Dr. Dennis Van Hoof, PhD, CLC
“Diabetics are the sweetest of them all.”
Having diabetes means that you need to constantly monitor your blood glucose level. Everything you do influences your blood glucose, and keeping it tightly within a normal/healthy range is of vital importance. Too low and you face the immediate danger of a coma, as your brain relies on glucose from the blood as its primary source of energy; too high and you build a solid foundation to develop complications like kidney failure, blindness, amputations and more.
Insulin and glucagon counteract each other’s functions (see Blog post “Insulin and Diabetes“) to maintain homeostasis by lowering or increasing blood glucose in response to factors that change blood glucose (like food or exercise). To get a good idea of the amounts we are talking about, I calculated everything as number of sugar cubes.
The glucose concentration in healthy people who have not consumed anything sugary for many hours (also known as “fasting”) is somewhere between 70 and 100 mg/dL. It will go up after a sugar-rich meal, but normally no higher than 140 mg/dL. That is just 1 to 2 sugar cubes worth of glucose in the entire 1 to 1.5 gallons of blood in a human body.
Sounds like very little? If a sugar cube were made out of pure glucose, it would contain 15,000-million-million-million glucose molecules; that’s a 15 with 21 zeros!
“There are on average 20,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 glucose molecules circulating in your blood stream.”
If a single can of soda contains 10 sugar cubes, where does all that sugar go when you gulp it down? Most of it ends up in your muscles and liver, where it is converted into glycogen for later use (see Blog post “The bitter-sweet truth“). Your muscles can store 75 to 200 sugar cubes and your liver 25 to 50 sugar cubes (depending on your size, weight and physical fitness), which is enough to get you through lazy day doing nothing at all or a couple of hours exercise. Once you’ve reached your maximum glycogen storage capacity, any additional sugar you consume will be converted into fat.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, a fasting blood glucose level between 100 and 125 mg/dL indicates Pre-Diabetes, and anything above that would be diagnosed as Type 2 Diabetes. A constant high blood glucose level (hyperglycemia) over extended periods of time is known to damage the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) that provide your organs with nutrients and oxygen. If the blood supply becomes too bad, organs like eyes and kidneys as well as toes, fingers and even whole limbs, will starve to death.
All Type 1 Diabetics (and some Type 2 Diabetics) face the challenge of trying to take over the job of their pancreas to maintain a healthy blood glucose level through insulin injections (see Blog post “Insulin and Diabetes“). Now that you know the very tight range they are aiming for, it is understandable how difficult it is to administer exactly the right amount of insulin. Very wide blood glucose fluctuations from unintentionally under- or overdosing may be just as damaging as the constant high level in Pre-Diabetics and Type 2 Diabetics with poor blood glucose control. An extremely low blood glucose level (hypoglycemia) is just as dangerous. Since your brain uses primarily glucose to function, too little glucose in your blood can make you pass out and end up in a coma. The damaging effects of long-term hypoglycemia are only just being discovered.
Nobody claims it is easy to have diabetes, but keeping your blood glucose levels within acceptable range is doable by harmonizing healthy eating with regular exercise. It’s not just about the choices and portions of food, but also the correct timing of eating (and drinking) to support your physical activities (see Blog post “Timing for excellent diabtes management“).
Hyperglycemia and exercise:
Hypoglycemia and exercise:
Keep an eye out for my next blog, and I hope to see you soon to get you started on the journey to your new life!
Dr. Dennis Van Hoof is a Certified Life Coach (CLC) with an academic PhD degree in Biochemical Physiology. By combining 20 years of first-hand personal diabetes experience with his in-depth scientific background, he developed a method to efficiently manage his own diabetes in a sustainable way. To learn how you can do this too, reach out for personal Diabetic Lifestyle Coaching or follow a group workshop that is specifically tailored to people with Type 1 or 2 Diabetes as well as pre-Diabetics and those at risk due to being overweight or obese. His clients thrive with their challenges and become an inspiration™ to others — with or without diabetes.