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The American Heart Association came up with “The Simple 7” factors that can lead to a healthier life: not smoking, not being overweight, being “very active” (defined as the equivalent of walking at least 22 minutes a day), eating healthier (for example, lots of fruits and vegetables), having below-average cholesterol, having normal blood pressure, and having normal blood sugar levels.

What is blood sugar and how can elevated levels affect our health?

Our digestive system breaks down the carbohydrates we eat into a simple sugar called glucose, the primary fuel powering all the cells in our body. Glucose enters our circulatory system as blood sugar and is then stored in our muscles to be used for energy. To get from the bloodstream into our cells, glucose requires insulin. Think of insulin as the key that unlocks the doors to our cells to allow glucose to enter. Every time we eat a meal, insulin is released by our pancreas to help shuttle the glucose into our cells. Without insulin, our cells can’t accept glucose, and, as a result, the glucose builds up in our blood. Over time, this extra sugar can damage the blood vessels throughout the body.

Diabetes mellitus is characterized by chronically elevated levels of sugar in our blood. This is because either our pancreas gland isn’t making enough insulin (the hormone that keeps our blood sugar in check) or because our body becomes resistant to insulin’s effects. If too much sugar builds up in our blood, it can overwhelm the kidneys and spill into our urine. Diabetes can lead to blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, and stroke. High blood sugar can also damage our nerves, creating a condition known as neuropathy that can cause numbness, tingling, and pain.

 

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