8 Cheap Ways to Lower Your Blood Sugar
One of the many lousy things about diabetes is that it makes it easy to fall into a vicious cycle of medicating and weight gain. (See also: How to Avoid Putting on Recession Pounds)
Let's say you have a sandwich for lunch. You take the appropriate amount of medication to keep your blood sugars normal. But an hour after lunch, you feel slightly ill, so you check your blood sugar level, and it's too high. So you take some more medicine to lower you sugar levels. Another hour goes by, and you feel weak and dizzy, because you've taken too much medication, or burned too many calories, and you're hypoglycemic. You need to eat some candy or drink some sugar water to get your levels back up. The additional calories you just took in will, over time, cause you to gain weight (the medicine probably causes a weight gain, too). The fatter you get, the more medicine you require to help your body process your food sugars. And so it goes.
I've been a Type 2 diabetic since 1995. My personal inclination is to avoid taking more medication once I determine that I have high blood sugar. Of course, if my sugar is too high to bring down naturally (say, over 200), then I'll take some medication. But if my sugar is hovering around 150, then I try to avoid taking more meds.
I personally feel awful if my blood sugars fall below 80 or go above 120, so that is the healthy blood sugar range that I try to aim for. Your physician may give you different numbers to shoot for, but try to find something that works for you. Remember, below 70 and your risk going into insulin shock; above 200, and you are doing significant damage to your organs over time. If your sugars are too high or too low, you're putting yourself at significant risk.
If you are Type 2 diabetic, or at risk for becoming diabetic, you might find these following tips for lowering blood sugar helpful. As always, you need to be careful to monitor your sugar levels so as not to become hypoglycemic (that's when your blood sugar is too low). And of course, this is not medical advice, but personal advice from my own experience. Talk to your physician before changing parts of your diet, and always monitor your blood glucose like a hawk to prevent low blood sugars.
Losing weight is, frankly, the answer to a lot of health problems. In the case of diabetics, losing weight will require less medication to manage your diabetes, which is helpful in the long run. But there are also short-term benefits to exercising — it lowers your blood sugar, often within minutes. Now, the results of this can depend on the medication that you take, but many diabetics find that if they have high blood sugar, a brisk 20 minute walk can lower their sugar. I've lowered mine by up to 40 points with just a half hour of walking.
2. Take Diabetic Vitamins
Nature Made produces a diabetic vitamin pack that I take once or twice a day. The main ingredient that lowers my blood sugar is chromium. Back when I was first diagnosed, I was able to combine chromium supplements with exercise, and I stopped needing medication altogether. Then I got lazy and chubby. I recommend buying these vitamins at Costco, where you get double the amount at half the price.
3. Drink Unsweetened Green Tea
You may or may not know how I feel about green tea already. One cup of green tea often lowers my blood sugar levels as much as 30 points. Regular black tea is also effective, and white tea helps, too. Green tea supplements also have a positive effect on blood sugar levels.
4. Drink Decaf Coffee
Caffeine can have a detrimental effect on blood sugar levels, but some other compound in coffee seems to lower blood sugar levels. A cup of plain decaf coffee (you can add some cream, but no sugar!) may have a positive effect on your blood glucose levels.
5. Eat Some Cinnamon
Cinnamon has been shown to reduce blood sugars, although not effectively in post-menopausal women. Sprinkle a couple teaspoons of cinnamon powder on your yogurt, or take it in capsule form (again, Costco). It should be noted that devouring a huge cinnamon roll everyday will probably not reduce your blood sugar levels.
6. Have a Glass of Red Wine
When your liver has to work process the alcohol in your system, it will be too busy to release glucagon into your bloodstream. One glass of red wine with dinner can help to lower your blood sugar. Do be careful, though. I've had more than one blood sugar crash after miscalculating how much medication I would need when I enjoyed a plate of pasta with a glass of Merlot.
Normally, when your blood sugar level starts to drop, your liver steps in. It goes to work changing stored carbohydrate into glucose. Then it sends the glucose out into the blood, which helps you avoid or slow down a low blood sugar reaction. However, when alcohol enters your system, this changes. Alcohol is a toxin. Your body reacts to alcohol like a poison. The liver wants to clear it from the blood quickly. In fact, the liver won't put out glucose again until it has taken care of the alcohol. If your blood glucose level is falling, you can quickly wind up with very low blood sugar.
I am not one to recommend booze as medication. You can't just break open a bottle of Cabernet at lunch everyday in lieu of taking your glyburide. Unless you live in France, in which case, do what you want. White wine also works, but not as much, as the white wines tend to include sweeter varietals, meaning that you are drinking simple sugars when you drink most white wines. Beer, which has lots of carbohydrates, will probably not lower your blood sugar at all. Some liquor, like vodka, may have a lowering effect. Keep in mind that the additional calories that you consume with a glass of wine or unsweetened cocktail may counteract any benefits that the alcohol gives you for lowering your blood sugar, since you'll gain weight if you don't burn those calories. So, you might want to skip dessert if you are having wine with dinner.
7. Breathe Deep, Relax
Stressful situations can release hormones that will raise you blood sugar (PDF). If you are feeling anxious, have a cup of chamomile tea, take a slow, relaxing walk, and breathe deeply. Or go sit in your car and scream until you feel better. Whatever works for you.
8. Sleep Well
This is totally anecdotal, but I just learned this from a family member: sleep apnea may be the cause of elevated blood sugar in the morning. It turns out that a member of my family is experiencing high blood glucose in the morning, even before eating. A doctor has suggested that sleep apnea, and the lack of oxygen associated with that condition, may be a factor. If you snore so much that your bedmate wants to smother you with a pillow, you might want to have that looked at. See your doctor.
Check out Diabetes Mine, an excellent blog from a type 1 diabetic.
Please feel free to share your tips and tricks for lowering blood sugar, whether you're diabetic or the friend or family member of a diabetic, in our comments section.