(excerpted from Think Like A Pancreas: A Practical Guide to Managing Diabetes With Insulin by Gary Scheiner MS, CDE, DaCapo Press, 2011)
Picture this: You show up for your regular appointment at the doctor’s office. After the usual checkup, you report to the front desk, checkbook in hand, ready to pay for your visit.
“Hold on,” says the receptionist with a cheerful smile. “That won’t be necessary. Here you go.” She hands you an envelope stuffed with cash. “This is for all the work you’ve put in taking care of your diabetes.”
That’s when the alarm clock goes off. Dream over.
What motivates most people is immediate gratification. Not tomorrow. Not next year. RIGHT NOW. Here is just a partial list of ways you will be rewarded immediately for managing your diabetes:
1. Increased Energy
High glucose is a sign that you may not be getting enough fuel into your body’s cells to burn for energy. The fuel is there, but it’s just stuck in the bloodstream. This shortage of fuel inside the body’s cells causes sleepiness and sluggishness. Even if the glucose is only elevated temporarily, the lack of energy will be noticeable during that time. As soon as levels return to normal, energy levels usually improve.
2. More Restful Sleep
If your glucose is high enough (typically above 180 mg/dL, or 10 mmol), you might wake up several times during the night to run to the bathroom. When glucose levels are elevated, the kidneys have a hard time keeping all that extra sugar in the bloodstream. Sugar spills over into the urine, and it drags a lot of water along with it. As the bladder fills, it wakes us up and leads to those middle-of-the-night two-minute sugar-induced peeing sessions. The quality of your sleep is improved by improved glucose control.
3. Improved Physical Performance
Extra sugar in the bloodstream also leads to something called glycosylation, where sugar sticks to connective tissues like tendons and ligaments, limiting their ability to stretch properly. Muscle stiffness, strains, and pulls are common in people with high blood sugar levels. High sugars block the connection between muscles and nerves, resulting in slower reaction times and reflexes. When glucose levels are near normal, your reaction times will be quicker and you will recover from injuries more rapidly.
4. Appetite Reduction
High glucose levels tend to make us crave more food – especially carbohydrate-rich foods. Remember, it’s not the amount of sugar in the bloodstream that counts, but how much gets into our cells. And if not enough is getting into our cells, hunger is going to increase. Controlling glucose levels is a good way to keep your appetite in check.
5. Brain Power
High and low glucose limits our ability to focus, remember, perform complex tasks, and be creative. Research studies have repeatedly and consistently shown that as blood sugars go up, so do mental errors and the time it takes to perform basic tasks. Wide variations in blood sugar levels, such as post-meal spikes, have also been shown to hinder intellectual function. Likewise, if glucose levels are too low, the entire nervous system lacks the fuel it needs to operate correctly. So if you want to perform as well as possible at work, in school, or in a friendly game of Guitar Hero, watch those sugar levels.
6. Stable Moods & Emotions
High glucose levels can make us impatient, irritable, and generally negative. Achieving normal blood sugars and keeping them there can go a long way towards improving your mood and emotional stability. That’s not to say that you will become an instant socialite, but the way you interact with your family, friends, coworkers, and classmates can impact your happiness and success in life.
7. Fewer Sick Days
Bacteria and viruses love sugar. They gobble it up and use it to grow and multiply. When blood glucose levels are up, the amount of sugar in virtually all of our body’s tissues and fluids rises as well. That makes us ideal breeding grounds for infection. Think of it as “aiding and abetting the enemy” – supplying extra nutrients to the bad guys. And once illnesses and infections set in, they are much harder to shake when blood sugar levels are high. Research has shown that people with better blood sugar control spend significantly fewer days absent from work, sick in bed, and restricted from their usual activities.
8. Softer Skin, Healthier Gums
When blood sugar levels are high, skin tends to become dry and cracked. Not only can this be uncomfortable and unsightly, but it also sets us up for potential infections since the skin is the first line of defense against harmful bacteria. Keeping glucose levels in control helps to prevent dehydration and helps keep our skin soft and intact.
Our gums are also affected immediately by changes in sugar levels. Bacteria that live below the gum line grow quickly when exposed to high sugar levels in our blood vessels. These bacteria then form plaque at an accelerated rate, contributing to bleeding gums and loose teeth. Controlling your diabetes will help cut back on plaque buildup immediately.
9. Personal Safety
If you drive a car, operate power equipment, play a sport, or just walk across the street, having out-of-control blood sugar can put you and those around you at risk. We have already discussed how high glucose can cause sleepiness and slow reaction times, but the opposite – hypoglycemia – can occur in anyone taking insulin. Glucose levels below normal will usually cause a surge of adrenaline and some degree of temporary brain impairment. Decision-making and judgment will be off. Coordination suffers, and trembling can occur. To keep yourself and those around you safe, blood sugar must be managed properly.
10. Predictable Periods.
Research has shown that women with near-normal A1C levels tend to have more consistent, regular menstrual cycles than women with elevated A1C levels. The ability to predict events that influence glucose levels allows us the opportunity to make effective adjustments.
Editor’s Note: These improvements may not seem as gratifying as an envelope of cash, but they can definitely make daily life with diabetes much easier.
This excerpt has been edited for length.
Gary Scheiner and his team of clinicians at Integrated Diabetes Services are available for individual consultations via phone and the internet. Visit www.integrateddiabetes.com call 1-610-642-6055 for more information.
If you would like to purchase a signed copy of Think Like a Pancreas, call Integrated Diabetes Services directly at (877) 735-3648; (outside the US 1-610-642-6055), or order it through the IDS store here.
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