The National Diabetes Organization calculated that in 2019, 37.3 million Americans – 11.3% of the population- had diabetes. Moreover, 1 in 5 Americans have diabetes and do not know it. Out of those 37.3 million, 8.5 are undiagnosed. Moreover, 8 in 10 adults have prediabetes and do not know it. Low blood sugar symptoms – such as palpitations, dizziness, and tingling lips – are more recognizable than those of high blood sugar (constantly peeing, getting thirsty); that’s what makes high blood sugar levels an “invisible enemy.” But, what is diabetes? Is it the same as high blood sugar? What are the normal blood sugar levels?
When we eat, our bodies – our pancreas – produce an essential hormone called insulin, which is responsible for turning the food we eat (and the sugars in it) into energy to perform daily functions. People with diabetes are either a) unable to make insulin or b) unable to use that insulin causing blood sugar levels to rise.
There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 (also called “juvenile diabetes”) happens when the body doesn’t produce insulin; patients with this condition depend on daily insulin dosages to survive. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body produces insulin but cannot use it properly. Type 1 diabetes affects only 8% of patients, while Type 2 affects the rest – over 90%. Type 1 diabetes is a genetic condition, whereas Type 2 is directly linked to lifestyle choices.
It is primordial for people with Type 2 diabetes to learn how to lower blood sugar levels.
How are blood sugar levels related to insulin resistance?
High blood sugar is not a synonym for diabetes but is the most common sign of Type 2. Here’s how the normal process goes when there are normal blood sugar levels:
- When you eat, the body breaks down the food into glucose, our body’s primary energy source.
- Glucose enters the bloodstream causing your blood sugar levels to increase. This signals the pancreas to produce insulin.
- Insulin is the hormone that makes the organs use glucose as energy when it is not stored for later use.
- Once glucose enters the cells and lowered blood sugar levels are registered, the pancreas stops producing insulin.
There are times, however, when the liver, fat, and muscle cells do not respond appropriately to insulin, so they can’t use the glucose nor store it – this is called insulin resistance. As a result, the pancreas creates more and more insulin, trying to keep up with the cells’ weak response to the hormones and keep normal blood sugar levels. When the cells become too resistant, glucose levels stay high in the bloodstream, leading to Type 2 diabetes over time.
The causes of insulin resistance are varied, such as carbohydrate-rich diet and genetics, but scientists agree that obesity is the primary determinant of insulin resistance.
High Blood Sugar Levels and Obesity – How Do They Relate?
In obese people, the quantity of certain substances, such as hormones and fatty acids, increases; these substances are highly involved in developing insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes also has different variables than Type 1. The increased prevalence of obesity among all age groups means the number of Type 2 diabetes patients will continue to rise.
Science assures that anyone who is overweight has some insulin resistance; it is those individuals who lack sufficient insulin production to match the resistance who will struggle to have normal blood sugar levels.
Obese people have dysfunctional adipose tissue; when this happens, fatty acids and other substances are secreted. These substances are highly linked to insulin resistance. To make matters even worse, in overweight individuals, the liver has no space to store the excess glucose because it is packed with fat. It’s like trying to fit more clothes into an already full suitcase. Since blood sugar levels are still spiking, the pancreas overworks to push against the resistance created by the fat. As a result, it can wear out and diminish insulin production. If this process continues, Type 2 diabetes develops fast. Trends say that, in the USA, two-thirds of the adult population is considered obese. Obesity is related to many social, psychological, and medical conditions; one of the most devastating ones is type 2 diabetes. Research claims that, by 2030, the number of type 2 diabetes patients will increase to 360 million.
Complications and Other Diseases Linked to High Blood Sugar Levels:
Leaving high blood sugar levels untreated can become a severe medical problem. Failing to do so can lead to:
- Kidney damage and kidney failure.
- Damage to the retina, potentially leading to blindness.
- Nerve damage.
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Poor blood flow and damage to nerves in the feet. This commonly translates into ulcerations, skin infections, and amputation.
- Gum and teeth infections.
- Bone problems.
- Heart attacks.
- Diabetic coma.
What are Normal Blood Sugar Levels?
As we mentioned, high blood sugar is difficult to distinguish because the symptoms are hard to recognize or feel “too mild.” It is not until levels reach critical levels that individuals may feel concerned. Blood tests are the best way to track blood sugar levels.
Normal blood sugar levels are as follows:
- A blood sugar level less than 140 mg/dL is considered normal.
- A reading of 200 mg/dL after two hours of the last meal indicates diabetes.
- A reading of between 140 and 199 mg/dL indicates prediabetes.
- A blood sample after fasting less than 100 mg/dL is standard.
- A reading of between 100 to 125 mg/dL is considered prediabetes.
- A reading of 126 mg/dL or higher is considered diabetes.
A complex condition to discern, high blood sugar can be life-threatening if not treated properly and timely. It can lead to many ailments and diseases, including blindness, limb amputation, and death. Lifestyle choices and regular checkups are the keys to maintaining blood sugar levels in an optimal range.