Diabetes Management: Protect Your Brain, Body, and Health

Diabetes is a severe and life-threatening disease affecting millions worldwide, with as many as one in every 12 people diagnosed yearly.

Every cell in your body utilizes glucose (sugar) as its primary fuel. Healthy blood glucose levels are essential to life. To measure your blood glucose levels, your doctor will commonly prescribe one or more of several tests.

Assessing Blood Glucose Levels for Diabetes

Fasting Blood Glucose Levels

A fasting blood glucose test is a test that measures the amount of sugar in your blood after you haven't eaten or drunk anything except water for at least 8 hours. It's important to follow your healthcare provider's instructions before the test, such as fasting for the recommended amount of time, as this can affect the accuracy of the results. After the test, you can resume your normal eating and drinking habits.

During the test, a healthcare provider will take a sample of your blood, either as part of a more extensive blood test or by pricking your finger with a small needle. If they use the finger prick test, they will then put the blood on a strip to measure the sugar in your blood. The test results can help your healthcare provider to diagnose diabetes or to monitor your blood sugar levels if you already have diabetes.

A normal result on a fasting glucose test is a level between 70-100 mg/dL. Anything higher or lower may compromise your health. A fasting blood glucose over 125 mg/dL indicates that you have diabetes. A fasting blood glucose below 70 mg/dL suggests that you have hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). In the high and low-level scenarios, your doctor will evaluate if the results are from other medications or a disease process.

Blood glucose follows the "Goldilocks Principle," which means that low glucose is bad, high glucose is bad, and there's a particular range of healthy blood glucose.

Hemoglobin H1c Levels

Hemoglobin A1c (also called HbA1c) is a test that measures the average amount of sugar in your blood over the past 2 to 3 months. Hemoglobin is a protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout your body. When sugar in your blood sticks to hemoglobin, it forms a substance called HbA1c.

The HbA1c test is essential for people with diabetes because it can help them and their healthcare providers to monitor their blood sugar control over time. High levels of HbA1c indicate that your blood sugar has been consistently high, which can increase the risk of developing diabetes-related complications.

The HbA1c test is done by taking a blood sample, usually from a vein in your arm, and sending it to a lab for analysis. The results are typically given as a percentage, with the target for healthy people being between 4-5.6%. An HbA1c of over 6.5% indicates that you have diabetes.

Glucose Tolerance Test

A glucose tolerance test is a test that helps your doctor see how your body handles sugar. During the test, you will be asked to drink a sugary drink. Then, your blood will be drawn several times over the next few hours to measure how much sugar is in your blood at different times.

The test is used to diagnose diabetes or prediabetes when your body has trouble processing sugar. The test can also help your doctor see how well your body responds to sugar and how much insulin your body makes. Insulin is a hormone that helps your body use sugar for energy. Your blood sugar can get too high if your body has trouble making enough insulin or using it effectively.

The test is used to diagnose diabetes or prediabetes when your body has trouble processing sugar. The test can also help your doctor see how well your body responds to sugar and how much insulin your body makes.

You may feel uncomfortable drinking the sugary drink during the test. Still, the test is vital to help your doctor monitor your health. Following your doctor's instructions about fasting and other preparations before the test is essential to get the most accurate results.

Normal results for a glucose tolerance test vary depending on the specific test used, as well as factors like age, gender, and medical history. Generally speaking, normal results for a standard glucose tolerance test are:

  • Fasting blood sugar level: Less than 100 mg/dL
  • Blood sugar level one hour after drinking the glucose drink: Less than 200 mg/dL
  • Blood sugar level two hours after drinking the glucose drink: Less than 140 mg/dL

Abnormal results on a glucose tolerance test may not necessarily mean that a person has diabetes or another medical condition, but further testing may be needed to determine the cause of the abnormal results.

This image describes 3 different tests use to diagnose diabetes, and provides the ranges for each test for diabetes, prediabetes, and healthy individuals.

Working with your healthcare provider to understand your test results and what they mean for your health is essential to ensuring you are managed properly. It's important to note that different healthcare providers may use slightly different ranges to interpret test results depending on their background, training, and specific case.

Types of Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that can cause symptoms and long-term severe health complications if not managed properly. There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2.

Type 1 Diabetes

In Type 1 diabetes, also known as "insulin-dependent" or "juvenile" diabetes, the immune system mistakenly destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, leading to an absolute insulin deficiency. Without these insulin-producing cells, the body cannot produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels, leaving individuals reliant on regular insulin injections for survival.

Type 2 Diabetes

Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) is caused by genetics and lifestyle choices (poor diet, lack of exercise, etc). It occurs when the body's cells do not efficiently take up glucose from the bloodstream due to disturbances in their functioning or structure. Impaired glucose tolerance can lead to type 2 diabetes if left untreated.

In type 2, either insufficient insulin is produced, or the body's cells become resistant to its effects. This condition is caused by genetic and environmental factors such as diet, obesity, and lack of exercise. This leads to high levels of glucose in the blood, which can damage the organs and tissues over time. Unlike type 1, type 2 can often be managed with lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly and following a healthy diet. Medication may also be prescribed if lifestyle changes are ineffective at controlling blood sugar levels.

Although typically classified into type 1 and type 2, there is also another form of diabetes called Type 3c diabetes. This condition is also known as "double diabetes," and it occurs when an individual has features of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Consequences of Poorly Managed Diabetes on the Body, Brain, and Mind

Poorly managed blood glucose affects every cell and organ in your body and can lead to chronic and debilitating disease if left untreated.

  1. Cardiovascular disease: People with diabetes are at an increased risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems due to damage to blood vessels and nerves.
  2. Neuropathy: High blood sugar levels can damage the nerves throughout the body, causing numbness, tingling, and pain in the hands and feet.
  3. Nephropathy: Diabetes can damage the kidneys and lead to chronic kidney disease, resulting in kidney failure.
  4. Retinopathy: High blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels in the retina, causing vision problems and, in severe cases, blindness.
  5. Foot complications: Nerve damage and poor foot circulation increase the risk of foot ulcers, infections, and amputations.
  6. Skin complications: People with diabetes are more prone to skin infections, including bacterial and fungal infections.
  7. Dental problems: High blood sugar levels can lead to dental problems such as gum disease and tooth decay. Diabetes can also make your breath smell like nail polish remover or "keto- breath."
  8. Gastroparesis: Glucose-related damage to the nerves that control the stomach leads to delayed stomach emptying and digestive problems.
  9. Cancer: Diabetes can increase the risk of certain types of cancer.
  10. Mental Health: Diabetes can also negatively impact mental health, leading to depression and anxiety.
  11. Liver disease: People with diabetes are also more prone to fatty liver disease, a condition in which fat builds up in the liver and causes inflammation.
  12. Insomnia: Diabetes can lead to difficulty sleeping, resulting in fatigue, memory problems, and mood swings.
This image illustrates the systemic effect of blood sugar dysregulation.

Many people don’t realize that diabetes can also affect the brain in numerous ways. Chronic inflammation in people with diabetes contributes to the development and progression of neurodegeneration. A diet high in saturated fat and low in fiber can also exacerbate this inflammation caused by diabetes and increase blood sugar levels even more.

Diabetes and the Brain and Nervous System

High blood sugar levels can lead to inflammation in the brain, which has been linked to an increased risk of dementia, memory problems, and even depression. There appears to be a link between diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. Studies have shown that people with type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Some researchers even refer to Alzheimer's as "type 3 diabetes."

This image illustrates the factors associated with dysglycemia and the development of diabetic dementia.

Many people don’t realize that diabetes can also affect the brain in numerous ways. Chronic inflammation in people with diabetes contributes to the development and progression of neurodegeneration, such as dementia, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's Diseases.

Furthermore, research has found that individuals with diabetes are more likely to experience age-related cognitive decline than those without the disease. It can also lead to complications such as nerve damage, which can interfere with communication between cells in the brain and affect memory, focus, and general cognition. Additionally, diabetes increases one's risk of developing depression or anxiety due to hormone changes caused by high blood sugar levels.

Diabetic Neuropathy

Diabetic neuropathy, a complication of diabetes in which nerve damage occurs due to high blood sugar levels, can also cause serious issues with memory and cognitive functioning. Nerve damage affects the brain's ability to process and interpret signals from other body parts, leading to problems such as difficulty concentrating or making decisions.

In addition, people with diabetes must manage their condition properly through lifestyle modifications such as regular physical activity, weight management, proper nutrition, smoking cessation, and stress reduction. Regular monitoring of blood sugar levels allows individuals to make informed decisions about their treatment plan while preventing long-term complications associated with poor diabetic control.

Managing Diabetes

This article is for informational purposes only. Nothing contained in it is or is intended to be medical advice.

Managing diabetes is essential to ensure that these complications are avoided. Eating a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and taking medications (if prescribed) as directed can be the mainstay to help keep blood sugar levels within the normal range. This may help reduce the risk of developing associated health issues. Additionally, keeping track of one’s blood sugar levels using glucose meters or continuous glucose monitors can give important insight into how lifestyle choices and treatments are affecting their health. Regular visits with your doctor will also help you stay on top of any potential issues related to diabetes and ensure that it’s being managed properly.

Complementary Management

There are many natural ways to provide additional control of your blood sugar and possibly prevent any further bodily harm.

Important: Just because something is natural (such as a vitamin, mineral, herb, etc) doesn't mean it is harmless. The following are several non-prescription items shown in the research to complement traditional management. As with any intervention, consult your provider before starting or stopping any supplement or medication.

Several vitamins and supplements can help manage diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity, reducing blood sugar levels, and reducing inflammation. Here are some examples:

  1. Molecular Hydrogen: Research has shown that consuming molecular hydrogen can lower blood glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides, body fat, inflammation, and oxidative stress and protect against the damage caused by elevated blood glucose.
  2. Vitamin D: Studies have shown that people with diabetes often have lower levels of vitamin D than people without diabetes. Taking vitamin D supplements may help improve insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation.
  3. Magnesium: Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a key role in insulin sensitivity and glucose control. Research has shown that magnesium supplementation may help improve blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
  4. Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats that can help reduce inflammation and improve insulin sensitivity. Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish oil supplements, flaxseed oil, and chia seeds.
  5. Chromium: Chromium is a mineral that helps regulate blood sugar levels by enhancing the action of insulin. Some studies have shown that chromium supplementation may improve glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes.
  6. Berberine: Berberine is a natural compound found in several plants, including goldenseal and barberry. Research has shown that berberine can help improve insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
  7. Cinnamon: Cinnamon may improve blood sugar control by increasing insulin sensitivity and slowing down the digestion of carbohydrates.
  8. Alpha-Lipoic Acid: Alpha-lipoic acid is an antioxidant that may help improve insulin sensitivity and reduce oxidative stress.
  9. Gymnema Sylvestre: This herb may help reduce blood sugar levels by blocking sugar absorption in the gut and increasing insulin secretion.
  10. Fenugreek: Fenugreek seeds may help improve blood sugar control by slowing down the absorption of carbohydrates and increasing insulin sensitivity.
  11. Bitter Melon: Bitter melon is a fruit that may help improve blood sugar control by increasing insulin secretion and reducing glucose production in the liver.
  12. Probiotics: Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in the gut and can help improve overall health. Some studies have found that probiotics may help improve glucose metabolism and reduce inflammation in people with diabetes.

It is important to note that supplements should not replace a healthy diet and exercise routine. Always talk to your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen.

Undiagnosed or untreated diabetes has serious consequences not just on physical health but also on mental well-being.

"When Can I Stop Taking My Diabetes Medication?"

Deciding when to stop taking diabetes medication is a complex process and should be discussed with your healthcare provider. While there are some circumstances in which it may be safe to reduce or stop taking medication, the decision should only be made after evaluating your blood sugar levels and other factors affecting diabetes management. It is important to note that diabetes medications are prescribed to help manage blood sugar levels, not to cure the condition. Although you may experience brief periods of lower-than-normal blood sugar levels, taking your medications as prescribed by your doctor to regulate them properly over time is still important. Stopping or decreasing diabetes medication could cause a sudden increase in blood sugar levels and trigger further health complications.

The decision to stop taking medication should only be made after discussing the potential benefits and risks with your healthcare provider. Generally speaking, patients can safely stop taking their diabetes medications if their blood sugar levels have been consistently controlled for at least six months without any signs of complications such as kidney or eye damage. Additionally, suppose lifestyle modifications such as regular physical activity and healthy eating habits have been implemented sufficiently and proven effective in managing glucose levels over time. In that case, medication may no longer be required.

It is also crucial to understand that stopping medication without consulting a healthcare professional can lead to serious health risks. If you are considering reducing or stopping your diabetes medications, speak with your doctor first so they can discuss individualized options based on your medical history, current health status, and risk factors associated with diabetes management.

The Takeaway on Diabetes

The key takeaway is that managing your diabetes is more important than ever for preserving long-term brain health. Taking proactive measures such as eating well, staying active, and visiting your doctor can make all the difference in protecting yourself from negative consequences associated with this serious condition. By following these tips, you’ll be able to ensure that your diabetes is managed properly and that your cognitive health remains in top shape.

For further information and resources on managing your diabetes, the American Diabetes Association has a wealth of helpful information. The association’s website includes diet, exercise, medications, and more advice. Additionally, you can speak with your doctor about any specific questions or concerns regarding managing your diabetes and preserving brain health.

It’s essential to manage your diabetes to protect yourself from long-term complications related to this serious condition. By staying informed and taking proactive measures such as eating healthy, exercising regularly, and visiting with a healthcare provider regularly, you can maintain optimal cognitive health for years to come.

The Bottom Line: A good relationship with a doctor and managing diabetes is essential for preserving long-term brain health. Taking proactive steps such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and monitoring glucose levels can make all the difference in protecting you from the negative consequences of this serious condition. Start taking action to ensure you do all you can to manage your diabetes for optimal brain health.

Dr. Antonucci
Dr. Matthew Antonucci
Doctor | Educator | Researcher
Dr. Antonucci is an experienced chiropractic neurologist, board certified in functional neurology and multiple sub-specialties, a researcher, and an international lecturer, currently seeing patients out of Minneapolis, MN. He trained extensively under Prof. Frederick R. Carrick, maintains an active private practice with licenses in multiple states, and has provided breakthrough neurorehabilitation and performance training to thousands of patients. He consults with several NFL and NHL franchises on performance training and concussion. His work has been featured on ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBS, Fox News, and more. He has delivered more than 11,000 hours of presentations, both nationally and internationally, on behalf of the Carrick Institute. Most importantly, he is a loving husband and the father of five amazing boys, whom he hopes to inspire to follow in his footsteps.

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