Glucose is sugar. It gives you the energy you need to move, think, speak, and function overall. You get glucose from the foods you eat, primarily from carbohydrate-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, and grains. Glucose powers your organs, brain, and muscles and is an essential element for healthy living.
Two hormones insulin and amylin are produced by the pancreas to regulate the amount of glucose used in your body. In normal people, these hormones keep blood glucose within a narrow range. In people with diabetes, either these regulatory hormones are not produced in adequate amounts or they do not work properly. Insulin, for example, is like a coded card that unlocks the cells of your body and allows glucose to enter and provide energy. If you don't have enough insulin, the glucose can't get in. If you have enough insulin but your cells don't recognize its code, the glucose is left in the bloodstream. Consistently high glucose levels cause damage to several parts of your body, including your eyes and extremities.
Blood glucose is measured in micrograms of glucose per deciliter of blood volume, or mg/dl. Your doctor usually includes a blood glucose test in your yearly physical. This test is a simple blood draw. The amount of glucose in your bloodstream is measured and compared to normal ranges. In people without diabetes, blood glucose levels are <100 mg/dl after 8 hours of fasting and <140 mg/dl two hours after eating.
Glucose in Pre-diabetes
Some people have a family history of diabetes. No matter what they do, their blood glucose levels may rise over time. Gaining weight, living an inactive lifestyle, and eating a diet high in carbohydrates and fat can cause the development of diabetes to progress at a faster pace. According to the American Diabetes Association, a fasting blood glucose level between 100 mg/dl and 126 mg/dl means you are pre-diabetic. At this stage you are still able to fend off full-blown diabetes. The loss of a mere10 pounds and the addition of 150 minutes of exercise each week is enough to lower blood glucose levels to normal in 58% of people, according to the Diabetes Network. If no change in lifestyle is made, 100% of pre-diabetics progress to diabetes.
Glucose Levels in Diabetes
If you have a fasting blood sugar level of more than 126 mg/dl, you have diabetes. If you have Type I diabetes (also called juvenile diabetes), you were probably diagnosed early in your life. Type I diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not make enough insulin to regulate the glucose in your system. Type I diabetes usually requires regular insulin injections.
Most people who have diabetes have Type II diabetes, also known as adult onset or insulin-resistant diabetes. Type II usually occurs when the body's cells become resistant to the regulating effects of insulin. More and more insulin is produced by the pancreas to control the glucose in your bloodstream but your cells do not respond to it. The cells react as if they are starving for glucose even though your bloodstream is full of it. This triggers a hunger response and drives you to eat more and more high-carbohydrate foods. Eating more increases the amount of glucose in your body, and your pancreas works even harder to produce more insulin. At some point your pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin. Blood glucose levels rise higher and higher and begin to cause significant damage to your circulatory system, organs, and nervous system.
High Glucose Effects
The immediate effects of high blood glucose are usually fatigue, a heightened appetite, and unexpected weight gain or loss. Your body will try to get rid of the increased glucose in your blood by making you urinate more often. Frequent urination causes increased thirst which, in turn, causes even more frequent urination. If blood glucose levels continue to rise, you may find that wounds do not heal as well as they once did, and that you develop infections more easily.
High Glucose Complications
Glucose is essential for life, but too much of it can mean death. Continuously high blood glucose levels in your body can damage your eyes, kidneys, liver, and your brain. It can affect the nerves and blood supply to your legs and feet and ultimately lead to amputation. High blood glucose can affect your heart and lead to heart attacks and strokes at an early age. People with diabetes are at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer's disease.
If you are diagnosed with pre-diabetes or diabetes, you will probably have to change your lifestyle, often radically. A healthy diet and physical activity can often keep pre-diabetes from turning into diabetes and help diabetics reduce or even eliminate their diabetes. Recent studies have found that a low-fat vegetarian diet is very effective in diabetes control. Most people with Type II diabetes take oral diabetes medications and some also require insulin injections.
The most important tool for managing diabetes is a blood glucose meter. Self-monitoring your glucose levels and noting how they change depending on your diet and your level of physical exercise will assist you in keeping glucose levels within acceptable ranges.