Wednesday, 24 February 2010

What Are Normal Blood Sugar Levels and Why Should We Care What They Are?

What Are Normal Blood Sugar Levels and Why Should We Care What They Are?

Because, as this article will explain, if they are not normal we may be dealing with a killer...

But first, the blood sugar levels mentioned in the above title refer to the amount of glucose being carried in your bloodstream that is there, quite normally, usually as a result of recently eaten food. And why should we care about it if it is perfectly normal for it to be there? Actually, it is probably more important to know if they are NOT at normal levels, because that might mean, in some cases anyway, that you have a potential health risk in the form of a diabetic or pre-diabetic condition, and that is not to be taken lightly. The problem is that you are unlikely to know what your blood sugar levels are unless your doctor sends you for a blood test, but more of that later.

Just to explain, in simple terms, glucose is the primary source of energy needed by the trillions of cells of the body for them to function properly and perform their ceaseless biochemical metabolic functions that keep our organs and tissues and our bodies as a whole, operating properly. The glucose is carried to the cells, together with other nutrients, by way of the blood stream that constantly circulates throughout the body.

Nutrients are obtained from the foods we eat each day and when those foods are processed by the digestive system, mechanically and chemically, the resultant quantities of glucose and other nutrients from the digested food, pass through the intestine walls into the bloodstream. In a properly functioning human body it is an efficient process, the fast flowing river of blood coursing through the network of blood vessels circulates and delivers to the cells a continuous supply of nutrients and oxygen needed to keep the body alive. At the same time unwanted waste material is collected from the cells and delivered to where they can be subsequently excreted, thus keeping the body in a healthy state.

The foods we eat are composed of various forms of protein, carbohydrate, and fat, together with water. The glucose that eventually arrives in the bloodstream is obtained mainly from the carbohydrate portions of that food. Many of the carbohydrates are wonderful nutritious foods, but many of them provide a large amount of sugar and that, added to the extra fats and oils that are commonly part of our popular north American food intake, leads to the consumption of more calories than are really needed to support the energy we expend in our daily lives with the end result being that we gain weight.

And being overweight while continuing to follow a diet high in the wrong types of carbohydrate and too much saturated fat, fats from animal sources, and probably taking little or no exercise, can lead to obesity which in turn may well lead to type-2 diabetes. Type-2 diabetes is the disease in which the levels of glucose in the bloodstream are elevated to an unsafe level. And have no illusions about that, unless properly managed and controlled the consequences are serious, leading to health risks that shorten life and, to be blunt, diabetes is a killer.

Diabetes is a serious condition of high blood sugar levels and an impaired ability of the body to reduce them to a safe level.

In the United States, in addition to the known cases of diabetes, it is estimated that there are 6 million people who have the disease but are undiagnosed, they just don't know they have it.

And there are a staggering 57 million people classified as pre-diabetic, on the road to full diabetes.

Without a blood test you would not know, so what to do?

There are some symptoms that may indicate a diabetic problem and if you experience them you should see a doctor without delay. Not everyone will necessarily have such symptoms and it is enough to go for assessment if you are substantially overweight. But here are some of the symptoms typical of diabetes, aptly referred to in a Mayo Clinic release as the "Classic red flags of type-2 diabetes." They include: Increased thirst, Frequent urination, Fatigue, Blurred vision. Tingling in the hands or feet, and there are others.

So what are normal blood sugar levels?

Not so much to the point now, after explaining the dangers of elevated blood sugars, but just for the record, without giving here a full explanation of what the units of measurement mean (that would have to be made elsewhere), I will just say that they do fluctuate throughout the day, depending on a number of factors but here are the guidelines:

Fasting blood sugar levels measured after about 8 hours without food or drink other than water should be less than 108 mg/dL (6.0 mmol/L).

According to the American Diabetes Association, for a random test taken during the day they should be less than 140 mg/dL (7.8 mmol/L). That sound high to me, but I found that in an ADA reference on normal blood sugars.

My own healthcare providers inform me that except for a two hour period after a meal, the blood sugar levels should be less than 108 mg/dL (6.0 mmol/L) and they should always be above 65mg/dl (3.6 mmol/L).

And for a test that indicates the levels over a 12 week period, called the A1c, or Glycosylated hemoglobin test, the normal level is less than 6%. What that means is that less than 6% of the hemoglobin fraction in your blood has glucose attached to it. The hemoglobin content of blood, including water, is about 35% and it is hemoglobin that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body for use by the body's cells.

Author's Comment

I have been a diabetic for more than 20 years and write from the perspective of a patient with an understanding of what my fellow diabetics face.

For additional information on a wide range of diabetes topics visit my diabetes information blog and here for more discussions about diabetes.

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