worried it might eventually limit his ability to do things he loved, like traveling with his wife.

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“I want to be healthy for however much time we have left on this planet,” says Wojcik, who sees his primary care doctor about every six months and gets routine blood work.

In September last year, Wojcik had an A1C test, which measures average blood sugar levels over the past two or three months. It revealed that his blood glucose had crept into the prediabetes range, between 5.7 percent and 6.4 percent. The threshold for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, characterized by chronically high blood sugar,  is  6.5 percent.

More than one-third of Americans have high blood sugar. An estimated 37 million have diabetes, and 96 million have prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That raises the prospect of a dizzying range of health issues beyond diabetes itself.

“An increase in blood sugar affects so many areas,” says Louis Philipson, professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Chicago and founding director of the university’s Kovler Diabetes Center.

Blood Sugar Tests

A1C test: measures the amount of sugar in your blood over the past two to three months. A result of 6.5 percent or above is the A1C threshold for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. The test measures the amount of hemoglobin, or red blood cells, that have glucose attached to them over their months-long lifespan.

Fasting blood sugar test: measures the amount of blood sugar in a person who has not eaten for at least eight hours. A blood sugar level of 100 to 125 milligrams per deciliter is considered prediabetes and 126 mg/dL or above is diabetes.

Glucose tolerance test: A reading of 140 to 199 mg/dL is considered to indicate prediabetes, and 200 is the threshold for diabetes.

To learn more about these tests, see Your Prediabetes Questions Answered.

Symptoms of high blood sugar

Blood sugar spikes can cause symptoms ranging from increased thirst or hunger to frequent urination, blurred vision and unintentional weight loss. However, most people experience no symptoms at all initially. So vigilance is key. Consider having your blood glucose checked if your doctor suspects an issue, you have concerns, you have a family history of diabetes or you are over age 45.

Since learning he had prediabetes, Wojcik has cut back on snacking, carbs and portion sizes, kept up his avid walking and strength training and dropped 12 pounds in the past two months. The result was a hard-earned recent A1C reading in the healthy range, below the prediabetes threshold. “We turned that around in less than six months,” Wojcik says —and he’s intent on keeping it that way.

How low can you go?

It’s also possible but far less frequent for blood sugar to fall below levels considered healthy, or under 70 mg/dL. This can happen for a variety of reasons, ranging from using too much insulin to control blood sugar to not eating enough carbs.

Symptoms of low blood sugar range from fast heartbeat to shaking, sweating, irritability and confusion. Since low blood sugar can be dangerous, you should talk to your doctor about any concerns and how to treat it.

Need more motivation? Here are some other reasons to be proactive about lowering your blood sugar.

1.  You’ll be less susceptible to COVID-19 and other infections

You needn’t look any further than the pandemic to see how high blood sugar increases disease risk. Research, including studies published in Nature Reviews Endocrinology and Diabetes Care, finds that when people with high blood sugar contract COVID-19, they are more likely to be hospitalized and have an increased chance of death. To make matters worse, the virus also seems to raise blood sugar.

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High blood glucose impairs our body’s ability to heal, causing prolonged symptoms and more severe disease, explains Jie Sun, professor at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and associate director of the university’s Carter Immunology Center, who has researched the relationship between diabetes and COVID-19. This is true of other infectious diseases like flu and bacterial pneumonia, Sun adds.

2.  You’ll lower your risk of heart attack and stroke

When high blood sugar persists over time, it can damage blood vessels throughout the body, including those bringing blood to the heart and brain. That raises a person’s risk for developing heart disease and stroke, which, along with diabetes itself, are three of the top eight causes of death, according to the CDC.

By keeping blood sugar in check as long as possible, you can cut that risk. A review of 26 studies involving more than 1.3 million people from 30 countries published in Diabetologia found that for every year older a person is when they’re diagnosed with diabetes, there is a 3 percent to 5 percent decrease in vascular disease such as heart disease and stroke.

3.  Your focus and memory may improve

Rapid changes in blood sugar can overwhelm our sugar-hungry brains, which consume more energy in the form of glucose than any other organ. The result? Spikes in blood sugar can lead to problems with focus, thinking, memory, mental energy and anxiety — and that’s just in the short term.

Over time, high blood sugar and insulin, which is produced by the pancreas to move glucose into cells where it’s stored for energy, can harm the brain. The same blood vessel damage that hikes a person’s risk for heart disease and stroke also contributes to cognitive decline. And high blood sugar can cause inflammation that may damage brain cells and cause dementia, according the Alzheimer’s Association.

study published in JAMA following 1,710 people with diabetes found that the younger they were at diagnosis the higher their risk was for developing dementia.

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4.  You’ll see more clearly now — and later

Even the way you see the world — in physiologic terms — can be directly affected by the amount of sugar you have in your blood.

“In the short term, elevated blood glucose changes the shape of the lenses in the eyes,” explains Sudipa Sarkar, an endocrinologist and assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. That can cause vision to change and blur. Long-term uncontrolled blood glucose can damage the retina, the light-sensing part of the eye that sends signals to the brain to process the images we see.

“Diabetes is a major cause of blindness in the world as a result,” Sarkar says.

5. You could improve your sex life

Besides being a matter of life and death, uncontrolled blood sugar can also be a cold shower.

Although the mechanisms are many, the end result is singular: Diabetes can lead to sexual dysfunction for men, women and people who identify otherwise, Philipson says. It can tank mood and energy; inhibit performance, causing erectile dysfunction; and decrease desire and sensation.

High blood sugar can cause sexual dysfunction for many reasons, he says. “Anything from lubrication issues to erectile issues to your mental state — the list just goes on and on.” He emphasizes that many people have these issues and adds that “sometimes sexual dysfunction … will clue us in to other sorts of problems.”

Discussing the matter frankly with your doctor is the first step to seeing that bigger picture, and in the case of high blood sugar, understanding how to get it under control.​

4 Ways to Rein in Blood Sugar

So how do you combat a monster like high blood sugar that has tentacles touching so many areas of your health? Keep it simple and focus on prevention, experts preach — in addition to emphasizing proper management for people who already have diabetes.

1. Exercise wisely

Aim for 150 minutes a week. Brisk walks are just fine. It doesn’t have to be more rigorous than that.

2. Get expert help

Doctors and dietitians who regularly work with patients who have diabetes can help a person with prediabetes create a road map for getting blood sugar back in a healthy range.

3. Lower your carbs

Avoid the white stuff. This includes sugar as well as the starchy carbohydrates — bread, pasta, noodles and white rice. Get your healthy carbs from fruit instead.

4. Consider medication

For some, medication may also be helpful to lower blood sugar, while for others it’s not necessary. While lifestyle changes are part of a comprehensive approach, experts say what’s most important is doing whatever it takes to lower blood sugar so you can live a longer, healthier life.

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