Healthy blood sugar levels

What is your blood sugar level?

A person’s blood sugar level (also known as serum glucose level or plasma glucose level) is the amount of glucose (sugar) present in their blood at any given time.

Why is glucose important?

Glucose (also known as dextrose) is a simple sugar that is made by the body using carbohydrates from the diet. It is necessary for a wide range of essential bodily functions. In particular, it is important because it provides energy to tissues, the nervous system and the brain.

Glucose is transported from the intestines or liver to body cells via the bloodstream, and is made available for cell absorption via the hormone insulin, produced by the pancreas.

Glucose that is not directly used as an energy source by brain cells, intestinal cells and red blood cells are sent to the liver, adipose tissue and muscle cells, where it is absorbed and stored as glycogen. The glycogen stored by the liver can be converted back to glucose and returned to the bloodstream whenever insulin is low or absent.

How is blood sugar level measured?

Blood sugar is normally measured in molecular count, the unit for which is mmol/L (millimoles per liter). It is also sometimes measured as a weight in grams, the unit for which is mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter).

What is a healthy blood sugar level?

Normally, the body keeps its blood glucose level at a reference range of between 3.6 and 5.8 mmol/L (or 64.8 and 104.4 mg/dL).

The mean normal blood glucose level in humans is around 4 mmol/L (or 72 mg/dL), although the level obviously fluctuates throughout the day. As you might expect, glucose levels tend to be lowest in the morning, before the first meal of the day and spike after eating for 1 – 2 hours by a few milliMolar.

However, when it comes to diabetics, blood sugar fluctuates more widely.

How can blood sugar levels affect your health?

As glucose provides your body with the energy that it needs to carry out important physiological functions, too little sugar / glucose (a low blood sugar level) or too much sugar / glucose (a high blood sugar level) can lead to serious health problems.

Blood sugar levels outside the normal range may also be an indicator of an underlying medical condition, where this is not caused by the diet.

Hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia

A persistently high blood sugar level is referred to as hyperglycemia, whilst low levels are referred to as hypoglycemia.

Hypoglycemia is a potentially fatal condition. Symptoms include lethargy, impaired mental functioning, irritability, shaking, twitching, weakness in arm and leg muscles, pale complexion, sweating, paranoid or aggressive mentality and loss of consciousness. In extreme cases, brain damage is possible.

By contrast, hyperglycemia can involve the appetite being suppressed in the short term, with longer term health problems including heart disease, diabetes and eye, kidney, and nerve damage.

Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus is characterised by persistent hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels) either because the body does not produce enough insulin, or because cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced. It is the most common disease related to failure in blood sugar regulation.

For those with diabetes, it is particularly important to keep blood sugar levels within normal ranges, otherwise serious health complications can occur. For example, nephropathy (kidney disease), neuropathy (nerve disease), retinopathy (eye disease) and cardiovascular diseases (heart diseases).

Insulin resistance

Insulin resistance is another example of a condition where blood sugar levels are important. In this case, the body does not recognise the consumption of sugars and carbohydrates and this means that it continues to pump out insulin which is not needed. If this continues for a prolonged period of time, the pancreas can shut down and cease to produce insulin altogether. If care is not taken by those who have this condition to ensure a healthy diet and balanced blood sugar levels, it can eventually lead to type two diabetes.

What other factors can affect blood sugar levels?

Many factors can affect a person’s blood sugar levels. For example, it can be temporarily elevated as a result of severe stress (such as trauma, stroke, myocardial infarction, surgery or illness) or as a result of medication use, which can cause glucose levels to increase or decrease.

Alcohol intake also causes an initial surge in blood sugar, which later tends to cause levels to fall.

Keeping your blood sugar levels healthy

Making positive and healthy lifestyle choices (and, if necessary, changes) is a good first step to keeping your blood sugar levels under control. For example, taking regular exercise and (if required) losing weight in a sensible and healthy way.

Dietary changes, in particular, can be incredibly helpful in keeping blood sugar levels within normal ranges. For those with restricted diets (such as diabetics), it can often be a challenge to ensure an optimum intake of nutrients on a daily basis. Many people therefore also find that high quality, nutrients fortified meal shakes, as well as other health supplements designed to help keep blood sugar levels stable, can help with this.

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How does diabetes affect your health?

What is diabetes?

The technical bit

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder, where the body is unable to produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is required to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy. The human body has to maintain its blood glucose level within a very narrow range. This is done by using insulin and glucagon. The function of glucagon is to cause the liver to release glucose, which provides the body’s cells with the energy that they need.

What it means in practice

Simple put, this means that the body is unable to properly use the energy it gets from food. Normally, most of the food we eat is broken down or digested into sugar or glucose. Insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, helps the glucose get inside the cells where the glucose is then burned for energy. For people with diabetes, their bodies cannot make enough insulin or they are resistant to the insulin their bodies make. As a result, their blood glucose becomes much higher than usual.

Types of diabetes

There are two types of diabetes:

Type 1 diabetes: An autoimmune process in which the immune system destroys insulin-producing cells and the pancreas therefore fails to produce any insulin.  

Type 2 diabetes: This type of diabetes occurs when the pancreas either doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body’s cells fail to respond to insulin. It has previously been called non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM).

Between 90% and 95% of people who are diagnosed with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.

How is diabetes diagnosed?

A normal fasting blood glucose range is about 65 -100. When your blood sugar is 126 or higher after fasting for eight hours, a diagnosis of diabetes is made.

Type 1 diabetes is usually first diagnosed in children, teenagers or young adults. However, it can develop at any age.

Symptoms of diabetes

The classic symptoms of diabetes are:

  • extreme thirst (and a feeling like dry cotton balls in the mouth)
  • frequent urination
  • weight loss (despite increased appetite)
  • fatigue and drowsiness
  • blurred vision
  • nausea
  • skin infections
  • and recurrent vaginitis.

These can come on quite quickly in a Type 1 diabetic, but can develop slowly (taking years in some cases) in a Type 2, which makes it more difficult to diagnose.

Causes of diabetes

Although the precise cause or causes of diabetes are unknown, both genetic and environmental factors appear to play key roles. For example, it is now generally accepted that high-sugar diets, obesity / being overweight, lack of exercise, family history and stress all increase the risk of contracting diabetes.

Type 1

Type 1 diabetes can be caused by an autoimmune disorder or many other factors that could affect the pancreas. For instances, people have been known to contract this type of diabetes because of medical treatment for another problem, which has then resulted in damage to the pancreas as a side-effect.

It is thought that Type 1 diabetes is partly inherited and then triggered by certain infections, with some evidence pointing at the Coxsackie B4 virus. There is a genetic element in individual susceptibility to some of these triggers which has been traced to particular HLA  genotypes  (i.e., the genetic “self” identifiers relied upon by the immune system). However, even in those who have inherited the susceptibility, Type 1 diabetes mellitus seems to require an environmental trigger.

Those suffering from this type of diabetes are required to take insulin by injections or insulin pumps in order to survive. Most people who develop Type 1 are otherwise healthy and are not generally overweight or inactive. As such, treatment must usually be continued indefinitely.

Type 2

Type 2 diabetes is associated with older age, obesity, poor diet, family history, history of gestational diabetes, impaired glucose metabolism, physical inactivity, and race/ethnicity. Clinically-based reports and regional studies suggest that Type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents, although still rare, is being diagnosed more frequently. This could be linked to, amongst other things, the rise in childhood obesity.

People who carry excess weight, especially in their middle section, are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes because the fat in their tissue causes an imbalance of insulin in the body.

Other health complications linked to diabetes

Diabetes is a serious condition, which can have devastating effects on the whole body. It is an autoimmune disease that can play havoc with the body’s organs and circulatory systems.

When a person’s blood sugar levels are continuously high, it can lead to kidney failure, the need for amputations, skin problems, heart problems and neuropathy (nerve damage). In fact, those with diabetes are up to four times more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease and stroke. Similarly, diabetes is the leading cause of end stage renal disease (ESRD), where the kidneys shut down and a transplant is usually required.

Diabetes can also affect the eyes, ultimately leading to blindness. In fact, it is the number one cause of blindness in adults in the US. This damage is caused by a lack of oxygen. Diabetes can also cause leaking of blood vessels in the eyes, which leads to scarring and loss of vision.

Living with diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic disease, without a known cure. Unfortunately, cases of diabetes are also on the rise. Yet, in many instances (particularly in the case of Type 2 diabetes) the disease is preventable through healthy lifestyle choices. Even once contracted, it is possible to mitigate and manage the effects and symptoms. In some cases, symptoms can even be reversed. Weight loss, physical activity and a balanced diet may be all that is needed to stop the progress of the disease.

Everyone who has diabetes (whatever the type) is at increased risk of the health issues mentioned above. It is therefore never too early to take responsibility for your health, including taking aggressive preventive measures by changing your lifestyle.

The good news is that you have greater control over your health than you may think. It is empowering to know that you can make a difference by taking some proactive steps, such as  eating a healthy and balanced diet, managing your weight, taking regular exercise, reducing alcohol and sugar intake and stopping smoking.

Weight management

80% of people with diabetes are overweight or have abdominal obesity. If you are overweight or obese, fat deposits are making your body produce excess insulin in order to properly carry out bodily functions. Losing weight can therefore help to reduce the need for insulin and other diabetes medications, as well as it will lower your blood pressure and decrease your risk for heart disease.

For those with Type 2 diabetes, if they can eliminate the fat that is responsible for the imbalance of insulin in their bodies by exercising and limiting carbohydrates and alcohol, they may be able to drop their glucose levels (perhaps even into the normal range).

In one study, overweight adults who lost a modest amount of weight (even as little as 5 – 10% of initial body weight) and exercised regularly reduced the risk of developing diabetes by 58% percent.

Exercise

Physical activity can not only help to keep blood sugar levels low, but can assist your body to better use the insulin it produces to convert the food you eat into energy. Arguably one of the best types of exercise is cardiovascular activity.

While it may not be completely curable, these changes allow many people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in particular, to live a healthy and full life. People with type 2 diabetes who exercise regularly have been shown to lose weight and gain better control over their blood pressure, thereby reducing their risk for cardiovascular disease (a major complication of diabetes). Studies have also shown that people with Type 1 diabetes who regularly exercise reduce their need for insulin injections.

30 to 60 minutes of modest intensity exercise 3 – 4 times a week is a good start. Intensity should be increased gradually. However, of course everyone’s circumstances and health conditions differ, so if you have diabetes or a heart disease, it is important to consult your doctor before undertaking a new exercise regime. They can help you to determine the most appropriate level, type and frequency of exercise.

The bottom line

Your health is your responsibility, so take control now! Skip “fad diets” and make healthier choices. By excluding or strictly limiting a particular food group, you may be giving up essential nutrients. Instead, think variety and moderation as part of an overall well-balanced diet and sensible exercise regime.

If you are uncertain what is best to eat to suit your condition and particular medical circumstances, you can always speak to a qualified health professional (such as a nutritionist or dietitian).

Many diabetics also find that health supplements can be beneficial. For example:

  • nutrients-fortified sugar-free meal shakes can provide a convenient and readily-available source of essential nutrients (such as fibre, vitamins and minerals) on a daily basis
  • high quality weight management products (derived from natural ingredients) can support their wider weight loss plan.

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Exercise health benefits

Why is exercise important?

Regular exercise is important for everybody, not just those who are looking to lose weight.

Our bodies operate best when they are engaged in regular activity. Conversely, health issues tend to crop up with your lifestyle is largely sedentary. The body craves movement and exertion, and it actually needs these things in order to function properly, to avoid muscle wastage and weakening, and to promote strength, vitality and longevity.

As obesity rates continue to rise, and we are seeing a growing older population, a lifestyle that includes regular exercise is a necessity. Ideally, this should be introduced at an early age for maximum benefit.

The bottom line is is to avoid inactivity for long periods; even some exercise is better than none at all. In other words, exercise is the key to good health and it can help to prevent a number of preventable health problems.

How can exercise support health?

Although exercise clearly helps to improve the appearance of the body (for example through weight loss and toning), it is also has countless other benefits for health.

Resistance training is often seen as being only for men or gym fanatics. However, exercise can take many forms and doesn’t necessarily have to involve the gym. For example, there is yoga, walking, running, cycling, boxing and countless others.

The important point to bear in mind is that exercise (any exercise) has a number of health benefits, which can contribute to the longevity and quality of life.

In particular, it is beneficial for:

  • detoxification
  • healthy digestion
  • heart health
  • weight loss (including a healthy metabolism).

Exercise is also important for muscle and bone health, and has a key role to play in maintaining a robust immune system by, for example, stimulating the lymphatic system. It is widely believed that the lymphatic system is the body’s first line of defense against disease. Exercise also improves circulation, helping to bring new fuel and energy to every cell.

In considered so important by governments that, in both the USA and Europe, there are a number of national initiatives that call for physical activity and exercise to be standard elements of both disease prevention and medical treatment for all ages.

How does exercise promote weight loss?

One of the most common mistakes that people make when trying to lose weight (and likewise one of the biggest reasons for failure) is focussing all their efforts on changing their diet, without thinking about the essential role of increased levels of physical activity.

Ultimately, your weight is dependant on the balance between the number of calories consumed each day and the number of calories burned. The main way in which exercise can assist with weight loss is through the burning of additional calories. Both aerobic and weight bearing exercise can achieve this.

Dieting alone is not going to be enough to ensure you reach your ideal weight in a healthy way, especially for the long-term. In fact, a 2006 study (Weiss et al) undertaken by Saint Louis University compared the effects of exercise combined with dieting, versus diet alone in losing fat. Although both sets of participants lost weight, only those undertaking exercise maintained their strength and muscle mass and increased aerobic capacity. Those who dieted only, lost muscle mass, strength and aerobic capacity.

Research consistently shows that regular exercise, combined with a balanced diet, is the most efficient and healthy way to manage your weight. In particular, exercise can affect our metabolism – when we exercise and eat healthily, the metabolism has a tendency to speed up and burn off excess calories and fat that it would not otherwise do, during periods of inactivity.

Getting the most out of exercising

If you are new to regular exercise, it’s important to take it slow and, if necessary, consult your doctor, a personal trainer or other qualified health practitioner before implementing radical changes to your diet or starting a new exercise regime.

Similarly, there are a number of health supplements that can support healthy weight management, athletic performance and nutrient intake. Increasing your levels of exercise should be viewed as part of a wider initiative to improve your health, including improving your diet to ensure that your body is getting all the “fuel” it needs to operate optimally.

For example, slimmers often find that protein powders and meal shakes can be helpful, because not only can they provide a low calorie source of nutrients, but the high protein content is vital for maintaining and increasing muscle and bone mass, supporting energy levels, for tissue and cell repair, for keeping the immune system strong and for preventing fatigue. And if you can find a shake that is fortified with nutrients, all the better.

A number of studies have suggested that a high-protein diet combined with exercise can support the weight management process, enhance fat loss, boost metabolism, improve muscle tone and improve blood fat levels.

As protein can assist in the repair and growth of muscle, this tends to mean that more calories are burned each day. Higher-protein diets may also help people to gain better control over their appetites and calorie intake, help them to regulate their blood sugar levels and reduce cravings. When your heart beats faster and you breathe more rapidly, it helps to lower your blood sugar level (which is why exercise is even more important if you have diabetes).

Similarly, ensuring adequate vitamin and mineral intake is an important part of any weight management programme, to ensure that you are losing weight healthily. For instance, antioxidants (such as vitamin C) are important in preventing damage by free radicals, which can be released during detoxification processes.

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