Understand your Glucose Blood Test Results…

This page helps you to understand blood test results for glucose and gives you the reference range to determine if your lab test results mean that you have high, low or normal glucose levels. 

We outline the risk factors associated with both raised and lower glucose levels.

Reference Ranges for Glucose:

Measurement unit Metric Optimal Borderline Risk
US Conventional Units mg/dl 70-99 50-69 or 100-129 >=240
Standard International Units mmol/L 3.9-5.6 2.8-3.8 or 5.7-7.2 <50 or >=130
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What is Glucose

Glucose is the primary energy source for the body’s cells and the only energy source for the brain and nervous system. A steady supply must be available for use, and a relatively constant level of glucose must be maintained in the blood [117]. Normally, blood glucose rises slightly after a meal and insulin is released by the pancreas into the blood in response, with the amount corresponding to the size and content of the meal. As glucose moves into the cells and is metabolized, the level in the blood drops and the pancreas responds by slowing, then stopping the release of insulin [117].

If the blood glucose level drops too low, such as might occur in between meals or after a strenuous workout, glucagon (another pancreatic hormone) is secreted to induce the liver to turn some glycogen back into glucose, raising the blood glucose level. If the glucose/insulin feedback mechanism is working properly, the amount of glucose in the blood remains fairly stable. If the balance is disrupted and the glucose level in the blood rises, then the body tries to restore the balance, both by increasing insulin production and by eliminating excess glucose in the urine [117].

Sometimes a blood sample may be drawn and glucose measured when a person has not been fasting, for example, when a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP) is performed. If the result is abnormal, it is typically followed up with a fasting blood glucose test [117].

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Function of Glucose

During digestion, fruits, vegetables, breads and other dietary sources of carbohydrates are broken down into glucose (and other nutrients); they are absorbed by the small intestine and circulated throughout the body for energy. Using glucose for energy production depends on insulin. Insulin facilitates transport of glucose into the body’s cells and directs the liver to store excess energy as glycogen for short-term storage and/or as triglycerides in adipose (fat) cells [117].

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Risk factors associated with Glucose

Diabetes – There are a few different conditions that may disrupt the balance between glucose and the pancreatic hormones, resulting in high or low blood glucose. The most common cause is diabetes. Diabetes is a group of disorders associated with insufficient insulin production and/or a resistance to the effects of insulin. People with untreated diabetes are not able to process and use glucose normally. Those who are not able to produce any or enough insulin (and typically have diabetes autoantibodies) are diagnosed as having type 1 diabetes. Those who are resistant to insulin and may or may not be able to produce sufficient quantities of it may have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes [117].

Gestational Diabetes – Some women may develop gestational diabetes, which is hyperglycemia that occurs only during pregnancy. If untreated, this can cause these mothers to give birth to large babies who may have low glucose levels. Women who have had gestational diabetes may or may not go on to develop diabetes [117].

Chronically high blood glucose levels can cause progressive damage to body organs such as the kidneys, eyes, heart and blood vessels, and nerves. Chronic low blood sugar can lead to nerve damage [117].

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Notable variations by demographic group

Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90 to 95 percent of all diabetes cases, and it usually develops after the age of 40, which is why it used to be called ‘adult-onset’ diabetes.

African Americans and Hispanics tend to have higher rates of diabetes. Whether he cause of this is dietary or hereditary requires further research [118].

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Diet to improve Glucose

The World Health Organization states that simple lifestyle measures have been shown to be effective in preventing or delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes. Recent research also suggests that it is possible to halt or even reverse type 2 diabetes by making lifestyle changes.  A key factor here is having a diet plan that controls your blood sugar and your weight.

Recommended foods

  • Healthy carbohydrates – During digestion, sugars (simple carbohydrates) and starches (complex carbohydrates) break down into blood glucose. Focus on the healthiest carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans, peas and lentils) and low-fat dairy products.
  • Fiber-rich foods – Dietary fiber includes all parts of plant foods that your body can’t digest or absorb. Fiber moderates how your body digests sugars and helps control blood sugar levels. Foods high in fiber include vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes (beans, peas and lentils), whole-wheat flour and wheat bran.
  • “Good” fats – Foods containing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can help stabilise your blood sugar. These include avocados, almonds, pecans, walnuts and olives oil. But don’t overdo it, as all fats are high in calories [121].
  • Fish – Try to eat fish at least twice a week. Fish can be a good alternative to high-fat meats. For example, cod, tuna and halibut have less total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol than meat and poultry. Fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines and bluefish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which promote heart health by lowering blood fats called triglycerides.

Foods to avoid

  • Foods with Added Sugar. Junk food and sugary drinks in particular will cause blood sugar to spike and then fall sharply below baseline
  • Saturated fats. High-fat dairy products and animal proteins such as sausage and bacon contain saturated fats.
  • Trans fats. These types of fats are found in processed snacks, baked goods, and margarines.
  • Sodium. Aim for less than 2,300 mg of sodium a day. However, if you also have hypertension, you should aim for less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day [121].
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Supplements for Cholesterol

There is not enough evidence that dietary supplements can help to halt or reverse type 2 diabetes. Two supplements which have received a lot of attention in this area are:

Alpha-lipoic acid – Studies have examined the effects of alpha-lipoic acid supplements on complications of diabetes. Alpha-lipoic acid and vitamin E supplements taken separately or in combination did not improve cholesterol levels or the body’s response to insulin in a 2011 clinical trial of 102 people with type 2 diabetes [123].

Chromium – Found in many foods, chromium is an essential trace mineral. If you have too little chromium in your diet, your body can’t use glucose efficiently. Studies, including a 2007 systematic review, have found few or no benefits of chromium supplements for controlling diabetes or reducing the risk of developing it [123].

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Exercise to improve Glucose

Along with diet, exercise is widely regarded as the other key way to control your blood sugar and your weight. As well as improving blood sugar control, exercise can boost your overall fitness, and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, both of which are risk factors from diabetes [122].

Diabetics and pre-diabetics need to be mindful that exercise poses unique challenges. To exercise safely, it’s crucial to track your blood sugar before, during and after physical activity. You’ll learn how your body responds to exercise, which can help you prevent potentially dangerous blood sugar fluctuations [122].

For the best health benefits, experts recommend at least 150 minutes a week of moderately intense physical activities such as:

  • Fast walking
  • Lap swimming
  • Bicycling

If you’re taking insulin or medications that can cause low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), test your blood sugar 30 minutes before exercising.

Consider these general guidelines relative to your blood sugar level — measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or millimoles per liter (mmol/L).

  • Lower than 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L). Your blood sugar may be too low to exercise safely. Eat a small snack containing 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrates, such as fruit juice, fruit, crackers or even glucose tablets before you begin your workout.
  • 100 to 250 mg/dL (5.6 to 13.9 mmol/L). For most people, this is a safe pre-exercise blood sugar range.
  • 250 mg/dL (13.9 mmol/L) or higher. This is a caution zone — Your blood sugar may be too high to exercise safely. Before exercising, test your urine for ketones — substances made when your body breaks down fat for energy. The presence of ketones indicates that your body doesn’t have enough insulin to control your blood sugar [122].

If you exercise when you have a high level of ketones, you risk ketoacidosis — a serious complication of diabetes that needs immediate treatment. Instead, take measures to correct the high blood sugar levels and wait to exercise until your ketone test indicates an absence of ketones in your urine [122].

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Sleep for Glucose

Research has shown that sleep deprivation and insulin resistance may be linked. People who regularly lack sleep are will feel more tired through the day and more likely to eat comfort foods. A good night’s sleep is important for our hormones to regulate a large number of the body’s processes, such as appetite, weight control and the immune system [124].

Sleep can affect your blood sugar levels and your blood glucose control can also affect your sleep. If you have blood sugar levels that are either too high or too low overnight, you may find yourself tired through the next day. Lethargy and insomnia can both have their roots in blood sugar control, which can be a key in re-establishing a healthy sleep pattern [124]

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Other ways to improve Glucose

Smoking is now proven to be an independent risk factor for diabetes, and amongst diabetics it increases the risk of complications including heart disease and stroke. Smoking adds to the risk of developing all of these things, and in some cases, smoking can double the likelihood of these conditions.

Smoking and diabetes both increase the risk of heart disease in very similar ways, and so when combined, they greatly exacerbate the chances of suffering a heart related condition such as a heart attack or stroke. Both high levels of glucose in the blood and smoking damage the walls of the arteries in such a way that fatty deposits can build up much easier. As this occurs, the blood vessels narrow and make circulating blood much harder.

High blood glucose levels also have this effect on the blood vessels and blood flow, so if you smoke when you have diabetes, you are putting yourself at a much greater risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke [125]