Untreated high blood sugar can lead to a condition called glucotoxicity (sometimes called glucose toxicity). It’s caused by damaged beta cells.
Beta cells help your body create and release a hormone called insulin. Insulin pulls sugar (also called glucose) out of your blood so your cells can use it for energy. This process also helps to regulate your blood sugar levels.
Over time, high blood sugar (also called hyperglycemia) can damage your beta cells. Damaged beta cells cause both a decrease in insulin production and an increase in your body’s resistance to insulin, leading to glucotoxicity.
Ongoing high blood sugar can damage your organs and tissues. It can also decrease the number of white blood cells in your body, which are an important part of your immune system. Having a weakened immune system puts you at a higher risk for getting infections. It can also make it harder for wounds to heal.
Other symptoms of high blood sugar include:
If you regularly have blood glucose levels above 240 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) contact your doctor immediately. Seek emergency care if you’re also sick and can’t keep water or food down.
Glucotoxicity is caused by long-term high blood sugar, which is a very common symptom of diabetes. However, you can have high blood sugar without having diabetes. High blood sugar that’s not related to diabetes is usually caused by an underlying illness, especially ones related to the endocrine system or from medications such as steroids.
Ongoing high blood sugar can cause oxidative stress. Other potential causes include:
- poor diet
- lack of exercise
The best way to check for glucotoxicity is to regularly check your blood sugar and insulin levels. If you have diabetes, you probably already do this. If you don’t have diabetes or regularly check your blood sugar, you can talk to your doctor about getting an A1C test. This measures your average blood sugar levels over the last three months.
After your doctor checks your levels and determines if it’s needed, they could suggest a good glucose monitor you can use at home.
If you regularly have fasting blood sugar levels above 126 mg/dl or an A1C of over 6.5 percent, you’re at a higher risk of developing glucotoxicity.
The best way to treat glucotoxicity is to lower your blood sugar. You can do this by:
Research linking glucotoxicity to oxidative stress also suggests that antioxidant drugs, such as metformin and troglitazone, may be an effective treatment for glucotoxicity caused by oxidative stress.
If you’re at risk of developing glucotoxicity, it’s important to contact your doctor so you can make a plan to lower your blood sugar.
Untreated glucotoxicity may cause:
- vascular tissue problems
- decreased endothelial cell function
- eye problems
- nerve problems
- kidney problems
- increased risk of cardiovascular disease
You can reduce your risk of developing glucotoxicity by reducing your blood sugar.
The first step in doing this involves reducing your intake of carbohydrates, including:
- sweets, such as sodas, juice, cookies, cakes, and candies
- milk and yogurt
- snack foods, such as chips and crackers
- grains, such as oatmeal, rice, and barley
Keep in mind that you don’t need to completely avoid these foods. Just make sure that you’re eating them in moderation. The amount of carbohydrates you should eat depends on your weight, height, and activity level. As a general rule, aim for 30-75 grams of carbohydrates in a main meal. For snacks, shoot for 15-30 grams. Eating regularly also helps to keep your blood sugar in check.
Reducing stress can also help you prevent spikes in blood sugar. If you regularly feel stressed, try adding de-stressing activities to your daily routine. Meditation, breathing exercises, and simply getting enough sleep can all help to reduce stress. You can also do yoga or take a brisk walk to both de-stress and get exercise, which also helps to lower blood sugar. Simple deep-breathing techniques can help increase insulin sensitivity.
Glucotoxicity can have lasting effects on your beta cells and overall health. However, you can easily prevent or treat glucotoxicity by monitoring your blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes, work closely with your doctor to make sure your medication dosage is right for you.