Goldilocks was right

Goldilocks Was Right

You’re probably familiar with the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and recall how the hungry little girl Goldilocks tasted all three bowls of the bears’ porridge until she found the one that was not too hot, not too cold, but was “just right.” There is a blood glucose level that’s “just right” also – not too low and not too high. Since those of us with diabetes seem to always be searching for that level, it’s good to know why.

A normal blood glucose level is considered to be between 70 and 99 milligrams (of glucose) per deciliter (of blood). For an adult male, who maintains about 5 liters (50 deciliters) of blood volume, a “just right” blood glucose level of 80 mg/dl means 4,000 milligrams (4 grams) of glucose is circulating through his system. In English measures, that’s only about 1 teaspoon of glucose dissolved into almost 1 ½ gallons of blood.

If you wonder why the ideal level of glucose isn’t zero, you can thank your brain. Your brain needs at least the lower end of that “just right” level of blood glucose to think and to keep you breathing with a regular heartbeat. Since brain cells can’t store glucose, your body wants to always keep some available in your blood. Blood glucose levels that are too low are usually related to diabetes treatment, including insulin and other medications, although some people without diabetes experience hypoglycemia too. Anyone who has experienced hypoglycemia, diabetes or not, won’t be surprised to hear that their brain is affected.

Blood glucose levels that are higher than “just right” – hyperglycemia – actually defines diabetes. It’s rare to see dangerous extremely high blood glucose levels with type 2 diabetes, but we know that consistently high levels over long periods of time causes damage to nerves and blood vessels. Your body is always working to remove extra glucose by storing most away for when your brain needs more later, or by eliminating the excess in urine. When we have diabetes, we can help this process by taking medications, managing what we eat, and making time for physical activity. Fortunately, research shows we don’t have to stay in that “just right” range for people without diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recommends blood glucose levels between 70 and 130 mg/dl before a meal, and a long term average of around 150 mg/dl represented by an A1C of 7% or lower.

Goldilocks had it easy, finding the “just right” porridge on her third try. Keeping blood glucose levels in a range that preserves our health takes a little more effort. But, the reward beats any bowl of soup.

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