What is high blood sugar?
High blood sugar, also known as hyperglycemia, is a condition in which there is too much sugar circulating in the blood. It occurs when the body either does not produce enough insulin or cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Prolonged periods of high blood sugar can lead to serious health complications like nerve damage, kidney damage, vision loss, heart disease, stroke, and more. That’s why it’s important to lower blood sugar when it gets too high.
Some common symptoms of high blood sugar include:
- Frequent urination
- Increased thirst
- Blurry vision
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should test your blood sugar levels. If your blood sugar is above 180 mg/dL when fasting or above 200 mg/dL two hours after a meal, you may have hyperglycemia and should take steps to lower it.
What causes high blood sugar?
There are a few key causes of high blood sugar:
- Type 1 or type 2 diabetes – With diabetes, the body cannot properly regulate blood sugar levels due to issues with insulin production or sensitivity.
- Not enough insulin – People with type 1 diabetes do not produce enough insulin. Some people with type 2 diabetes also do not make enough insulin later in the disease progression.
- Medications – Certain medications like steroids and antipsychotics may affect blood sugar levels.
- Illness – When people are ill, stress hormones can raise blood sugar. Infection also makes it difficult to control blood sugar.
- Food choices – Eating too many refined carbohydrates and sugars can cause spikes in blood sugar.
- Insufficient exercise – Lack of physical activity can contribute to insulin insensitivity.
- Other medical conditions – Diseases of the pancreas, hormone disorders like Cushing’s syndrome, and other issues can also raise blood sugar.
Managing any underlying conditions is key to regulating blood sugar. Dietary and lifestyle changes are also very important when it comes to lowering high blood sugar.
Why it’s important to lower high blood sugar
Bringing high blood sugar levels down quickly is crucial to avoid short and long-term complications of prolonged hyperglycemia. Here are some of the key reasons it’s vital to lower high blood sugar when it occurs:
- Avoid diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) – Very high blood sugar levels can lead to a life-threatening condition called DKA which requires emergency medical treatment.
- Reduce cardiovascular damage – Research shows elevated blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels and raise the risk of stroke and heart attack.
- Minimize nerve damage – Uncontrolled high blood sugar can damage nerves over time, potentially causing neuropathy and loss of sensation.
- Reduce vision loss risk – High blood sugar damages delicate blood vessels and nerves in the retina and can result in vision issues.
- Slow kidney disease progression – Kidney disease risk goes up significantly with prolonged high blood sugar levels.
- Improve wound healing – High blood sugar impairs immune function and can make cuts and wounds more likely to become infected.
- Decrease infection risk – People with elevated blood sugar are more susceptible to infections. Bringing levels down can help prevent illness.
The longer someone has high blood sugar, the higher their risk of developing devastating complications. Lowering levels quickly minimizes these risks and prevents severe long-term consequences.
When to seek emergency care for high blood sugar
In most cases, high blood sugar comes down with at-home treatment like diet changes, exercise, medication and insulin. But if it remains extremely elevated, emergency care may be needed. Go to the emergency room or call 911 right away if:
- Blood sugar stays above 300 mg/dL
- Nausea, vomiting or stomach pain develops
- Moderate or large amounts of ketones are present on a urine test
- You’re unable to keep food or fluids down
- You have symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis like shortness of breath or fruity-smelling breath
- You lose consciousness
Going to the ER allows doctors to promptly give insulin, fluids and electrolytes intravenously to bring blood sugar down and prevent diabetic ketoacidosis.
How to lower blood sugar quickly when it’s high
When blood sugar levels are running high, it’s important to act fast to lower them and avoid complications. Here are some of the most effective strategies for reducing high blood sugar quickly:
Physical activity is one of the fastest ways to lower high blood sugar. Exercise helps muscles use blood sugar for energy. Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise like walking can start bringing blood sugar down. The effects tend to last for 2-24 hours or more after working out.
Staying hydrated allows the kidneys to efficiently remove excess glucose from the blood. Aim for water and sugar-free, decaffeinated beverages. Sugary drinks like juice can make blood sugar rise further.
3. Take medication
For people with diabetes, taking a rapid-acting insulin dose or other diabetes medications as prescribed can swiftly lower blood glucose.
4. Inject insulin
People with severe high blood sugar may need a shot of fast-acting insulin to reverse it. This is often necessary for those with type 1 diabetes when diet and oral meds aren’t enough.
5. Avoid carbs and sugars
Eating carbohydrates and sugars causes blood sugar to spike. Avoid all refined carbs, starches and sweet foods until it’s back in range. Focus on high protein, high fiber, low glycemic index options.
6. Try apple cider vinegar
Some research indicates apple cider vinegar may help lower fasting and post-meal blood sugar due to its acetic acid content. Mix 2 tablespoons in water and drink up to twice per day.
7. Take cinnamon extract
Cinnamon contains compounds that boost insulin sensitivity and may lower blood sugar, especially for those with type 2 diabetes. Take 500-1000 mg capsules or powder 1-2 times daily.
8. Use fenugreek seeds
Fenugreek seeds and leaves have been used to treat diabetes. The water-soluble fiber helps inhibit carbohydrate digestion and absorption. Take 2.5 to 15 grams daily, divided into 2-3 doses.
9. Try meditation or stress reduction
Psychological stress contributes to hyperglycemia. Meditation, yoga, deep breathing and other relaxation techniques help lower cortisol and may decrease blood sugar.
10. Drink unsweetened tea
Green tea and black tea contain polyphenols that enhance insulin activity and may lower blood sugar. Unsweetened varieties are best for diabetes management.
11. Use essential oils
Some research shows cinnamon, clove, rosemary and lavender essential oils can lower blood sugar when used aromatically or topically on pulse points. Inhale or apply to wrists to use.
What to eat to lower blood sugar quickly
Along with the tips above, choosing the right foods can rapidly bring high blood sugar down. Here are some of the top foods to eat:
Non-starchy veggies are extremely low in carbs, so they don’t cause blood sugar spikes. Enjoy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, onions and more.
Protein foods like poultry, fish, eggs, meat and tofu have little impact on blood sugar. Pairing them with non-starchy veggies makes a stabilizing meal.
Despite some carbs, nuts are high in fiber and protein, so a small handful can help lower blood sugar rises after meals. Try almonds, walnuts, pecans, peanuts or pistachios.
Apple cider vinegar
As mentioned previously, apple cider vinegar may help reduce blood sugar spikes, especially when taken before high carb meals. Mix in a glass of water.
Cinnamon can be sprinkled on foods or mixed into tea, coffee, oatmeal or yogurt to potentially lower post-meal blood sugar. Use 1/4-1 teaspoon per serving.
Chia seeds form a gel when mixed with liquids, slowing digestion and the conversion of carbs to blood sugar. Add 1-2 tablespoons to smoothies, oats or yogurt.
Like chia seeds, flaxseeds are very high in viscous fiber, which can blunt the impact of sugar and starches on blood sugar levels after eating.
Plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt contains carbs, but it’s also high in blood sugar-friendly protein and fat. It makes a good snack or base for a smoothie.
Foods to avoid when blood sugar is high
On the other hand, there are foods that can spike your blood sugar even higher. Avoid these when blood sugar is elevated:
- Fruit and fruit juice
- Grains like bread, pasta, rice, cereal
- Starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, peas
- Sweets like cake, cookies, candy, ice cream
- Sugary drinks like soda, sweet tea, energy drinks
- Packaged snack foods like chips, pretzels, crackers
Stick with low-carb, high protein foods as much as possible when bringing high blood sugar down. Be sure to speak to your doctor about an appropriate diet for your health status and blood sugar goals.
Emergency foods to lower blood sugar quickly
Even when you haven’t prepped the ideal meal or snack, there are very low-carb emergency food options you can turn to in a pinch when blood sugar is very high, such as:
- Hard boiled eggs
- Nuts like almonds or walnuts
- Seeds like pumpkin or sunflower
- Cubes of cheese
- Leftover cooked meat, poultry or fish
- Canned seafood like salmon, sardines or tuna
- Natural nut butters
- Cucumbers, celery or tomatoes
- Plain Greek yogurt
Pairing any of the foods above with water or unsweetened tea is a quick way to get blood sugar decreasing rapidly. Keep emergency snacks like these on hand for instances where you find your blood sugar spiking unexpectedly.
When to contact your doctor about high blood sugar
You should let your doctor know anytime you experience prolonged high blood sugar episodes. Get medical advice if:
- Blood sugar stays above 180 mg/dL after an overnight fast
- Levels exceed 200 mg/dL two hours after meals
- Ketones are present
- In spite of lifestyle changes, blood sugar remains difficult to control
- You experience any symptoms of diabetes or hyperglycemia
Your doctor can provide guidance on medications, insulin dosage adjustments, lifestyle strategies and managing any underlying conditions. Prompt medical care for consistent hyperglycemia can help prevent complications.
How to prevent high blood sugar in the future
Once you’ve lowered high blood sugar, it’s essential to take steps to avoid it recurring. Ways to help prevent future blood sugar spikes include:
- Following the right dietary pattern – Choose a low glycemic, high fiber, low processed carbohydrate diet.
- Exercising regularly – Aim for 30-60 minutes of activity at least 5 days per week.
- Losing excess weight – Carrying extra pounds worsens insulin resistance.
- Taking medications as directed – Oral diabetes drugs or insulin help regulate blood sugar long-term.
- Limiting alcohol – Alcohol impairs the liver’s ability to regulate blood sugar.
- Quitting smoking – Smoking exacerbates insulin resistance and complicates diabetes management.
- Managing stress – High stress drives hyperglycemia. Try relaxation techniques.
- Getting enough sleep – Lack of sleep disrupts hormonal balance and blood sugar control.
Work closely with your healthcare provider to optimize your diet, physical activity, weight and medications in order to prevent recurrent episodes of high blood sugar.
High blood sugar is a serious health concern requiring quick action to avoid short and long-term risks. Physical activity, hydration, diabetes medications, insulin, stress reduction techniques and low glycemic foods can all help reverse high blood sugar rapidly. Avoid refined carbs and sugar until levels normalize. Speak to your doctor for help getting high blood glucose under control and preventing future spikes. Consistent lifestyle and dietary measures coupled with medical treatment as needed offer the best protection against hyperglycemia and its complications. With the right plan, most people can achieve positive outcomes and blood sugar stability.