What is your blood sugar level?
A person’s blood sugar level (also known as serum glucose level or plasma glucose level) is the amount of glucose (sugar) present in their blood at any given time.
Why is glucose important?
Glucose (also known as dextrose) is a simple sugar that is made by the body using carbohydrates from the diet. It is necessary for a wide range of essential bodily functions. In particular, it is important because it provides energy to tissues, the nervous system and the brain.
Glucose is transported from the intestines or liver to body cells via the bloodstream, and is made available for cell absorption via the hormone insulin, produced by the pancreas.
Glucose that is not directly used as an energy source by brain cells, intestinal cells and red blood cells are sent to the liver, adipose tissue and muscle cells, where it is absorbed and stored as glycogen. The glycogen stored by the liver can be converted back to glucose and returned to the bloodstream whenever insulin is low or absent.
How is blood sugar level measured?
Blood sugar is normally measured in molecular count, the unit for which is mmol/L (millimoles per liter). It is also sometimes measured as a weight in grams, the unit for which is mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter).
What is a healthy blood sugar level?
Normally, the body keeps its blood glucose level at a reference range of between 3.6 and 5.8 mmol/L (or 64.8 and 104.4 mg/dL).
The mean normal blood glucose level in humans is around 4 mmol/L (or 72 mg/dL), although the level obviously fluctuates throughout the day. As you might expect, glucose levels tend to be lowest in the morning, before the first meal of the day and spike after eating for 1 – 2 hours by a few milliMolar.
However, when it comes to diabetics, blood sugar fluctuates more widely.
How can blood sugar levels affect your health?
As glucose provides your body with the energy that it needs to carry out important physiological functions, too little sugar / glucose (a low blood sugar level) or too much sugar / glucose (a high blood sugar level) can lead to serious health problems.
Blood sugar levels outside the normal range may also be an indicator of an underlying medical condition, where this is not caused by the diet.
Hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia
A persistently high blood sugar level is referred to as hyperglycemia, whilst low levels are referred to as hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia is a potentially fatal condition. Symptoms include lethargy, impaired mental functioning, irritability, shaking, twitching, weakness in arm and leg muscles, pale complexion, sweating, paranoid or aggressive mentality and loss of consciousness. In extreme cases, brain damage is possible.
By contrast, hyperglycemia can involve the appetite being suppressed in the short term, with longer term health problems including heart disease, diabetes and eye, kidney, and nerve damage.
Diabetes mellitus is characterised by persistent hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels) either because the body does not produce enough insulin, or because cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced. It is the most common disease related to failure in blood sugar regulation.
For those with diabetes, it is particularly important to keep blood sugar levels within normal ranges, otherwise serious health complications can occur. For example, nephropathy (kidney disease), neuropathy (nerve disease), retinopathy (eye disease) and cardiovascular diseases (heart diseases).
Insulin resistance is another example of a condition where blood sugar levels are important. In this case, the body does not recognise the consumption of sugars and carbohydrates and this means that it continues to pump out insulin which is not needed. If this continues for a prolonged period of time, the pancreas can shut down and cease to produce insulin altogether. If care is not taken by those who have this condition to ensure a healthy diet and balanced blood sugar levels, it can eventually lead to type two diabetes.
What other factors can affect blood sugar levels?
Many factors can affect a person’s blood sugar levels. For example, it can be temporarily elevated as a result of severe stress (such as trauma, stroke, myocardial infarction, surgery or illness) or as a result of medication use, which can cause glucose levels to increase or decrease.
Alcohol intake also causes an initial surge in blood sugar, which later tends to cause levels to fall.
Keeping your blood sugar levels healthy
Making positive and healthy lifestyle choices (and, if necessary, changes) is a good first step to keeping your blood sugar levels under control. For example, taking regular exercise and (if required) losing weight in a sensible and healthy way.
Dietary changes, in particular, can be incredibly helpful in keeping blood sugar levels within normal ranges. For those with restricted diets (such as diabetics), it can often be a challenge to ensure an optimum intake of nutrients on a daily basis. Many people therefore also find that high quality, nutrients fortified meal shakes, as well as other health supplements designed to help keep blood sugar levels stable, can help with this.
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