The blood sugar levels should normally stay within a narrow range throughout the day. This means that while it will rise after a meal, it should not rise too high. Similarly the blood sugar levels will fall after strenuous activity and without eating for long periods. However, it should not fall too low. One of the most common conditions where this blood sugar control is disrupted is diabetes mellitus. Here the blood glucose levels climb too high and sometimes dip well below the normal lower limit.
Blood Sugar vs Blood Glucose
The term blood sugar actually refers to blood glucose. Simply, it is the same chemical (sugar/glucose) in the bloodstream. Sugar as we know it is composed of glucose and fructose. Glucose and fructose are monosaccarides (simple sugars) whereas sugar that is used in foods is a disaccharide made up of glucose and fructose.
Therefore it is not entirely accurate to refer to blood glucose as blood sugar. However, the distinction does not matter for non-medical purposes. Therefore a high blood sugar level is the same as a high blood glucose level which is known as hyperglycemia. Similarly a low blood sugar level or low blood glucose level is known as hypoglycemia.
Read more on hyperglycemia.
What Raises the Blood Sugar Levels?
In order to understand how to lower blood sugar levels, it is important to first udnerstand what raises the blood sugar levels. Food is broken down in the gut and then absorbed into the bloodstream. This raises the blood glucose levels. However, not all food is broken down to glucose in the gut. More complex nutrients may be further processed by the liver which then releases the glucose into the bloodstream.
Two hormones released by the pancreas play an important role in regulating the blood sugar levels – insulin and glucagon. It is important to note that while insulin and glucagon are maor factors in blood sugar levels, there are a host of other processes and mechanisms that regulate the blood sugar levels.
Insulin, secreted by the beta cells of the pancreas, lower blood sugar levels. It does this by stimulating cells to take up more glucose, for the liver to reduce the release of glucose and for excess glucose to also be converted to glycogen and stored in the liver. This is where the problem lies with diabetes mellitus. In type 1 diabetes mellitus there is a lack of insulin while in type 2 diabetes mellitus the body does not respond to insulin as it should.
Glucagon, secreted by the alpha cells of the pancreas, raises blood sugar levels. It stimulates the liver to release glucose from stored glycogen and also induces fat breakdown to release stored glucose into the bloodstream. Once the blood glucose levels are within a normal level, then the glucagon secretion subsides. In this way the body can prevent blood sugar levels from rising too high with insulin or dropping too low with glucagon.
Diet and Lifestyle to Lower Sugar Levels
Diet and lifestyle are important components in managing diabetes mellitus. Prescribed medication to lower and manage blood sugar levels should never be stopped without consulting with a medical doctor. Instead diet and lifestyle changes should be implemented alongside the use of medication. While drugs are very effective, the benefit of diet and lifestyle to lower blood sugar levels should not be underestimated.
Read more on how to prevent diabetes.
30 Minutes of Exercise
Any exercise or physical activity is beneficial in lowering blood sugar levels. The body requires higher energy during physical activity. The cells have to take up more glucose from the bloodstream to produce this energy. As a result the blood glucose level will be lowered.
However, the benefits of exercise extend well beyond the immediate blood glucose reduction. It also improves the body’s responsiveness to insulin as well as contributing to weight loss which assists with glucose control. Ideally a person should exercise for around 150 minutes per week, which should be divided into 5 sessions of 30 minutes each.
Eating Low GI Foods
The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of the extent to which indiviual foods raise the blood sugar levels after it is consumed. Some foods cause a faster rise in the blood glucose levels and this is known as high GI foods. On the other hands some foods do not cause a sudden rise in the blood glucose levels and instead maintain it at a moderate level for longer periods of time. Therefore low GI food are a better choice, especially for diabetics.
Read more on foods to avoid in diabetes.
Opt for Smaller More Frequent Meals
Smaller meals provides enough nutrition for the body’s needs without causing spikes in the blood sugar levels. The size of meals is as important as the type of foods that are consumed. Three square meals are not helpful with blood sugar control in diabetics. Instead smaller meal portions consumed 5 to 6 times daily is much more effective in managing blood glucose levels and to avoid blood sugar spikes.
Fill Up on Fiber and Water
Dietary fiber has many benefits beyond helping with regular bowel movements. It can also affect the glycemic index of foods and provides bulk which can reduce food intake. All of these other effects can be beneficial in preventing blood sugar level spikes. There may also be the additional indirect benefit of weight loss by reducing excessive food intake.
It is important to note that water has no known benefit in directly lowering blood sugar levels. However, it can have an indirect benefit. By drinking plenty of water before, during and between meals, increased water consumption can reduce food intake. It is particularly effective when combined with dietary fiber since fibers bulks when it absorbs water.
Get Enough Sleep Every Night
Several studies have shown a link between poor sleep habits and weight gain. It has also been observed that inadequate sleep can impact on glucose control and possibly increase the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Good sleep habits is essential. Try to sleep at the same time everyday and get at least 7 hours of sleep daily although 8 to 9 hours is preferable for most adults.
Lose Weight and Keep It Off
One of the main reasons for the rising incidence of type 2 diabetes melliltus is the obesity epidemic. Being overweight or obese impairs the way the body regulates the blood sugar levels. Therefore losing weight is an important measure to lower blood sugar levels in the long term. In fact, losing significant weight can even reverse prediabetes and allow the body to regain control of the blood sugar levels.