With November being Diabetes Awareness Month, we’re thinking more about how preventative treatments and proactive paying attention can be productive to your overall health. One marker you may or may not have ever had run by a doctor is the hemoglobin A1c. Let’s dive into how it can provide a more complete picture of your health, whether or not you’re at risk for diabetes.
What is Hemoglobin A1c?
Hemoglobin A1c (Hba1c) tells us the average of your blood sugars over the last two to three months. Basically it gives us information about the rollercoaster that your blood sugar has been on, for good or bad. When blood sugars climb high, even for a short period of time, that excess sugar can attach itself to your red blood cells, which we measure as Hba1c.
Some practitioners only run this if you have other signs or symptoms of diabetes. Others consider it a general screening test. Like most labs done at Minneapolis Integrative Medicine Center, we see this marker as a more important piece of information than just monitoring diabetes.
Why MIMC Doctors Monitor Hemoglobin A1c
By conventional standards, if you measure at below 5.7% for hemoglobin A1c, you’re golden—and you’re cleared of pre-diabetes! But if you’re below 5.7%, conventional medicine often ignores the wide-ranging information we can glean from your results.
This marker can reveal lots of great info about what’s happening in your body, even if you’re below the designated levels. First, let’s go back to what this marker actually tells us—the peaks that your blood sugar is reaching. Outside of testing your blood sugar multiple times per day, this marker is one of the best we have that will give us insight into what’s happening with your blood sugar on a minute by minute basis.
It can also provide us with insight into what your eating habits may look like. It does this by estimating the balance of carbohydrates, fat, protein, and fiber that you’re eating. This relies on the glycemic index, which gives us information about how foods are broken down by your body and what response your blood sugar gives in return. Foods with a high glycemic index cause blood sugar to increase very quickly, while foods with a low glycemic index have a slower release of glucose.
But since your plate isn’t just loaded up with one type of food, can we calculate how your blood sugar will respond to something complex, like a grain bowl? We can use something called the glycemic load. It’s essentially adding together the glycemic properties of all the parts of your bowl to give us the total response your blood sugar will have.
So for example: We can dissect that bowl to know that the animal proteins have higher protein content, moderate fat, and less carbohydrates, while something like white rice has lower protein and fat, but higher carbohydrate. The veggies and beans add some fiber (and carbohydrates), while adding something like avocado can increase the fat cont
Without a complex math problem you can see that this bowl has higher proteins and fats, while having moderate carbohydrates. This bowl will most likely have a lower glycemic load, helping to slowly elevate your blood glucose over time. If you ate this bowl every day (though we don’t recommend that because this isn’t a perfect example), your Hba1c will most likely stay lower and closer to our optimal values.
On the flip side, if your bowl was full of just rice and beans, it may over time elevate your Hba1c enough to show a trend towards pre-diabetes.
What This Means For You
If you’re wondering what your blood sugar might reveal about you, ask your doctor to measure your Hba1c to get a more complete picture of how your daily choices are impacting your overall health. With the right tools, you can make adjustments today that will ultimately have long-term preventative health effects.
If you know diabetes runs in your family or if you’ve been flagged for pre-diabetes before, that’s all the more reason to monitor your Hba1c levels regularly. You’ll be not only supporting good health today, but you’ll also be creating a system for proactive care in the long run.
Interested in more labs we run that other practices might not? Check out the four thyroid labs your conventional doctor might skip—and why they’re important to your healthcare.