January 20, 2021
Reviewed for medical accuracy by Magdalena Chavez, PA-C.
Diabetes is a common disease that affects approximately one out of every ten Americans. And prediabetes, a state of higher risk of getting diabetes or cardiovascular disease, is present in almost one in three Americans. With such high-risk factors, it is important to test and focus on your blood sugar levels to help prevent complications from diabetes in your future. That is where your hemoglobin A1C levels are incredibly important.
Your hemoglobin A1C numbers show the average blood sugar levels from the past two to three months. These numbers offer the most in-depth picture of your risk of complications from diabetes. The most effective way to avoid contracting this disease is by finding threats early and adjusting your lifestyle accordingly.
It is a good idea to test your hemoglobin A1C at least once a year depending on your family history and other risk factors. If you already have a diagnosis of diabetes, this should be checked every three to six months so you can figure out the best way to proceed. Just because you have high numbers doesn’t mean you can’t still lower your A1C and begin a healthier lifestyle. Stop diabetes in its tracks with a treatment plan from your doctor to lower your blood sugar numbers. This will have a positive effect on your overall health and help you continue a full and happy life.
What is the A1C test?
Before you can begin lowering your hemoglobin A1C, it is helpful to fully understand what hemoglobin A1C is referring to. It is a blood test taken at any time that is the primary way to diagnose diabetes mellitus type 1 and type 2. The hemoglobin in your blood can be coated with sugar which means it is glycated.
In fact, the test may also be referred to as glycated hemoglobin, hemoglobin A1C, or HbA1C. No matter what the title, higher blood sugar levels are not a good sign and can indicate an increased risk of diabetes. This can occur in adolescents or adults depending on different factors like body weight and diet.
Reasons for Testing
There are a few different reasons why you may go in for an A1C test. Perhaps it is a precautionary test to see what your levels look like and diagnose prediabetes. Or maybe your doctor suspects you have diabetes and wants to confirm the results. This will usually include two A1C tests on different days or an additional diabetes test such as a fasting glucose level.
Lastly, it is important to track A1C levels as a diabetic patient. This is the best way to know if a treatment plan and your lifestyle changes are working effectively. So whether you’re taking the first step to diagnose your condition or taking the 500th step in your diabetes management, tracking your A1C will be an important part of your journey.
So you understand what A1C numbers are, now you need to understand how to read the results. A normal level that doesn’t indicate the risk is under 5.7%. For individuals whose A1C is between 5.7% and 6.4%, you are considered prediabetic and will need to begin monitoring your levels.
Any level of 6.5% or higher is diagnostic or diabetes, and patients who need to speak with a health care provider about different ways to manage the problem. Depending on your age and other risk factors, your doctor will set a goal A1c for you, usually close to 6.5% or 7.0%.
Of course, these numbers are the standards and averages. As with anything in medicine, every individual is different. Depending on your numbers, you may make slight adjustments to these levels. Your weight, age, and other healthy lifestyle factors will affect your own personal journey and the implications of your A1C levels.
Implications of Results
No matter what test you’re taking, some of the most stressful moments are waiting for the results. Once your tests are read and you know the amount of sugar in your blood, you can start your diabetes management plan. If your numbers are normal and healthy, you have nothing to worry about. But once they start creeping into prediabetic or diabetic range, it is time to get serious about lowering your A1C.
How to Lower Your A1C
Depending on the results of your A1C test, it may be time to start looking for ways to lower your numbers and change up your daily routine to avoid a diabetes diagnosis. Just know there is no immediate, one-size-fits-all solution to lowering your numbers. It takes diligent lifestyle measures and an introduction of new, healthy habits to lower blood sugar levels. However, a one-time high A1C level does not mean all hope is lost. You have the opportunity to turn things around and avoid a diabetes diagnosis or serious diabetes-related complications. Let’s look at some of those tips for lowering A1C below.
Make a diabetes plan.
The first step on any health journey is making a detailed plan. Speak with your doctor to make a diet plan, find ways to exercise, and how to cut out sugars and carbohydrates, especially simple carbohydrate like those found in white bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes. This will help you prepare for what needs to be done mentally and physically.
Because your blood sugar levels are often affected by what you eat and how you exercise, those will be big parts of your plan. You are more likely to stick with significant differences to your diet and daily activity if you make it easy for yourself. Meal plan and find workout buddies to keep you motivated. Set specific goals so you can reward yourself when you reach them. All this and more will help you stay committed to your journey of lowering your A1C.
If you’ve been officially diagnosed with diabetes, a plan will be essential for how you will manage your disease. You’ll need contact information for your doctors and the nearest emergency car in case something goes awry. You’ll need a plan and understanding of how to work your at-home equipment for testing your glucose at home on your own.
Change your diet.
A healthy diet is one of the best ways to lower your A1C levels. If you’re trying to cut sugar out of your bloodstream, it is a good first step to work on cutting it out of your diet. This can happen in a lot of different ways. For one, your carbs can have the greatest impact on your blood sugar. You don’t need to cut out carbohydrates completely, but consider going to carbs that are higher in fiber like whole grain products rather than those filled with starch.
You’ll want to start reevaluating your serving sizes. Try to increase vegetable intake and lean proteins rather than red meats. Fruits may seem like a good snack, but they can also be high in sugar. Try to avoid processed foods as they usually have higher sugar amounts and can heighten your blood glucose. Another good rule of thumb is always taking in fewer calories than you can burn. Your medical provider, a diabetic educator, or a dietitian can help you make a plan that will work to lower A1C levels and get you on the right track to a healthier lifestyle.
Adjust how you track your diet.
A big part of changing your diet is how you actually track your food intake. You may need to adjust this when it comes to lowering your A1C. Perhaps you were already on a food plan, but you were focused on counting calories or doing a specific plan like intermittent fasting or Keto. A healthy diet to lower A1C levels may require you to count sugar intake or lower your carbohydrates instead. Be ready to track what you are eating more diligently because it will become all the more important for your health and your bloodstream.
Start measuring in the kitchen.
Oftentimes your health and diet can be fine, but you have a problem with overindulging. Sure, fruit is good for you, but when you’re having sugary items in bulk, it can affect your glucose levels. It may be time to bring measuring cups and scales into your kitchen. Portion control becomes essential for blood sugar control. When you are eating more than your body can process, it leads to a rise in A1C. Start training your body to only need the correct amount of food and stop craving those bigger, unhealthy portions.
Focus on losing the right amount of weight.
Diabetes can be a result of obesity or being overweight. For this reason, one of the ways to lower your A1C and fight off diabetes is weight loss. However, you don’t need to drop a ton of weight to affect your blood glucose level. Usually, doctors will recommend losing around 10% of your current weight. While you may have other goals for yourself or for other health reasons, you start to see a difference in your own insulin lowering your blood sugar and A1C levels. Set a weight loss goal and it will directly impact your A1C goal and help with diabetes control.
Increase your exercise.
Diet is great but in order to make a true change, you need to pair it with regular exercise. This doesn’t mean you need to start a rigorous program where you are in the gym for two hours every day, but a gradual increase in your activity will help lower your A1C. When your muscles are working, they use up sugar. This lowers the build-up of glucose in the bloodstream and can help with high blood sugar levels.
Going out for a daily walk can be step one toward truly making a difference. Once you get some sort of a routine down, it can also be beneficial to add in some strength training. This is where your muscles get to work and require that extra energy and sugar to function properly. And, more muscle mass will help you to continue to burn up sugar even when you are at rest. If you can make this increase in exercise a regular part of your weekly routine, there has been a tremendous amount of research to indicate that your A1C levels will decrease.
Keep track of your medications.
If you are a diabetic patient, you probably already have a regiment of medications and lifestyle adjustments to deal with your diabetes. When you get your A1C test, you are basically tracking to see if your treatment plan is working effectively. The best way to lower your A1C in this scenario is to keep up with your medications.
Your doctor prescribed those meds for a reason, so if you aren’t taking them exactly as you were told, it can cause an increase in your A1C levels. This is incredibly important when you already have diabetes because the management of your disease is the best way to avoid extreme complications like nerve damage, cardiovascular disease, and skin conditions. Your diabetes treatment is important, so don’t slack on your meds.
Only use useful supplements.
A pill that may not be prescribed is a supplement. Many of these vitamins promise they’ll lower your A1C, but you need to be careful about who you can trust. There isn’t much research and exact data out there to actually promise a lowering of your numbers. Before you commit to any “miracle pills,” consult with a health care provider to find out if supplements will actually be useful for you.
The best tip overall for lowering your A1C is to stay diligent. Because your levels are measured as an average of two to three months, it can take time for you to see a real difference. That doesn’t mean your efforts aren’t yielding positive results. Improving your health and lowering your A1C will only help lead to a happier, fuller life. Commit to these lifestyle changes and find ways to reinvest in yourself and your health. The benefits will help you to lower your A1C and protect your vital organs including the heart, kidneys, eyes, and nervous system.