The Beta-Cell Bank: The False Sense of a “Normal Glucose”

You go for your annual physical because you care about your health. After a week or so your doctor calls you and assures you all is normal and there is nothing to worry about…or is there?

It is not unusual that I see a fasting glucose level on a new client’s blood work in the upper range of normal. Although your glucose level is in “normal” range does that mean everything is normal?

Let’s break the beta-cell bank down.

Normal glucose levels depending on the lab are between 70-120. A fasting glucose should be below 90 if one is processing sugar normally in the body. If your fasting glucose is over 95 it means your body is starting to become more carbohydrate sensitive and your pancreas and liver working harder to keep your glucose “normal.” Your doctor may just be checking to see if your blood parameters are in the normal range rather than looking at what is making them “normal.”

Why is this a problem? It’s all about the beta-cells.

Beta-cells are responsible for making insulin in the pancreas and according to Dr. Sandra Fallon, Cardiologist, “beta-cells are like a bad bank – you can only make withdrawals not deposits.”   Your pancreas only has a certain number of beta-cells so as time goes on if the pancreas has to work hard to keep your glucose levels normal your beta-cells are slowly burning out.

Research shows that by the time your fasting glucose is in pre-diabetes range, or 100-115 mg/dl, approximately 30% of your beta-cells are gone and by the time it is over 126, 40-50% of your beta cells are gone.

Prevention goes a long way.

Choosing to ignore these levels will lead you down a road you want to avoid in the future.

If you wait for your blood sugars to become abnormal you’ve missed an opportunity to prevent diabetes and its major inflammatory consequences.

So what’s the action plan to help save the beta-cells?

Lifestyle is cornerstone with lowering your carbs and making sure you are consuming protein and good fats at every meal. The amount of carbs is based on your level of insulin resistance.

Walking after each meal is also key since it forces the food you just ate into your cells, thus “resting your pancreas” from having to work so hard after a meal.

However, sometimes your genetics and weight may be more than lifestyle can overcome and supplements and medications may be necessary. Although I am all about lifestyle research now shows that early intervention with a drug called metformin may mean the difference between becoming diabetic or not.

In addition if a blood test called glycosylated hemoglobin A1C (a measure which shows what your blood sugar is averaging over a 3 month period) is over 5.6 (normal 4-5.6) starting metformin can mean the difference between being on insulin or not in the future.

If your A1C is between 5.7-6.3 you are in pre-diabetes range and if you are over 6.4 you are diabetic. These numbers can be reversed with diet, exercise and meticulous management and of course metformin.

Metformin is a type of medication, which was classically used for diabetes and now is used with insulin resistance and pre-diabetes. It helps lower blood sugar by lowering the amount of glucose produced by the liver, increasing your body’s response to it’s own insulin and lowering the amount of glucose absorbed from the food that you eat. The level of insulin resistance in your body is decreased, which can keep your glucose under control.

Various supplements can also lower insulin resistance, and an herbal form of metformin call Berberine has shown promising results in lower one’s A1C.

Normal medical protocol is not to treat until something becomes problematic. With respect to diabetes prevention “watchful waiting” is not recommended in this case. One of my new clients had an A1C of 5.6 and 6 months later her pancreas has given out and her A1C was now 12.2.

If you want to keep your pancreas healthy and preserve your beta cells time is of the essence whether it is changing your diet, increasing activity and/or having a serious conversation with your doctor about prevention so you don’t get that dreaded call one day stating “you now have diabetes.”