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Written by Dr. Mike Blaney
on November 04, 2019

Have you noticed a spike in your blood sugar levels? Maybe you are under immense stress, or haven't had the best diet lately, or have been fairly inactive. Even a big, carb-heavy meal will lead to higher blood sugar. So, just because you once registered high blood sugar doesn't mean you're immediately at risk of poor health. Yet, consistently high blood sugar should be taken seriously because it is usually related to a few health concerns—most often, diabetes. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are characterized by high levels of blood sugar (or blood glucose).

Types of Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes usually begins in childhood and is considered an autoimmune condition. In cases of type 1 diabetes, the pancreas produces little-to-no insulin. Generally, type 1 is caused by a genetic predisposition—meaning most people are born with it.

Type 2 diabetes is developed in older children and adults and is almost always a result of being overweight or obese. In type 2 diabetes, the body fails to properly use and store glucose because it doesn’t respond to insulin.

Obesity is one of the main risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes and Your Health

Diabetics also tend to have other health issues, often relating to processes involved with the heart, kidney, eyes, and blood vessels. According to a study from 2015, type 2 diabetes has become worryingly prevalent in the American population; 12% - 14% of adults are estimated to have the disease.

Even before diagnosis, having higher-than-recommended blood sugar levels can be harmful to your health and may ultimately be a sign that you are on the path to developing type 2 diabetes. This is called "pre-diabetes."

Pre-diabetes means that you have blood sugar levels that are higher than usual (possibly due to insulin resistance), but below what is considered in the diabetic range. An additional 38% of the population has been diagnosed with pre-diabetes.

What role does elevated blood sugar play in diabetes, pre-diabetes, and obesity? And how can you lower your blood sugar? Do you even need to lower it in the first place?

Let's explore the science behind the data to understand how blood sugar is correlated to these health concerns.

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The Science Behind Blood Sugar

Many people use the terms “sugar” and “glucose” interchangeably, but their differences are slightly different. All forms of sugar consumed must be converted into glucose as a fuel source for the body; this energy is created through a process called glycolysis. Any extra glucose from the diet is stored in the body as glycogen.

When present, the brain and body prefer to burn carbohydrates (and thus glucose). The brain is reliant on carbs, but the rest of the body can switch to burn fat in between carb-rich meals.

Glucose stores are low compared to the seemingly endless bodily fat stores. Thus, on a typical eating plan, carbs and sugars are regularly consumed and metabolized into glucose to be used as energy for the brain.

However, if you don’t eat carbs, small amounts of glucose can also be made through non-carbohydrate food sources through a process called gluconeogenesis. The body can also slowly learn to make ketones from fat, and ketones can supplement glucose as brain food.

While glucose can power the body, uncontrolled levels can lead to complications.

Diabetes and Blood Sugar

Diabetes is a disease characterized by high blood sugar (glucose) levels. In healthy humans, blood glucose levels are controlled by the secretion of insulin from the pancreas. The insulin acts as a regulator, lowering blood glucose levels as needed.

When you eat certain food, blood glucose levels increase. Insulin is secreted from the pancreas to normalize levels through the uptake of glucose into the body’s cells.

However, in people with type 2 diabetes, cells don't respond correctly to insulin. The result? Blood sugar doesn't get into cells and thus, can't be stored for energy. When sugar can't enter these cells, that's when high levels of blood sugar occur (this is called hyperglycemia).

Weight and Blood Sugar

Although a definite link cannot be established, there is some evidence to suggest weight gain is often associated with increased blood glucose. A study showed that weight gain increased the risk of diabetes among overweight adults while weight loss was shown to have major beneficial effects over time. Every kilogram of body weight lost annually was associated with a 33% lower risk of diabetes.

An illustration of a brain, separated by a light switch, showing how the brain and body use sugar

For people who are considered overweight and have high blood glucose, improving body composition may help lower blood glucose levels thereby lowering the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Losing Weight

Maintaining healthy weight is key for overall health.

Many studies have shown being overweight has been linked to hypertension and type 2 diabetes. There is no one-size-fits-all weight for each and every person. However, for many people having a body mass index (BMI) below 25 is considered within normal weight range. BMI calculators online can help determine whether or not you are considered overweight.

Even modest weight gain can have a substantial impact on the development of diabetes. Careful monitoring and maintenance of weight is important for overall health, especially in the case of diabetes prevention.

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*This article was originally published at HVMN and has been modified from it's original version

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