Blood glucose (sugar) levels affect your overall health. High blood glucose is connected to diabetes, and increases the risk of complications including heart disease and kidney disease. Whether you have had diabetes for years or have just learned your blood sugar is high, learning how to manage your blood sugar can improve your health for years to come.
How To Reduce High Blood Sugar Levels Immediately
There are many lifestyle changes you can make to control your blood glucose. These include:
- Reduce sugar, starchy foods, and saturated fat
- Eat fiber, vegetables, healthy fats, and protein
- Exercise regularly
- Quit smoking
- See your doctor regularly
How Does High Blood Sugar Affect Your Health?
Glucose (sugar) provides all of the cells in your body with the energy they need to function normally. Normally, your endocrine (hormone) system regulates the amount of glucose in the blood to keep it at the right level. However, if your blood sugar is too high, this can affect your health.
High Blood Sugar leads to High Insulin Levels and Diabetes
Insulin is a hormone involved in blood sugar control. When your body senses that blood glucose is high, such as after a meal, the pancreas releases insulin. Cells in your body respond to insulin by taking glucose out of the blood and using or storing it.
However, if your insulin levels are often high, you can develop insulin resistance. This means that the body does not lower blood glucose as much as normal in response to insulin. The pancreas has to work harder to control blood sugar.
Eventually, the pancreas may no longer produce enough insulin to manage blood glucose. This leads to diabetes, a health condition involving hormonal changes and very high levels of glucose in the blood. Medications and/or synthetic insulin injections are needed to manage diabetes. If blood sugar is not controlled, this can cause additional health issues.
High Blood Sugar affects Blood Fats, Heart Health, and Liver Health
People with high blood glucose frequently also have high levels of lipids (fats) in their blood. These lipids include cholesterol and total triglycerides. Lipids are a normal part of the body, and have important functions including energy storage and brain health. However, high lipid levels can be problematic.
High blood lipids can increase blood pressure and affect heart health. Over time, lipids accumulate in the walls of blood vessels and form hard plaques. This stiffens and narrows the arteries, causing more pressure from the blood. There is also a risk that a plaque could break away from the vessel wall and form a blood clot, which could cause a heart attack or stroke.
Diabetes and insulin resistance also increase the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This condition involves high levels of lipids (fats) in the blood, and fatty deposits and inflammation in the liver. Improving blood glucose control can reduce your risk of developing NAFLD.
High Blood Sugar affects Eyes, Kidneys, Nerves & Feet
In addition to forming plaques in the walls of large arteries, high blood glucose can also damage capillaries, or small blood vessels. Capillaries carry nutrients to all of the tissues of the body. High sugar levels can cause damage over time to these small vessels, and to delicate organs.
High blood glucose can damage the retinas of the eyes. The retina is a thin layer of light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye which allows you to see. Over time, high blood glucose can cause the small blood vessels around the retinas to grow abnormally. This is known as diabetic retinopathy, and it can cause vision loss.
In men with diabetes, uncontrolled high blood sugar can damage blood circulation to the penis and cause erectile dysfunction.
The kidneys are also a delicate organ which can be harmed by high blood sugar. The kidneys are important for filtering wastes out of the blood stream. Damage due to diabetes and high blood sugar is a leading cause of chronic kidney disease and even kidney failure. Keeping blood glucose to controlled levels is important for kidney health.
High blood sugar can also cause damage to nerves, which is known as diabetic retinopathy. This is particularly noticeable in the hands and feet. Nerve damage can cause tingling or numbness in the hands and feet. Since there is less sensation in the feet, this can also lead to foot injuries during normal activities like walking.
Symptoms Of High Blood Sugar
Uncontrolled high blood sugar can have symptoms such as:
- Peeing frequently
- Dry mouth
Over time, high blood sugar can cause complications, which have other symptoms. For example, damage to the retinas of the eyes can cause blurred vision. Keeping blood glucose to controlled levels can prevent complications and improve your health for years to come.
Tips To Reduce Blood Sugar Immediately & Safely
There are many ways to keep your blood sugar under control, including adopting a healthy diet, getting enough exercise, quitting smoking, and seeing your doctor regularly.
Healthy Diet to Reduce Blood Sugar
Blood sugar is very connected to diet. When food is digested after a meal, blood sugar rises as glucose is absorbed by the lining of the gut. The pancreas then releases insulin, causing the tissues of the body to take glucose out of the blood. How much blood glucose and insulin levels rise depends on what type of food was in the meal.
Sugary foods, simple starches, and very processed foods are broken down quickly and lead to a rapid, high spike in blood glucose. More insulin is needed to keep the glucose to a normal level, which contributes to insulin resistance and developing or worsening diabetes. Limiting these sugary foods can help manage your blood sugar levels.
Additionally, you should also limit saturated fats, trans fats, and fried foods. These foods increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, which is already higher for people with diabetes and prediabetes. Saturated fats are also high-calorie and low in nutrients, which contributes to obesity and high blood sugar.
Foods high in sugar, saturated fat, and trans fats should be limited, including:
- Cane sugar (white or raw)
- Syrups such as corn syrup, agave syrup, or maple syrup
- Soda, sweet tea, and other sugary drinks
- Cake, cookies, and desserts
- White bread, pasta, and rice
- Animal fats such as red meats, hot dogs, and butter
- Trans fats, margarine, and shortening
- Fried foods
- Ultra-processed foods such as shelf-stable muffins, chips, sweetened breakfast cereals, and fast food
Meals with fiber, healthy fats, and protein slow down digestion and lead to a slower, sustained rise in blood glucose. This allows you to feel satiated and energized, without a high spike in blood sugar.
High-fiber diets are very beneficial for managing blood sugar. High-fiber diets improve blood glucose control and blood lipids, reduce body weight and inflammation, and even prevent early death in people with diabetes and prediabetes. Healthy foods rich in dietary fiber include:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Colorful vegetables such as tomatoes and yellow squash
- Root vegetables such as carrots and turnips
- Fruits such as apples and blueberries
- Beans, peas, lentils, and seeds
- Whole grains, oat bran, unbuttered popcorn
Exercise for Blood Sugar Control
Physical movement is a cornerstone of managing blood sugar. Both aerobic exercise and resistance exercise (weight lifting) are beneficial in improving blood glucose control. Aerobic exercise and resistance exercise also both improve blood lipids, blood pressure, and overall fitness. And the benefit is even greater when both types of exercise are used!
The bottom line is that all movement is good, and the best exercise is whichever type you like to do and will stick to regularly.
Quit Smoking for your Overall Health — including Blood Sugar
Smoking worsens overall health for everyone, particularly people who need to watch their blood sugar. Diabetes and prediabetes already increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and smoking makes this risk much higher. Smoking worsens diabetes complications such as kidney disease and nerve damage. Smoking even seems to worsen glucose control and make developing diabetes more likely, although this is still being studied.
By quitting smoking, you can improve your heart health and (pre)diabetes management. If you are ready to quit, talk to your doctor– there are medications available to make the process easier.
Work with your Doctor
One of the most important ways to manage blood glucose is to regularly see your primary care provider. Your doctor can track your health over time, and work with you to develop healthy habits which work for your lifestyle. If needed, your doctor can prescribe treatments to reduce your blood glucose, which may include oral medications or insulin injections. Developing an ongoing relationship with a primary care provider can lead to better health outcomes, lower healthcare costs, fewer hospitalizations, and better satisfaction with your healthcare.
High blood sugar can lead to health problems including diabetes, liver disease, and nerve damage. Fortunately, there are ways to manage your blood sugar levels. Adopting a healthy diet with vegetables and fiber, exercising regularly, and talking to your doctor can help you stay healthy now and in the future.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why does high blood glucose cause frequent urination?
When blood glucose is very high, there will be sugar in the urine. Before modern blood tests for diabetes, sweet-tasting urine was even how diabetes was diagnosed! In the kidneys, this sugar pulls extra water from the blood into the urine, which causes dehydration, thirst, and the need to pee frequently.
Are there supplements I can take to improve blood glucose control?
Studies have found early evidence that several nutrients and herbs may improve blood glucose control, including zinc, vitamin C, and berberine. However, these have not yet become mainstream treatments. If you decide to take supplements, tell your healthcare provider all of the supplements you take.
Does high blood sugar really cause erectile dysfunction?
Over half of men with diabetes have erectile dysfunction, and it is 3.5 times more common for men with diabetes than for other men. Fortunately, there are treatments available.