If you have diabetes, you’re probably familiar with the A1C test, which measures your blood sugar. What you may not know, though, is how to lower that seemingly stubborn number.
Diabetes occurs when you have a high amount of sugar in your blood. This happens to everyone on occasion, but in those who don’t have diabetes, blood sugar typically levels out quickly as we eat and move throughout our days.
In those who have diabetes, the body lacks the mechanisms needed to maintain healthy blood sugar. For those who have Type 1 diabetes, which typically has a genetic component, this is caused by the pancreas not producing enough insulin or not producing any insulin at all. For those who have Type 2 diabetes, this happens because the body doesn’t metabolize insulin properly.
Regardless of why it happens, it’s important to effectively manage diabetes and lower your blood sugar. Having elevated blood sugar for a long period of time can lead to serious health issues, including kidney disease, heart disease, nerve problems, and even vision loss.
The good news is: You can take steps to bring down your blood sugar. Keep reading to learn more.
What is A1C?
Most people are familiar with the basic blood sugar test—also known as the “fasting blood sugar test.” This test measures your blood glucose after you’ve fasted for up to 12 hours.
The fasting blood sugar test is usually included as part of a basic checkup and gives your medical provider a look at your blood sugar at that given moment.
The A1C test takes a more in depth look. This test measures your blood sugar over the past two to three months, giving your medical provider a glimpse at your average blood sugar level over time. It is recommended as a baseline screening test for adults age 45 and older.
Because the goal of diabetes treatment is to effectively manage the condition and bring down blood sugar into a healthier range, this test is also regularly used for those with diabetes. It can help determine whether medications and other therapies being used are effective in lowering blood sugar, along with how well your heart is protected from the effects of high blood sugar.
While your individual goals may differ, the goal for most adults who have diabetes is an A1C of less than 7%. Getting under that number can help keep you healthier and help you avoid the complications of high blood sugar, including heart disease.
How do I lower my A1C naturally?
If you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes, your medical provider will probably first suggest ways you can lower your blood sugar without medication.
Type 2 diabetes is often associated with lifestyle-related factors, including a sedentary lifestyle, a diet high in processed foods, and being overweight or obese. These are what’s known as controllable risk factors, meaning you have the power to change them.
These steps can help you lower your blood sugar to a healthier range:
- Move your body more. Experts recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. That averages out to slightly more than 20 minutes per day. While that number is relatively low, many American adults still don’t achieve the goal. Aim to hit that number or surpass it each week. Choose any activity that gets your heart pumping faster, like jogging, briskly walking, swimming, or even gardening, and schedule it in regularly.
- Fuel your body in a healthy way. Lower your intake of saturated fat, added sugar, and excess sodium. You can do this by steering clear of processed foods when possible, since they often contain unhealthy additives to enhance their flavor and keep them shelf-ready. Fill your plate with fruits and vegetables of a variety of colors, lean proteins like chicken or fish, and whole grains. Eating more fiber can help moderate your blood sugar level while also keeping you full for longer.
- Get to—and maintain—a healthy weight. Talk with your medical provider about what a healthy weight looks like for you. If you need to lose some weight, the two steps outlined above can help you do that, especially when done consistently. Don’t be discouraged if the weight doesn’t come off quickly; it’s a marathon for good health, not a sprint. Even losing a few pounds can make a big impact on your blood sugar and your overall health.
- Limit your alcohol consumption. What’s alcohol have to do with your blood sugar? A lot, actually! Many alcoholic beverages, like fruity cocktails, contain a large number of calories and a good amount of sugar. In addition to the caloric intake, alcohol can actually affect the way the pancreas works, particularly in large quantities. Heavy alcohol consumption can make the pancreas function less effectively, which impacts how it produces insulin.
What to know about medications to lower A1C
If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to lower your blood sugar into a normal range, your medical provider may prescribe medications to work alongside healthy habits.
There are many different kinds of medication designed to lower blood sugar, many of which have been around for decades. A medication called metformin is usually the first-line treatment for lowering blood sugar, and it works by decreasing the amount of glucose produced by the liver.
Another class of medications known as sulfonylurea drugs has also been prescribed for decades. These medications work by stimulating the cells in the pancreas to produce more insulin, which helps process glucose from the foods you eat.
Because Type 2 diabetes is often related to diminished insulin sensitivity, medications known as thiazolidinediones work to improve sensitivity in the muscle and fat. Like metformin, they also reduce glucose production in the liver.
If you’ve turned on the TV, you’ve probably seen advertisements for diabetes medications in recent years. Several new classes of medication have been formulated to lower A1C in different ways, including:
- DPP-4 inhibitors, which slow the breakdown of two naturally occurring hormones that reduce blood glucose
- SGLT2 inhibitors, which block the kidneys from reabsorbing glucose, causing excess glucose to be excreted in urine
- GLP-1 and dual GLP-1/GIP receptor agonists, which work to reduce blood glucose by mimicking the body’s natural GLP-1 and GIP hormones
The last class of medications likely includes the prescription drugs you have heard most about, including Ozempic and Mounjaro. These injectable medications are often recommended for those who have diabetes and who are at a high risk of developing heart disease.
It’s important to remember that the best strategy for lowering your A1C isn’t determined by how many TV commercials you see for a medication. Your medical provider can help you decide on the right medication for your needs, if medication is needed.
Looking for other tips about lowering your blood sugar or managing diabetes? The Diabetes Education Program at Northeast Georgia Medical Center is here to help! Call 770-219-0887 or click here for more information.