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Medically Reviewed
High blood sugar is linked to diabetes, which in turn can increase the risk for other conditions such as heart and kidney disease. The good news is that lowering your blood sugar is possible, and in the case of type 2 diabetes, may actually help you reverse the diagnosis.
To learn more about how high blood sugar affects your body, the warning signs you may be living with high blood sugar and 10 ways to work on lowering it, read on.
“Blood sugar (glucose) is the primary fuel source in the blood that supplies energy to every cell in the body,” explains William Dixon, M.D, a physician in Palo Alto, CA, clinical assistant professor of Emergency Medicine at Stanford University and co-founder of Signos, a continuous glucose monitor device. He adds that the majority of this sugar comes from the food we eat—primarily carbohydrates.
When you eat, the carbohydrates you consume are broken down into glucose (or sugar) during digestion. “The presence of sugar in the blood triggers the hormone insulin to be released from the pancreas (located behind the stomach),” says Dr. Dixon. Insulin is like a key that unlocks the doors in your cells to allow sugar from the blood to be absorbed and used as energy.
Additionally, your body can make glucose to maintain healthy blood sugar levels during times when you’re not eating, such as sleep or periods of prolonged fasting. This reaction takes place mainly in the liver.
“High blood sugars happen when there is little to no insulin (deficient) or the body can’t use insulin properly (resistant),” says Dr. Dixon.
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are serious conditions commonly associated with high blood sugar. There’s also prediabetes, which is a condition where blood sugars are elevated but not high enough for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. In the U.S., approximately one in three adults have prediabetes, and 80% of those affected by it are unaware due to the fact that there are often no obvious symptoms, according to the CDC[1]. Left untreated, prediabetes can progress to type 2 diabetes.
A quick rundown of the different symptoms of each of these conditions is detailed in the table below.
Increased thirst, hunger and urination 
Unintentional weight loss
Blurred vision
Same as type 1 
Tingling in hands and feet 
Poor healing wounds
In addition to these conditions,“persistent high blood sugars can damage the vessels that supply blood to vital organs, which can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and vision and nerve problems,” says Dr. Dixon.
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While high blood sugar over the long term can be dangerous, there are many ways to lower it quickly and effectively.
People with type 1 diabetes require insulin via injections or an insulin pump to lower blood sugar. For type 2 diabetes, an oral medication, or a combination of oral medication and insulin, is typically prescribed, explains Stephanie Redmond, a doctor of pharmacy and certified diabetes care and education specialist in Saint Paul, Minneapolis.
When it comes to insulin, there’s a range of types, from rapid-acting to ultra long-acting, where the insulin hits the bloodstream in six hours and then lasts about 36 hours or longer.
There are also a variety of oral medications that work in different ways, such as decreasing the amount of sugar produced by the liver, or causing excess sugar to be eliminated via urine.
Whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes and are taking medication or insulin to manage it, or you have been diagnosed with prediabetes and want to lessen the risk of developing Type 2, lifestyle choices can have a big impact on how balanced your blood stays throughout the day.
According to experts, these 10 lifestyle choices can help bring your body back into balance, and may even help you lose weight and lower your risk of other chronic health issues as well.
1. Eat balanced meals
Eating meals rich in “high fiber foods, healthy fats and lean protein sources is key to managing blood sugars,” says Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. She explains that fiber in particular can slow gastric emptying, which helps keep blood sugar levels steady and promote fullness. For example, Smithson notes that foods like almonds—a source of fiber, healthy fat and plant-based protein, can improve post-meal blood sugar.
2. Avoid sugary drinks
Samantha Nazareth, M.D., a board-certified physician, recommends avoiding sweet drinks like soda. Some sugar-sweetened beverages can contain 10 to 12 teaspoons of sugar in a 12- ounce serving, which can quickly spike blood sugar. For reference, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 and 9 teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and men, respectively.
3. Choose low glycemic index carbs
Build your meals with low glycemic index (GI) carbs, advises Dr. Dixon. Carbs are ranked on the GI scale from 0 to 100 based on how high they raise blood sugars after eating. High GI carbs such as white bread and pastries can cause blood sugar spikes. Conversely, low GI carbs like rolled oats, legumes and most fruits and vegetables are digested slower and gradually raise blood sugar (instead of immediately spiking it).
4. Consume carbs last
“Starting your meal with vegetables and protein and eating carbs last can also help lower blood sugar,” explains Dr. Dixon, an effect observed in a small 2015 Diabetes Care study[2]. A newer 2020 study in Clinical Nutrition also found that “food intake sequence” (i.e the order in which certain foods like proteins and carbohydrates are eaten) affects glucose[3]. However, because this food sequencing method is not a widely practiced recommendation among doctors and requires more robust research, it’s important to speak with your doctor before implementing.
5. Add cinnamon
Studies suggest that adding cinnamon to the diet may “naturally sensitize the body to insulin,” notes Dr. Redmond. This may allow insulin to work on lowering blood sugar.
6. Exercise
Exercise benefits overall health and can lower blood sugar up to 24 hours or more after a workout. “Physical activity allows the body to use excess sugar in the blood for fuel. Even a short walk after eating can help,” says Dr. Dixon.
7. Manage stress
Under stress, the body can go into “fight or flight” mode where cortisol (a hormone) levels rise. Dr. Redmond explains that this rise in cortisol can in turn cause a rise in blood sugar by increasing sugar production from the liver. While a rise in blood sugar would certainly help fuel your body in a singular situation where you must face or flee from danger, chronic stress can lead to persistent high blood sugar. Stress management techniques such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness may all help lower blood sugar, says Dr. Redmond.
8. Sleep well
Good sleeping habits are important, says Smithson, since insufficient and interrupted sleep is linked to elevated blood sugars and increased diabetes risk. Adults should aim for about seven hours of sleep a night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)[4].
9. Stop smoking
“Smoking is like adding fuel to the fire for people [living] with diabetes,” says Dr. Nazareth. Quitting smoking is not only good for your lungs, but also helps manage blood sugars and lowers the risk of damage to blood vessels, echoes the American Diabetes Association.
10. Avoid alcohol
“Alcohol can raise blood sugar, especially if it’s prepared with soda, juice or sweetener,” notes Dr. Nazareth. “Alcohol contains calories, and when consumed in excess, can interfere with weight loss efforts or even contribute to weight gain,” she adds. This is important, because carrying extra weight is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
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Routine check-ups with your doctor including blood work are imperative for preventing and treating high blood sugar. As mentioned, because many symptoms of prediabetes may go unnoticed, a medical exam including blood work is the best way to detect high blood sugar.
It’s also important to speak with your doctor if you have a family history of diabetes, feel as though you may be experiencing symptoms or have any concerns about your blood sugar.
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Johna Burdeos is a family mom, registered dietitian and freelance writer. Having provided nutrition care to many patients with acute and chronic medical conditions over the years, Johna is passionate about engaging the public in prevention and nutrition with simple steps toward change. A Filipino-American, California-bred and Texas resident, Johna enjoys walking, working out along to YouTube videos with her kids, and cooking and sharing hassle-free recipes with minimal ingredients. Johna’s nutrition philosophy is MVP for moderation, variety and patterns. She not only believes in the nutrition of food but also in the joy it can bring and the way it connects and builds bridges across the table.
Dr. Adrienne Youdim is an internist who specializes in medical weight loss and clinical nutrition. After receiving her degree from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, Dr. Youdim completed her residency training and fellowship at Cedars-Sinai, where she later became the medical director for the Center for Weight Loss. She holds multiple board certifications awarded by the American Board of Internal Medicine, the National Board of Physician Nutrition Specialists and the American Board of Obesity Medicine. She is also a Fellow of the American College of Physicians. Dr. Youdim currently sees patients in her private practice in Beverly Hills, California. She is the author of the text, Clinician’s Guide to the Treatment of Obesity and her new book Hungry for More: Stories and Science to Inspire Weight Loss from the Inside Out explores the emotional and spiritual hungers that present as a hunger for food, validating universal experiences through story and science. She also hosts the Health Bite podcast and is founder of Dehl Nutrition, a complete line of nutritional supplements made with functional nutrients to promote health and wellbeing. Dr. Youdim is a national speaker sought after by the media and has been featured on The Doctors, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, ABC news, Inside Edition, National Public Radio among other news outlets.


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