The Importance of Blood Sugar Control for Optimal Aging
Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is crucial to long-term health. Poor blood sugar control increases your risk for heart conditions, cognitive decline, inflammation, weight gain, and premature death.
Your body’s ability to process sugar and manage blood sugar levels diminishes with age. This natural occurrence increases your risk of experiencing blood sugar-related conditions.
However, while you can’t avoid aging, there are things you can do to safeguard your metabolic health.
Lifestyle factors – including staying physically active and eating a balanced diet – will significantly impact your ability to manage blood sugar levels. Certain supplements, like berberine, have also shown promise in boosting glycemic control.
Let’s review what you need to know to stay ahead of these changes to thrive in the many years ahead.
How Aging Affects Blood Sugar Control
Poor blood sugar control is known to increase the risk of disability and early death. However, even for non-diabetic individuals, poor blood sugar control negatively impacts longevity and quality of life.
The likelihood of blood sugar dysregulation increases with age. Decreased insulin sensitivity and reduced insulin production are correlated with advancing age, making it more difficult to process sugar from the foods you eat.
Breaking this down, after a meal, your body extracts various nutrients from the food you eat, including a type of sugar called glucose. Glucose is then released from your digestive tract into your bloodstream.
Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas that helps usher glucose from your bloodstream into your cells to be used for energy.
As you age, your cells can become less responsive to insulin signals, meaning the process of moving glucose out of your blood and into cells slows down. This effect is commonly referred to as insulin resistance or decreased insulin sensitivity.
At the same time, your pancreas gradually produces less insulin. Together, these changes result in glucose hanging around in your bloodstream, leading to chronic high blood sugar levels.
In fact, multiple large observational studies have correlated each decade of age after 30 years with progressively higher blood sugar levels in adults.
Health Impacts of High Blood Sugar
The progressive, age-related metabolic changes that result in elevated blood sugars can promote the development of heart, metabolic, and cognitive conditions.
The landmark Framingham heart study – a long-term, multigenerational study including thousands of subjects – found that men and women with poor blood sugar control have, respectively, two and three times the risk of developing heart conditions.
However, you don’t need to have a diagnosed condition to experience the harmful effects of blood sugar dysregulation. Another large study showed that elevated fasting blood glucose levels increased the risk of cardiovascular conditions in otherwise healthy individuals.
Multiple studies have also shown that high blood sugar is associated with impaired memory and faster cognitive decline. These same studies found that improving blood sugar control reduced these risks.
Experts believe the adverse health outcomes of chronic high blood sugar are due to its damaging effects on blood vessels. Poor blood sugar control can cause blood vessels to become weakened and leaky or increase the risk of buildup and blockage, which in turn can reduce healthy blood flow to vital organs.
How To Maintain Healthy Blood Sugar Control
To support healthy blood sugar management, adopting simple diet and lifestyle habits is typically sufficient for most people. These include:
- Keeping a healthy weight. Carrying extra weight reduces your cell’s insulin sensitivity and makes you more susceptible to blood sugar-related diseases.
- Focusing on high-quality carbohydrates. Swap out refined carbohydrates like white bread and processed snacks with high-fiber carbohydrates low in added sugar (think: whole grains, fruits, starchy vegetables). These foods won’t cause a rapid spike in blood sugar after eating them.
- Choosing healthy fats. Replacing saturated fats (butter, red meat, full-fat dairy, and mayonnaise) with unsaturated fats (olive oil, avocado, fish, and plant-based proteins) has been shown to reduce insulin resistance.
- Staying physically active. Numerous studies have shown that insulin sensitivity increases after physical activity. Aim for 150 minutes of exercise weekly to help maintain healthy blood sugar control.
Remember, discussing any lifestyle or diet changes with your doctor is important, especially because age-related changes to blood sugar management can put older adults at higher risk of low blood sugar episodes.
Berberine Supplements May Help Support Blood Sugar Control
In addition to lifestyle changes, certain supplements may help keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range.
Berberine is a plant-derived compound with a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine. Extracted from various plant species – including barberry root – berberine has shown promise in its effectiveness for supporting healthy blood sugar management.
An analysis of multiple studies showed that berberine was equally effective at lowering blood lipids and blood glucose measures in people with diagnosed blood sugar conditions as certain therapeutic drugs. Researchers also observed improvements in these measures when subjects took berberine with common blood sugar-lowering medications.
Berberine's primary action is activating a metabolic switch (AMPK) which triggers a decrease in insulin resistance. It also boosts glycolysis, the process of breaking down sugar for energy, reduces sugar production in the liver and slows the absorption of carbohydrates in your gut.
The effects of berberine may be further enhanced when combined with other supplements, including resveratrol and nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN). Small studies have shown the ability of NMN and resveratrol to influence insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control positively.
Further, an animal study showed that combining berberine with resveratrol had lipid-lowering effects in mice fed a high-fat diet.
These results show enough potential to warrant further research to answer questions about these supplements' ideal dosage and effectiveness for people with and without blood sugar conditions.
You should discuss these options with your doctor, who can weigh the benefits against your personal health goals and medication interactions.
Maintaining proper blood sugar control is crucial to avoiding detrimental health effects.
Unfortunately, older adults often face greater challenges in regulating their blood glucose levels due to the natural physiological changes that come with aging. However, there are ways to mitigate these challenges and safeguard long-term health.
One effective method is prioritizing staying active and adhering to a balanced diet. Moreover, specific supplements, such as berberine, resveratrol, and NMN, have been shown to help manage blood sugar.
With these tools at your disposal, you can take control of your blood sugar levels and reduce your risk of negative health outcomes.
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