Tracking my blood sugar | blog 1 : the background story
About a week ago I started checking my blood glucose with a glucometer (small machine with a finger-picking lancet and test strips) because I wanted a gage of what my glucose (blood sugar) levels were. Why would I want to do that? Well, read on and I'll explain.
My mom worked as a clinical trials coordinator in diabetes research for many years and taught me a lot about diabetic education, how to understand the readings of a glucometer, and what normal levels should be.
About fourteen years ago I was graduating from college and complained to my mom that I was feeling tired often. Literally taking naps between classes, sometimes on the lawn at my school if I only had a short time spare. My mom thought maybe my blood sugar was low or spiking then crashing so she gave me a glucometer to track my glucose readings. That summer after graduating I lived with my mom for a couple months. During this time I attended a few educational talks with dietitians at the research center where my mom worked. These classes when over meals and ingredients that were recommended for diabetics or pre-diabetics.
That summer I checked my fasting blood sugar first thing in the morning (fasting because I hadn't eaten since the night before). I would then check before lunch, one hour after lunch and two hours after lunch (aka postprandial) to give me a sense of how my body was metabolizing the food I ate. I learned about which foods caused my blood sugar to spike, which didn't or which caused my blood sugar to elevate but then remain elevated for longer than desired (hint: pizza. A pairing of mostly carbs and fats).
If you're wondering what all of this means, it's ok, I too am just learning and that is the point of this blog series. Why to care about blood sugar and how to tell what is going on, why it's going on and what to do about it.
To be honest, I can't remember much of the data from those early days, but I can attest to the fact that when I was checking my blood sugar I was more aware of the types of foods I was eating. I didn't want to overeat sweets (I have a radical sweet tooth) because I knew I would be seeing the reading on my glucometer in an hour and I didn't want to actually see (in numbers!) how much my body was working to mitigate my sugar intake. I put more effort into healthy snacks and balanced meals. I do remember my energy improving. And all the while I believe my blood sugar was within normal ranges. I was just working on keeping it steady.
(Sidenote: I recognize the privilege it is to a) have access to a glucometer and test strips, b) not be insulin dependent or diagnosed pre-diabetic/diabetic where checking and regulating blood sugar is critical and takes an inspiring about of vigilance.)
Now let me bring you to present day. Why am I checking my blood sugar again? Much of my healing and acupuncture practice is in women's health, fertility, healthy aging, perimenopause and menopause. Integrative medicine, herbs, acupuncture can be such vital complimentary medicines for conventional medicine on these topics so I am always studying and learning more on how to best serve my patients.
All of the aforementioned stages of womanhood are linked to hormones and the female endocrine system is an orchestrated dance between glands, hormones, and the nervous system.
In terms of blood sugar, the hormone insulin is released from the pancreas to usher glucose from the blood to inside all the cells of the body for energy.
Healthy aging, and most importantly dynamic easeful aging is often tied to gluose metabolism.
It is known that as we age (regardless of gender, but I am specifically talking about the female body here) our bodies become less sensitive to insulin, increasing the potential for insulin resistance (stubborn weight gain around the middle, fatigue, sleep disturbance). This is when the pancreas releases insulin to shepard glucose into the cells but the cells don't listen to the insulin. As a result, the pancreas thinks it has to send out more and more glucose to activate the cells which results in overtaxing the pancreas and increase insulin and glucose levels in the blood.
Downstream effects of one system being out of balance can lead to imbalance somewhere else.
Here's a little tidbit about me. I have been suspecting something is off about my glucose for about a year. One sign of insulin resistance is skin tags and I have noticed a couple new skin tags on my body in the past couple years. My grandparents had blood sugar issues so there is familial relevance. And I lack metabolic flexibility, meaning I get hangry.
So naturally, I wanted to get a handle on my health now and I bought a new glucometer to set out on the journey.
I will be writing this series as a journal. I will tracking my findings, share things I learn and read and of course share my experiences along the way.
I have been hearing a lot of buzz about continuous glucose monitors. Quarter size meters adhered to the skin (on the tricep or on the abdomen) that give you real time readings of your blood glucose. While I am researching if I want to go down this route and which one is both efficient and affordable I have chosen to use a simple glucometer. I bought this one over the counter from the Target pharmacy and purchased 100 test strips to start. It was a total of $35 and has lasted about 3 weeks so far.
Much to my surprise my fasting blood sugar has been consistently higher than I would like to see.
According to Dr. Sara Gotfried optimal fasting glucose is :
Optimal 70-85 mg/dl
Borderline 86-00 mg/dl
Prediabetes 100-125 mg/dl
Diabetes > 125 mg/dl
My fasting glucose readings in the mornings this past week have been: 111, 107, 106, 96, 90, 107, 102, 87, 113
When I noticed my levels were technically in the prediabetic category I texted my mom. Immediately. And I ordered Women, Food, and Hormones by Sara Gotfried M.D. and Glucose Revolution by Jessie Inchauspe. I also dug out my copy of The Insulin Resistance Cookbook a friend told me about that really helped her cystic acne and PCOS.
I also started exercising more. I've been incorporating 45 minute walks into most mornings.
On the surface my BMI is normal. Even my mom didn't believe me when I told her my readings. She still thinks I have low blood sugar, but I had a feeling there might be a little insulin resistance going on.
I haven't done any blood tests to confirm insulin resistance like fasting blood insulin levels, but plan to at some point. I want to try and do this body experiment as frugally as possible because I know the majority of us don't have a ton of extra money to use on added blood tests or doctor visits.
This is such a large topic that I will continue with added findings in the future blogs. I just wanted to give you some back story into how I became interested in this topic and why it's important to know our bodies and understand them. I suspect a lot of women have underlying blood glucose issues.
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.