Though scientists aren’t entirely sure why, high blood sugar leads to certain complications in diabetics. And therefore, maintaining consistently balanced blood sugar levels can prevent or delay complications in diabetics and potentially prevent diabetes in those with insulin resistance or pre-diabetes.
Benefits for Type-1 Diabetics
Research shows keeping your blood sugar levels consistently in a tight range may substantially decrease risk of developing diabetic eye disease (retinopathy), kidney disease (nephropathy), and nerve disease (neuropathy) while also delaying and slowing progression of all three of these complications.
However, there is a potential drawback associated with tight blood sugar control – low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). And in fact, study subjects who followed an intensive treatment program (with the goal of keeping blood sugar within a narrow range and close to normal limits), had three times the risk of severe hypoglycemia compared to the standard group. Hypoglycemia can result in many side effects including potential heart attack and stroke in adults. However, hypoglycemia can be prevented; click here for more information (1).
Benefits for Type 2 Diabetics
The United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS) followed type 2 diabetics over a median 10-year period. They found any improvements in blood sugar control and blood pressure reduced diabetes-related complications including strokes, diabetes related deaths, diabetes-related eye, kidney and nerve disease and vision loss. For every percentage point decrease in A1C, there was a 35% risk reduction in diabetes-related eye, kidney and nerve disease. However, this study also found a potential drawback associated with intense blood sugar control, particularly with insulin; an increase in weight gain and hypoglycemia (as well as hypoglycemia related complications) (2).
What is Tight Blood Sugar Control?Tight blood means trying to keep your blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible (1):
- Before meals: between 70-139 mg/dl
- In the 2-hour time period after the start of a meal: < 180 mg/dl
- A1C: less than 7%
* For some diabetics, physicians may set different blood sugar and A1C goals. And therefore, it is very important to work with a physician and Certified Diabetes Educator to develop a plan that is individualized to meet your specific needs while minimizing risk of any complications.
How Diabetics, Prediabetics and those with Insulin Resistance Can Keep their Blood Sugar Within Normal Limits
Exercise, healthy eating (your healthcare practitioner may set specific limits for carbohydrate intake), weight loss (or keeping weight within normal limits) and taking medications as prescribed, will help you keep your blood sugar levels closer to normal. In addition, keeping stress levels low and consistently getting a good night’s rest may also help. Research shows people with untreated sleep issues or those who do not get enough sleep may increase their risk of developing obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), a federally funded study examining people at high risk for diabetes, found modest weight loss and physical activity can help prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes in those with pre-diabetes.
Careful monitoring and leading a healthy lifestyle can pay off by helping diabetics prevent or delay complications while also helping those with pre-diabetes and insulin resistance delay or prevent the development of type 2 diabetes.
(2) King P, Peaock I, Donnelly R. The UK Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS): clinical and therapeutic implications for type 2 diabetes. Br J Clin Pharmacol 1999; 48(5): 643–648.
American Diabetes Association. Implications of the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial. Diabetes Care 2003, 26(1):S25-S27.