The phrase “glucose intolerance,” also known as “dysglycemia,” refers to metabolic disorders that cause blood glucose (sugar) levels to be higher than usual. The body uses glucose, a simple sugar, as its primary fuel source. Glucose intolerance hampers the body’s ability to use glucose as fuel effectively. Due to an abnormal blood glucose buildup, glucose intolerance may be a significant risk factor for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Healthcare experts earlier focused on the importance of glucose for treating diabetes patients. However, with advancements and more research, the significance of healthy glucose levels is widespread. For example, unhealthy glucose levels can lead to weight gain, heart issues, metabolic health issues etc. Hence, monitoring glucose levels in the body is not limited to people with diabetes.
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A significant health issue, glucose intolerance raises the possibility of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. According to a study, around 382 million persons globally had diabetes in 2013. The same research also estimates that by 2035, the figure may rise to 592 million (a 55% increase).
The article focuses on glucose intolerance, its causes, symptoms, and treatment options.
Effects of Glucose Intolerance
Glucose intolerance covers several metabolic conditions that cause abnormal blood glucose levels. These conditions include:
Impaired Fasting Glucose (IFG)
It is also referred to as prediabetes or impaired fasting glycemia. It is a situation when blood sugar levels are high after 8–12 hours of fasting. Research shows impaired fasting glucose readings range from 100 to 125 mg/dL (5.6 to 6.9 mmol per L). Therefore, patients with impaired fasting glucose have a greater risk of getting the condition, despite the low prevalence of diabetes diagnoses.
Impaired Glucose Tolerance
It implies that after consuming anything that boosts blood sugar, the body cannot reduce it. Several studies have proven that impaired glucose tolerance raises the risk of type 2 diabetes. Some studies also show that based on the 75-g oral glucose tolerance test, the glucose levels for impaired glucose tolerance range from 140 to 199 mg/dL (7.8 to 11.0 mmol).
Prediabetes, commonly referred to as “Intermediate Hyperglycemia,” is characterised by reduced glucose tolerance and impaired fasting glucose. Blood glucose levels above normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes are known as prediabetes. It is typically diagnosed when the fasting blood sugar is between 100 and 125 mg/dL.
The body’s cells do not react to insulin as they should when a person has prediabetes. As a result, the pancreas starts creating more insulin to aid the cells in responding. Unfortunately, when this occurs repeatedly, the pancreas has trouble making insulin, which causes the blood sugar to rise. Therefore, prediabetes is a significant risk factor for eventual type 2 diabetes development.
Type 2 Diabetes
When the blood glucose level is 200 mg/dL or greater, it indicates type-2 diabetes. Other health issues like renal disease, heart disease, and visual issues might also result from it.
Insulin is a hormone that reduces blood glucose levels, and your pancreas produces it. Insulin binds to the insulin receptors found on our body’s cells to allow the entry of sugar. Without enough insulin, the sugar stays in the bloodstream and accumulates there rather than being able to enter the cell.
Insufficient insulin production or insulin resistance in cell receptors leads to diabetes.
Glucose Intolerance vs Insulin Resistance
The pancreas produces more insulin to get the glucose into the cells and lower blood glucose levels. Insulin resistance results from this pancreatic reaction, which raises blood levels of insulin.
If the pancreas produces enough insulin, it will maintain the range of normal blood glucose levels. However, if there is insufficient insulin, the excess glucose does not enter the cells but remains in the bloodstream. This leads to the development of insulin resistance. As a result, both insulin and blood glucose levels increase. It is known as glucose intolerance.
Glucose Intolerance and Pregnancy
Diabetes during pregnancy, commonly known as gestational diabetes, can arise in people who have never had diabetes. Although it typically goes away after delivery, it raises the risk of type 2 diabetes in later life. Doctors use Glucose tolerance tests to assess women for gestational diabetes.
The one-hour glucose test, which involves administering 50 grams of a sugary beverage to the patient, is the first screening procedure for gestational diabetes. According to research, one hour later, blood sugar levels are measured; they must be less than 140 mg/dL. If the one-hour glucose test results are too high, the three-hour glucose test is the next step in the screening process. Finally, her blood sugar levels are measured one, two, and three hours after she consumes 100 grams of a beverage high in sugar.
If When blood sugar levels are >180 mg/dL after an hour, >155 mg/dL after two hours, and/or >140 mg/dL after three hours, gestational diabetes is suspected.
Causes of Glucose Intolerance
The exact causes of glucose intolerance are unknown, but certain risk factors increase the chance of glucose intolerance. These are:
- Age: There are higher chances of glucose intolerance in people above the age of 45 (during middle age)
- Lack of regular exercise
- Obesity/excess fat around the abdomen: Research shows that the incidence of T2D rises as obesity prevalence increases.
- History of hypertension and high cholesterol levels
- Unhealthy dietary choices: A high intake of fat-rich foods, simple sugars, sugar-loaded beverages, and fast foods increases the risk of glucose intolerance.
- Other pre-existing conditions such as obstructive sleep apnea and polycystic ovary syndrome
- Family history of diabetes and genetics
- Work shift: Night shift is a risk factor for prediabetes and type2 diabetes mellitus. A study shows that the primary biological “clock” and usual nighttime activities are out of sync, compromising glucose tolerance. Additionally, eating at night reduces glucose tolerance.
Signs and Symptoms
Glucose intolerance is often asymptomatic, but some people show signs and symptoms similar to type 2 diabetes. These are:
Excessive Urination (Polyurea)
It is one of the initial signs of glucose intolerance. When there is a lot of sugar in the urine, the body tries to dilute the sugar by draining fluid from the body. As a result, the kidneys absorb less water, and the bladder excretes more water, producing more urine. Nocturia, or nighttime urination, is a common condition.
Excessive Thirst (Polydipsia)
Excess urination causes dehydration and increases thirst. If there is increased thirst without any apparent reason, it is a sign of glucose intolerance.
Excessive Hunger (Polyphagia)
When cells starve energy, it makes one feel hungry. So eating normally but still feeling hungry may be a sign of glucose intolerance.
In glucose intolerance, the cells cannot take up glucose to use it as fuel. As a result, it leaves one more tired than usual.
With glucose intolerance, glucose cannot enter the cells to provide energy. When this happens, the body starts to burn stored fat for energy, which results in weight and muscle loss.
It is a skin condition characterised by dark, velvety patches that appear in skin folds, such as on the neck, groin, and armpits. It typically affects overweight people and is a sign of glucose intolerance.
High Blood Sugar Levels
Fasting blood sugar between 100 and 125 mg/dL indicates glucose intolerance, as is the haemoglobin A1c from 5.7%-6.4% indicate pre-diabetes.
Diagnosis of Glucose Intolerance
Usually, three blood tests help diagnose glucose tolerance. They are:
Fasting Plasma Glucose
Path labs usually collect samples for the test after overnight fasting of eight hours. It measures blood glucose levels.
Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT)
The oral glucose tolerance test includes several steps.
- First, it involves measuring the fasting blood glucose levels.
- Second, the patient has to drink a syrupy glucose solution.
- Finally, the process ends with measuring blood glucose levels again, two hours after drinking the solution.
Glycated Haemoglobin (HbA1C)
This blood test gives an average of blood glucose levels over two to three months.
A study highlights that FPG, 2-hour PG during 75-g GTT, and A1C are equally appropriate for diagnosing glucose intolerance. However, the results of these tests are not similar to one another. A1C or postprandial glucose readings may be normal in someone with elevated FPG. While you can use results from all three tests, it appears that FPG and A1C will be the most practical test.
Similarly, research shows that women diagnosed with gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) should have life-long testing at least every three years. For all other patients, testing should start at age 45 and, if the results are normal, should be repeated twice during the following three years.
Ways to Treat Glucose Intolerance
The treatment for glucose intolerance differs depending on the diagnosis of IFG, IGT, or type 2 diabetes. The first line of treatment includes lifestyle changes, but doctors may prescribe medication in some cases.
Some healthy lifestyle habits that you can follow to fight glucose intolerance are:
Be Physically Active
Exercise helps control your blood sugar levels. Moderate to vigorous activity is beneficial for people with glucose intolerance. A few days a week of strength or resistance exercise is also advised since it can enhance blood sugar levels and lower insulin resistance by boosting the amount of glucose absorbed by the muscles for fuel.
Manage a Healthy Body Weight
Losing weight can improve insulin sensitivity and maintain blood sugar levels, reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes due to glucose intolerance.
Reduce Alcohol Intake
Too much alcohol consumption may cause pancreatitis. In addition, it impairs the ability of the pancreas to secrete insulin and can potentially lead to glucose intolerance.
Research suggests that smoking is associated with an increased Type-2 diabetes and insulin resistance risk.
Following a Healthy Diet
Diet plays a vital role in maintaining blood glucose levels. A study showed that higher intakes of nuts, berries, yoghurt, high-fibre food, and tea could reduce the risk. Conversely, red meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and other sweetened desserts are associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Along the same line, a study shows that the traditional Mediterranean diet, rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seeds, and nuts, can offer many health benefits, including lowering the danger of T2D and raising insulin sensitivity. These health benefits are due to the rich source of monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) in the Mediterranean diet.
The HealthifyMe Note
The ways to treat glucose intolerance are not too distinct from ways to regulate diabetes symptoms. Thus, if you can incorporate these habits into your daily life, you may significantly reduce the risk of diabetes. The most common ways to lead a healthy life involve reducing the intake of processed sugar, following a nutritious diet, regular exercise and no smoking or excessive intake of alcohol.
Preventing Glucose Intolerance
Glucose intolerance is an imbalance in your blood sugar levels that develops over time. Hence, preventing it can be easy if you follow a healthy lifestyle. Eating foods that help prevent sudden glucose spikes and exercising regularly are the best ways to lead a healthy life. However, monitoring glucose also plays a crucial role.
One of the most effective ways to prevent glucose intolerance apart from lifestyle changes is by using a continuous glucose monitor(CGM) that monitors glucose levels. Wearing a CGM can show how glucose levels react to diet, exercise, medication, sleep, and stress. It also assesses overall metabolic health and helps identify insulin resistance and sensitivity. Using a CGM is an effective preventative measure for glucose intolerance.
Foods Beneficial for Glucose Intolerance
The following foods are beneficial for treating and preventing glucose intolerance.
A study shows that avocados can lower the risk of metabolic conditions such as diabetes. The Monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) in avocadoes is a critical nutrient that regulates blood sugar levels.
Garlic and Onions
Studies suggest that garlic can work effectively as an anti-diabetic agent. Hence, garlic intake can lower fasting blood glucose. Similarly, research shows that onions have positive effects on blood sugar levels.
Whole grains have higher amounts of fibre and other nutrients, which help to regulate blood sugar. One study discovered that eating whole grains improved insulin sensitivity. After ingestion, fasting insulin rates were 10% lower.
Broccoli contains Sulforaphane, a plant chemical produced when broccoli is chopped or chewed and has blood-sugar-reducing properties.
Seafood, such as fish and shellfish, is a rich source of protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help regulate blood sugar levels. A study shows that intake of fatty fish per week significantly improved post-meal blood sugar levels compared to lean fish.
Studies highlight that okra has blood-sugar-lowering compounds like polysaccharides and flavonoid antioxidants. Rhamnogalacturonan, the important polysaccharide in okra, has been identified as a powerful anti-diabetic compound.
Eating chia seeds benefits blood sugar control. A review study shows that chia seeds may help improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control, as well as potentially reduce disease risk, including the risk of diabetes.
The HealthifyMe Note
A healthy diet is essential to reverse prediabetes. Unfortunately, there are no foods or drinks that lower blood sugar magically. However, some foods may help avoid a blood sugar spike. Adding these foods to your diet can prevent glucose intolerance and offer various other health benefits.
Glucose intolerance is rapidly increasing due to excess consumption of processed foods, stress, and poor lifestyle choices. If left untreated, it can develop into type-2 diabetes. Unfortunately, people who have prediabetes are unaware of their condition in most cases. Thus timely monitoring of blood glucose levels is essential to avoid glucose intolerance. Additionally, it is crucial to modify your eating and lifestyle habits to prevent glucose intolerance.