Insulin and other hormones are in charge of regulating the concentration (amount) of sugar in the blood. Diabetes is the name given to conditions where blood sugar levels can no longer be regulated by the body. Diabetes can occur in two different types, Type 1 and Type 2. While changes in diet and exercise can generally be used to control blood sugar in those with type 2 diabetes, type 1 diabetics rely on insulin injections.
What is a “blood glucose level”?
Many foods naturally contain the carbohydrate known as sugar. Body tissues, especially the brain, need glucose to function normally, as it is the primary source of energy. Sugars come in two different types, and glucose falls into the “simple sugar” or “monosaccharide” category. The amount of glucose carried in the blood is referred to as “blood glucose” or “blood sugar”, terms which can be used interchangeably.
Where does glucose come from?
Whether or not you have diabetes, you need to understand exactly what glucose is before you start planning ways to cut down your sugar intake. In order to utilise the food you have eaten, your body first has to convert it into the simplest form of energy, which just happens to be glucose. The greatest impact on blood glucose levels comes from carbohydrates, as they’re the food that your body can convert the most easily.
As they’re digested, the carbs we consume are broken down into glucose. This glucose is then delivered throughout the body by the bloodstream, having been absorbed by the cells that line the small intestine.
Blood Sugar Control
A near constant level of glucose (sugar) concentration in the blood must be maintained in order for a person to be healthy. Blood sugar concentration needs to stick within a narrow range, and there can be serious consequences if that doesn’t happen. These consequences can include…
- Blurred vision and fatigue if blood glucose levels are too high;
- Unconsciousness, disorientation and (in extreme cases) coma if blood glucose levels are too low.
Sugar can often be found in high concentrations in processed foods. The blood glucose level may begin to increase rapidly if a person eats these foods, as they’re absorbed very easily by the digestive system. In most people, the blood glucose level is kept within its narrow limits by insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas.
Your Blood Sugar Range
For those without diabetes, the following are the normal blood sugar levels:
- Fasting: Between 4.0 and 5.4 mmol/L.
- After eating: Up to 7.8 mmol/L.
For those with diabetes, the following are the target blood sugar levels:
- Fasting: Between 4.0 and 7.0 mmol/L.
- After eating:
- Type 1 diabetes – Under 9.0 mmol/L.
- Type 2 diabetes – Under 8.5 mmol/L.
How is blood sugar controlled in non-diabetics?
A feedback mechanism is used to control blood sugar in those who don’t have diabetes.
- Something is eaten.
- Blood sugar levels begin to rise as the food is digested.
- Blood is transported to the pituitary gland in the person’s brain, which reads the blood’s sugar level.
- If the level is lower than it should be, the gland sends a message to the liver which then releases energy as glucagon. This raises the blood sugar level.
- Insulin is produced by the pancreas if the gland sends it a message through the blood saying the level is higher than it should be. The blood sugar level is then lowered.
- Until the blood sugar level is balanced, the pituitary gland continues to send messages to the appropriate organs.
When the sugar levels in your blood are too low, a condition called hypoglycemia can occur. People with diabetes are not the only ones who can experience hypoglycemia, contrary to popular belief.
When you have too much sugar in your bloodstream, this is called hyperglycemia which is different from hypoglycemia. If too much insulin is produced by the body of someone with diabetes, hypoglycemia can occur. If you take too much insulin, you can also get hypoglycemia.
If your body can’t stabilise your blood sugar levels, hypoglycemia can occur even if you don’t have diabetes. If your body produces too much insulin after meals, this can also occur. Of course, those that have diabetes or related conditions are more prone to hypoglycemia than those who don’t have these conditions.
Signs of Hypoglycemia
Depending on how low your blood sugar goes, the symptoms of hypoglycemia may vary. More common signs include…
- Pasty appearance;
- Fast or irregular heartbeat;
As the condition worsens, symptoms may also include…
- Loss of consciousness;
- Blurred vision.
You should check your levels routinely if you’re having difficulty with blood sugar control. You may be able to keep your blood sugar levels from getting too high or too low if you learn how your body responds to different activities. Insulin sensitivity can be increased by frequent exercise, which can also help you lose weight. The sugar available in your bloodstream can be used more effectively by your cells due to this increased sensitivity.
Muscle contraction and energy also require your muscles to use up blood sugar during exercise, further lowering your blood sugar. Swimming, weights, running, dancing, hiking, biking and brisk walks are all good forms of exercise to try out.
For more information about diabetes, check out Need2Know’s Essential Guide to Diabetes which will look at what the diabetic condition is, the difference between Type 1 and Type 2, how you become diabetic, the types of medication available and how you can manage it. Your body deserves the best, and we want to arm you with the information you need to provide that!