Author's Perspective: When I was diabetic, I realized that there were 4 key factors that affected me being able to control my blood sugar control and keep it in the normal range: nutrition, lifestyle, blood glucose testing, and medications.
And, because I had help from my mother and daughter, I was able to control my blood sugar by addressing these 4 key areas.
For example, my mother and daughter took care of the house and preparing my meals. In addition, I was on paid disability leave from work.
So I had a lot of free time to test my blood sugar and make adjustments to (lower) my insulin dosages. I also had time to modify my lifestyle by exercising two times a day.
In addition, because I didn't have to worry about preparing meals or going to work, I was under a lot less stress.
As a result, I was able to make significant progress in a short period of time.
Author Sidebar: During our classes or during 1-on-1 health coaching sessions, I remind people that I had it easy compared to them. Most diabetics don't have the luxury of having their mother or daughter prepare their meals and do all the grocery shopping. Also, most diabetics don't have the luxury of being to stay home on paid disability and not have to deal with the stress of driving to work and dealing being at work every day.
Blood Sugar (Blood Glucose) Control
Your blood sugar level, or blood glucose level, refers to the concentration of sugar (in the form of glucose) in your blood. The unit of measurement is milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or millimoles per liter (mmol/L).
Why is there glucose (or sugar) in the blood? Every time you eat food, your body has the task of breaking that food down into a usable form of energy it can use to keep your cells functioning properly.
All foods are primarily made up of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, fiber and water. Carbohydrate-rich foods give your body its main form of energy. They get broken down into glucose and move into the bloodstream where they are absorbed by your cells for use or storage. Glucose, or "blood sugar", is analogous to the "gasoline" that your car needs to run.
Your body tries to keep a constant supply of glucose for your cells by maintaining a constant glucose level in your blood. Otherwise, your cells would have too much glucose right after a meal and too little glucose in between meals and overnight.
When you have too much glucose, your body stores the excess in the liver and muscles by making glycogen, which are long chains of glucose.
When you have too little glucose, your body mobilizes glucose from stored glycogen in your liver and/or stimulates you to eat food. The key is to maintain a constant blood glucose level via the body's internal blood glucose regulation system.
Normally, your body controls your blood glucose within a tight range between 80 and 99 mg/dl.
So, if you're diabetic, you want to try to do the same thing -- maintain your blood glucose between 80 and 99 mg/dl.
This is usually accomplished with diet and exercise; and, if necessary, diabetic medications such as metformin or insulin.
When your fasting blood glucose level goes far above 126 mg/dl, the excess glucose is converted to fat (triglycerides). When your blood glucose goes far below 80 mg/dl, your body enters starvation mode and will not burn any fat for fuel.
How to Control Your Blood Sugar
As previously mentioned, there are 4 key areas at your disposal that will help you to maintain control over your blood sugar within the normal range:
- Glucose Testing
- Medications (if necessary)
These 4 key areas must be implemented as part of an overall diabetes management program in order to be effective. How you manage your diabetes on a daily basis must be consistent in order to be effective enough to keep your blood sugar in the normal range. Refer to the How to Manage Your Diabetes (aka Diabetes Management) web page for more details.
1. Superior Nutrition
Proper Diet and Meal Planning
The Death to Diabetes Diet is simply a method of defining superior foods that have a positive effect on your blood sugar level, blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and other health areas.
Superior (or super) foods contain the critical macronutrients and micronutrients that the body needs to fight the diabetes and repair the damage to the cells and organs caused by the diabetes.
How and when to eat
Eating smaller meals more regularly (e.g. 4 to 6 meals a day instead of 3) will condition your body to "know" that the next meal is not that far away, giving a more constant supply of energy.
Super foods include bright-colored vegetables, green vegetables, bight-colored fruits, beans, legumes, cold-water fish (i.e. wild salmon, tuna), filtered water, plant oils (i.e. extra virgin olive oil, ev coconut oil, macadamia nut oil), and organic whole grains.
Herbs that lower blood sugar
Some of the herbs that help to lower your blood sugar include gymnema sylvestre, bitter melon, American ginseng, Chinese cinnamon, fenugreek, ginger, prickly pear and turmeric.
Warning: All herbs should be taken with caution - excess use could lead to hypoglycemia, especially when combined with diabetic medications.
You can start by making small changes to your daily routine - taking the stairs, riding a bike, walking etc. Ideally over time you would incorporate a combination of a range of different exercises such as aerobic, strength and flexibility exercises.
Don't overdo it. 30 minutes a day can be enough to make a difference, however each person's situation is different. As described above, exercise can influence the way your body reacts to insulin, but the benefits are greater.
A rule of thumb: if you're not breathing faster than normal, what you're doing is not helping. On the other hand, if you can't talk while exercising, it's too strenuous.
Also, be sure to wear comfortable shoes. When diagnosing diabetes, doctors sometimes check a person's feet for poor circulation, which can lead to infections or slow healing of bruises. Smoking also reduces blood supply to your feet - so QUIT!
Build muscle with weight resistance training. This is very helpful since muscle tissue does not rely on insulin to make use of blood sugar. So, the more muscle you have, the more easily you can get rid of excess blood sugar when you work out.
Use short bursts of intense exercise. Recent studies show that short bursts of intense exercise provide more health benefits than the traditional aerobic exercise. However, make sure that you consult with your physician first.
Try to eliminate the cause of your stress if possible. Of course, this is not feasible if the source of your stress is your boss, driving to work, or a family member. :)
Consequently, it is important to look at other strategies such as taking up a hobby, playing an instrument or listening to music. If you need to learn how to release those bottled up emotions, then, try something like boxing, judo or intense exercise (but, only if it makes you feel better).
A big factor that influences whether or not you get stressed is the way you think. If you find you are getting stressed often then consider that you may have to "control your thoughts". Try to see things from the other person's point of view and become an observer to your feelings to a situation rather than giving in to instinctive reactions. (People that master this go a long way).
Also, prevention is the key! So practice deep breathing, take up meditation or yoga and continue exercising to benefit from the endorphins! You might be surprised but prayer really helps as well.
Job Stress: Being overwhelmed, overworked or unhappy at work takes a toll. When you're under stress, your body releases hormones that can make your blood sugar rise. Learn to relax with deep breathing and exercise. Also, try to change the things that are stressing you out, if that's possible.
Heat: If you happen to work outside in the heat, this can cause your blood sugar to rise. Because heat makes your blood sugar harder to control, you should test it often and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. High temperatures can affect your medications, glucose meter, and test strips, too. So, don't leave them in a hot car.
Stress Monitoring Tip: It's easy to find out whether mental stress affects your glucose levels. Before checking your glucose levels, write down a number rating your mental stress level on a scale of 1 to 10. Then write down your glucose level next to it. After a week or two, look for a pattern. Drawing a graph may help you see trends better. If high stress levels often occur with high glucose levels, and if low stress levels occur with low glucose levels, then, stress may affect your glucose control.
Get rid of negative emotions
Anger, anxiety, envy, fear, etc. cause our bodies to produce hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol that can raise blood glucose even if we haven’t eaten. These hormones are known as the “fight or flight” hormones.
Modern day stresses can be anything from starting a new job to fighting an illness to getting ready for that big wedding. These hormones release our body’s emergency stores of sugar into the bloodstream for use as energy. Sometimes the influx of sugar is too much for the body to use causing blood sugars to rise too high.
Believe it or not, how you think affects your cells and your health. For example, negative thoughts, a negative talk-track of self-blame, self-hate, anger, etc. trigger the release of cortisol and other hormones that can raise your blood sugar. Use positive affirmations, mantras, etc. and replace bad thoughts with good ones.
Each time you notice a bad thought, purposefully think of something that makes you happy or proud. Or memorize a poem, prayer, or quote and use it to replace a bad thought.
Get enough sleep
Make sure that you are getting enough sleep -- 7 to 8 hours each night. Sleep helps your body to wind down and restore itself, especially during REM sleep.
Use deep breathing techniques, e.g. learn to breathe to slow down your heart rate by breathing in deeply, counting to 7 and breathing out, counting to 10; keep doing this until your heart rate slows down.
Establish a consistent a regular daily routine and bedtime ritual, e.g. the same meal times, the same bedtime, the same pre-bed activities.
Establish the bedroom as a place for sleep and sexual activity only, not for reading, watching television, or working.
Try to avoid watching too much TV just before going to bed. TV is too stimulating to the brain.
Listen to calm music, or read something spiritual or religious to help to relax. Do not read anything stimulating, such as a mystery or suspense novel.
In addition, learn how to relax during the day -- taking a 5-minute break, doing deep-breathing exercises or going for a walk during a tense work-day can work wonders. Whatever method you choose to relax, practice it. Just as it takes time to learn a new sport, it will takes time to learn how to relax.
Read Death to Diabetes Chapter 13 for more tips about how to relax and get quality sleep.
Join a support group or internet forum
This is great especially if you are struggling with your diabetes. If you join a support group in your community or post on an internet forum you will meet other people who may have advice or can help you on your journey to better blood sugar control.
However, be careful: some of the people in these forums sound like they know what they're talking about. That's why it's so important that you do your own research -- it makes it easier to pick out the charlatans.
3. Blood Glucose Testing
Performing blood glucose testing is critical especially if you want to eventually wean off the diabetic medications that you may be taking.
Unfortunately, most diabetes programs fail to explain to diabetics how to leverage the testing to get their diabetes under control and reverse it.
At a minimum, you should test your blood sugar 3-4 times a day, 2-3 times before meals and at least once after meals.
Key Point: Postprandial testing is sometimes overlooked, but, this testing is critical because it tells you how well your body is metabolizing your food; plus, it is a key indicator of your hemoglobin A1C.
Author Sidebar: As engineers, we, more than any other profession, realize the importance of collecting and analyzing data to figure out how to solve a problem.
4. Medication Drugs
Taking diabetic drugs is the least preferred method and should only be used as a last resort!
Unfortunately, many of us choose drugs as our first option because drugs are convenient, and we mistakenly believe that the drugs give us a free pass such that we can continue to stuff our mouths with the junk food that's killing us.
A typical diabetic starts out taking one drug, usually metformin (Glucophage). Eventually, your diabetes gets worse so your doctor gives you another drug. In addition, your doctor my put you on a high blood pressure drug (i.e. lisinopril) and a high cholesterol drug (i.e. a statin drug such as Lipitor).
In the meantime, your diabetes gets worse because the drugs aren't really doing anything to fight the diabetes.
Then, it's just a matter of time before you begin dealing with the complications of diabetes.
Unfortunately, after a period of years, your doctor eventually puts you on insulin because the pills have lost their effectiveness.
Author's Note: I know this is hard to believe, but, think about it: Have you ever heard of anyone really getting better once they started taking the pills?
Note: Read Chapter 11 of the Death to Diabetes book or get the Power of Blood Glucose Testing PDF to learn how to use testing to control and even reverse your diabetes.
The 7 Major Reasons Why Blood Glucose Levels Remain High
There are 7 reasons why your blood glucose level may remain too high.
1. Poor Dieting: Nutrition and meal planning are the foundation of effective diabetes management. Refined carbohydrates like cakes, cookies, bread, and soft drinks are metabolized quickly and cause high levels of blood sugar.
Artificial sweeteners, processed meats, fried foods, and caffeine in coffee, tea and sports drinks can cause your blood glucose to rise.
The best foods for diabetics should include complex carbohydrates such as vegetables and beans which raise sugar more slowly and can keep it at an appropriate level for longer period of time. In addition, consistency in the time intervals between meals helps to prevent hypoglycemia and maintain overall blood glucose under control.
2. Lack of Consistent Exercise: Exercise is another important factor in effective diabetes management because of its effect on lowering blood glucose and reducing cardiovascular risks factor. Exercise lowers blood glucose level by increasing the uptake of glucose by body muscles and by improving insulin utilization. It also improves circulation and muscle tone. Regular daily exercise, rather than sporadic exercise should be encouraged.
In addition, high intensity exercise such as sprinting or weight lifting, can sometimes raise blood glucose. This stems from the adrenaline response, which tells the body to release stored glucose. But this is not a reason to avoid high intensity exercise – studies show it can improve blood glucose for one to three days post-exercise!
3. Stress/Sleep: The lack of quality sleep or too much stress in your life can cause your blood sugar to rise. During stress, the hormone cortisol is produced to combat stress and is responsible for an increase in your blood sugar level.
Trauma events such as a car accident, a major surgery, the loss of your job, or a death in your family are examples of significant stressful events that may cause your blood sugar to spike.
Note: Some of these factors can cause the Dawn Phenomenon (or Dawn Effect), where your blood sugar is high in the morning.
4. Illness/Surgery: Illness (such as having a cold) can also affect your blood sugar. When you're sick, your body may raise its temperature and activate your immune system. This can trigger the release of adrenaline and other hormones that can cause an increase in your blood sugar level. Also, when you're ill, you tend to get less quality sleep.
If you have had surgery of any kind, you may obtain an infection at the site of your surgery. Infections at point of surgery account for 14-17% of all hospital infections in patients and ranks third in causes for all post surgical infection.
According to a report in the September 2010 issue of Archives of Surgery, a JAMA journal, increased blood sugar levels after surgery are linked to procedures in the operating room.
Studies have shown that these infections prolong the hospital length of stay after surgery, increase rehospitalization rates and dramatically increase the use of emergency services and health care costs.
5. Misuse of Diabetes Medications: Diabetes medications alter blood sugar levels. They must be taken in specific amounts at regular intervals. Maintaining a schedule is vital to ensuring stable blood sugar levels.
6. Effects of Other Medications: Some medications such as corticosteroids, high blood pressure drugs, statins, birth control pills, antidepressants, and cough medicine can cause your blood sugar to increase, even if you're not diabetic. Also, vitamin supplements such as the Vitamin B3 (niacin) can raise your blood sugar although this subsides once your body gets used to the supplement after a few months.
7. Other Concerns: Not to make excuses or give you an easy out, it is possible that negative attitudes from your healthcare provider can also contribute to you not being able to manage your blood sugar levels. Patients can sometimes sense that healthcare providers don't really care or that they assume that the patient doesn't want to get better.
It is important that healthcare providers realize that effective behavior intervention can only be attained if they understand why, how and when the patient fails to engage in optimal diabetes self-management behavior.
There could be possible reasons such as: denial, fear, lack of knowledge about the disease, financial concerns, lack of motivation, etc. The patient may also have some beliefs and attitudes that affects his/her overall self-care management.
There are other environmental concerns that could affect the patient's ability to appropriate self care. There could be conflict among the family members that may undermine the given diabetes management.
There is the possibility that the patient may be having specific psychological or psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety or eating disorders that impair effective diabetes management. These are some of the issues that should be screened for their potential role in diabetes management problems.
The Dawn Phenomenon (or Dawn Effect)
First of all, the Dawn Phenomenon (or Dawn Effect) is actually a normal physiological process that occurs in order for us to wake up in the morning.
Our body releases hormones such as glucagon, epinephrine, growth hormone, and cortisol, which stimulate the release of glucose from the liver. This ensures a supply of fuel in anticipation of the body waking up.
Where this process is abnormal is when your blood glucose level remains high in the morning and does not return to its normal range.
For most diabetics, their blood glucose remains high due to insulin resistance and the dependence on taking insulin or other diabetic medications to artificially manage their blood glucose.
The key point here is to eat better and remove the dependence on diabetic drugs.
Also, please keep in mind that the Dawn Phenomenon varies from person to person and can even vary from time to time in each of us.
For more detail about what causes your blood glucose to rise, refer to our Death to Diabetes Blog Post.
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