As part of my opinion pieces I thought I need to do one on lowering blood glucose levels. I’ve heard lots of weird and wonderful approaches to lowering blood glucose levels. However, the ones discussed below are not completely crazy. It’s more how they are positioned as the only thing people need to do in order to control their diabetes. When in reality, there’s more factors at hand. So in this article, I want to delve into this misconceptions and place these strategies into the proper context.
I’ve blogged on some of these subjects before but today I’m putting together my list of the biggest myths about controlling blood glucose levels.
Myth 1 – supplements control glucose levels
There is limited research into this topic. Diabetes UK does not nor does any reputable organisation promote the use of supplements to specifically help with lowering and controlling blood glucose levels. Some research studies have indicated that certain supplements have a very small but insignificant effect on glucose levels. Cinnamon, chromium and magnesium are the main nutrients associated with this effect.
There is also discrepancies in these studies about how these nutrients were administered. Sometimes, patients are asked to actually eat foods rich in these nutrients. This means the patients have actually changed their diets. Therefore, this is more likely the reason there is an effect.
Even if supplements did work at controlling your glucose levels, it is a false economy. This is because these do not address the underlying reason for you having diabetes in the first place. For most people, it is because they carry too much fat around the liver and pancreas. Therefore, the only true way of fixing this is to rid yourself of the fat around these organs. Medications and supplements (though these do not work) merely mask the problem. They do not change the underlying cause. This leads us onto point number 2.
Myth 2 – Medications ‘cure’ the problem
Let me just distinguish between the terms ‘treat’ and ‘cure’ because it’s important. Treat relates to doing things that help the symptoms of a condition. Medications, work in such a way that prevent high glucose levels for example. Metformin tells the liver to release less glucose and helps improve insulin sensitivity. Insulin, helps increase the amount of insulin in your body to lower glucose levels. Take the medications away and your back to square one.
Cure on the other hand deals with the underlying issue. Cure means if all medications were taken away, it wouldn’t be a problem because there is no longer a problem.
As a dietitian I am all about prevention. Prevention is the best cure as they say. Lifestyle habits are the essential ingredient for staying healthy. This is even more important in type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle is the main treatment for this disease. This fact is lost on a lot of people. Maybe people know they should eat right and exercise. However, it’s not a priority until often it’s too late.
Medications help lower your glucose levels. No doubt about that. If you’re happy taking medications and they do they job then there’s no problem. Especially if you do not develop any diabetes related complications. If you’re happy to take medications that is.
However, medications are only picking up the slack for your body. They do not ‘cure’ the problem. We also do not have a magic 8 ball and so do not know if you will develop complications. Therefore, just relying on medications and allowing your diabetes to progress could result in some problems further down the line.
This isn’t to scaremonger but is an unfortunate fact of the disease. Luckily, it’s never too late to try to do something about it.
Myth 3 -High fasting glucose levels are fixed by low carb
I hear this diabetes myth quite frequently. Yet to say this shows you may not quite have grasped what type 2 diabetes is and how it effects your body.
Before, I get into this, I’ll admit there is maybe one way low carb can help lower your fasting level but more on that shortly.
High fasting glucose levels aren’t generally to do with your dietary intake. Think about it. You don’t eat overnight so why would your levels be high in the morning? It’s because of your liver. I’ve previously done a blog all about this which you can find here.
Your liver releases glucose all day. The only thing that stops it doing this is insulin. When you eat you have more insulin in your body and so the liver reduces its amount of glucose output. In type 2 diabetes however, insulin can’t get to the liver because for most people, the liver has some fat around it. You’ll also have developed some insulin resistance which means the liver isn’t quite receiving insulins message as clearly as before you had diabetes.
Therefore, high waking glucose levels give us an insight into how much your diabetes has progressed. Independent of food, seeing how much glucose your liver pours into your system gives us a good baseline.
Then when you eat, carbohydrates especially, extra glucose is added on top of these already high levels. So it’s not just all about your carbohydrate intake.
The fix for this is shedding the fat around your liver. Getting fit and active, healthy eating and lowering visceral (deep) fat around your organs treats the underlying cause of this.
One slight caveat
As mentioned there may be one slight caveat to this. If your glucose levels are high before going to bed from your dietary choices then this can have a knock on effect to your fasting levels. What goes up must come down right? Well the problem is in diabetes, this isn’t always true.
For example, if your glucose levels are 15mmol/l before bed, it has over a 9mmol/l swing to get back into normal non diabetes ranges. With type 2 diabetes this is unlikely to happen. Therefore, you’ll likely wake up with a high glucose level.
This doesn’t change any of the information above though. Your glucose level should not be going to 15mmol/l in the first place and shows progression of your diabetes. Yes you can lower this by going low carb to an extent. However, your baseline glucose will remain elevated. So the solution remains shedding fat around the liver.
Myth 4 – Low carb ‘cures’ high glucose levels
Low carb does help to reduce the potential for high post meal time glucose levels. So it’a a good thing. However, unless low carb diets help you lose weight and get fit, it doesn’t address the underlying cause of why your glucose levels are high. Therefore, low carb diets ‘treat’ type 2 diabetes, they do not necessarily cure it.
Low carb to me is a bit like hurting an ankle and feeling pain whenever you run on it. Saying I just won’t run stops the pain but stops you running. Instead, performing appropriate rehab on the ankle will fix the problem and allow you to run again.
Is it carbs or you?
In type diabetes, the problem isn’t carbohydrates. Someone without diabetes can digest and absorb as many carbohydrates as they want without hyperglycaemia occurring. The problem lays with your body’s ability to deal with carbohydrates. It’s a bit like in the movies when someone breaks up with someone. They say ‘it’s not you, it’s me’. That’s the same relationship between carbohydrates and type 2 diabetes.
If your body didn’t have a problem with its liver and insulin sensitivity, carbohydrates, would be absolutely no problem.
Now, I will say this. I do agree lower carbohydrate intakes for people with type 2 diabetes is a good thing and something I frequently advise. It’s just I do not presume it ‘cures’ the condition. I also understand too many carbs are not a good thing. However, this is basic healthy eating principles which are also commonly misinterpreted.
Curing the disease would mean reinserting carbohydrates back into your diet today with no hyperglycaemia with no medications. Not everyone can achieve this and hence why we use lower carb diets to help. If you’re interested in diabetes remission I have previously blogged all about this here.
So do not take this as me bashing low carb diets because they can be a useful tool. It’s just how they are positioned at times isn’t quite correct.
So there you have it. My 4 myths for lowering blood glucose levels. Some of these do have some basis and in fact I actually use low carb diets in my practice. However, it’s never my preferred option. What tends to happen is patients reduce their carb intake and replace these with very fatty and/or highly processed foods instead. It might help lower glucose levels but we are only looking at one component of health here by focusing on glucose levels. So we go from one extreme to another.
Ideally, I get my patients building healthier habits across the whole of their diet. That means even eating carbs but as part of a balanced approach whilst also and getting them exercising. This addresses the underlying cause of their diabetes.
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Need more help
If you need more support we offer a range of 1:1 consultancy services and online programmes focused on helping you improve your glucose control and health for the long term. These include our type 2 diabetes recovery programme, type 1 glucose stability programme and winning weight loss programme. Go to the pages using the links above or in the headers or get in touch if you have questions.