Could you have diabetes, and not know it?

There was a health fair this weekend here in Lynchburg. Seven families were shocked to find out that a loved one had a high blood sugar. Two kids and five adults now have a life-changing diagnosis. None of these people suspected they had a problem. How could this be?

Typically, people associate diabetes with symptoms of drinking a lot and urinating a lot, but it can be a stealthy disease. Many can have high blood sugars for months or years before getting a diagnosis. And if that is not bad enough, high sugars damage your body, and that damage can be happening without you knowing about it.

High blood sugars raise your risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, eye problems and blindness, cancer, Alzheimer’s and dementia. Not good!

Are you at risk for diabetes?

Here are some clues.

  • Do you have a family history of diabetes?
  • Did your mother have gestational diabetes?
  • Were you an underweight baby?
  • Are you overweight?
  • Do you have a dark colored ring around your neck?
  • Do you have trouble losing weight?
  • Are you always thirsty?
  • Are you urinating too frequently?
  • Do you come from African American, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, American Indian ancestors?
  • Do you have high triglycerides (a blood test)?

If your answer to even one of these questions is yes, then you should get checked.

An easy test is a fingerstick blood sugar using a glucometer, a machine that measures blood sugars. You can buy a glucometer at any drugstore without a prescription, and they all come with a few test strips in the package.

What do the blood tests mean?

 Great!A little highPrediabetesDiabetes
Before eatingLess than 8585-99100-125Over 125
1 or 2 hours after eatingLess than 120121-140141-199Over 200

What tests can you ask your doctor for?

  • Hemoglobin A1C. This gives an indication of your average blood sugars over the previous 6-8 weeks. Ideal is less than 5.2, prediabetes is 5.7-6.4, and you likely have diabetes if it’s 6.5 or higher.
  • Fasting insulin. Ideal value less than 5, even though published lab “normal” ranges often say the normal range is up to 30.
  • Oral glucose tolerance test. You must fast for this test. A fasting blood sample is followed by a set amount of a sugary drink. I like to test insulin and blood sugar at baseline, 1 hour and 2 hours after the sugary drink. See the table above for how to interpret the blood sugars. Insulin levels should never rise above 30 at any time during the test.
  • Other tests: leptin, adiponectin. These are other hormones that your body makes to help control hunger and the amount of fat we store. High leptin and low adiponectin levels mean these hormones are not working properly and make it easier for you to gain weight and harder to lose weight.

Here is the good news: if your tests are not normal, there are many things you can do to bring your blood sugars down without medication!

If you have abnormal tests, first start by talking with your doctor.

If your blood sugar is very high, you may need medication immediately, even if just for a short time while you learn how to eat and exercise to get the sugars down.

Change the way you eat.

Eating lots of colorful, nonstarchy vegetables, proteins like meats, eggs, fish, poultry, and healthy fats like coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, butter, ghee, avocado will keep you from being hungry and feeling deprived while greatly improving your blood sugars.

Get moving.

Exercise is great to help bring down blood sugars and help your hormones work more effectively. Resistance exercises like weight lifting are especially helpful for those with blood sugar problems. Also important are cardio exercises, like walking, running, biking, and flexibility exercises: stretching, yoga, Pilates.

Consider supplements.

Many vitamins and minerals work to help your hormones do their jobs. Magnesium, chromium, vitamin D, biotin, vanadium are just a few of these. Herbs like cinnamon, bitter melon, banaba, and gymnema are among the many used for centuries in other cultures to treat diabetes. Talk with your doctor or a knowledgeable practitioner about dosing and how to choose a high quality product.


Avoid artificial sweeteners.

Just because they have no calories, does not mean they have no effect on your hormones or your metabolism.

Address your stress.

Stress, whether emotional (just have an argument with someone important?), physical (joint pain, chronic headaches, and the like), poor dietary choices, lack of exercise all cause your adrenal glands to make a lot of cortisol. This is extremely important if there is a dangerous situation, because cortisol sends blood to your legs to help you escape, and raises your blood sugar so those muscles have energy to run.

For most of us, though, we have stress – every day. High cortisol will keep your blood sugar high – every day! I use a saliva cortisol test to help figure out how well your adrenal glands are working, and guide my patients through a program on how to fix any problems we discover.

Get enough sleep.

Most adults need 7-8 hours/night to allow time for the body to repair. Do you get enough sleep? Do you sleep well? Do you feel rested and refreshed when you get up, or do you drag out of bed after hitting the snooze button a few times? Please read my recent blogpost on sleep for some tips if you have problems.

It is so much better to discover if you have a problem with your blood sugar early, before it progresses into diabetes. But even if you already have diabetes, the best time to start making changes to your life is NOW! Many people have stopped some or all of their diabetes medications by changing their eating, exercise, stress, sleep.

To your health,
Dr. Patty Powers

Patty Powers, MD, is an expert in helping kids and young people who struggle with weight, thyroid and blood sugar problems. Learn more by picking up her free report at