Diabetes Education Can Lower Your A1C by at Least 1%
By Prem Sahasranam MD and Theresa Garnero, APRN, BC-ADM, MSN, CDE
Yes, you read that correctly. Go to diabetes education classes and you can lower your A1C. According to a study that looked at the benefits of completing at least 3 diabetes education sessions, participants:reduced A1C by 1.2 percentage points (that’s an overall reduction more than the medication effect) decreased weight - decreased blood pressure, and improved cholesterol levels (lipid profile). Granted, the population assessed had type 2 diabetes, yet learning all the ins and outs of self-managing diabetes helps to keep you in a safe place. Lowering your A1C closer or within the target range helps to protect you against possible complications associated with high blood sugar (also called hyperglycemia). How is this done? Introducing the 7 self-care behaviors, as identified by the American Association of Diabetes Educators. You probably know at least a couple of these areas, and you’ll learn about all of them in detail when attending our diabetes education program.
Healthy Eating. When first diagnosed and for the years that follow, most people think blood sugar readings are mainly caused by food choices. As in, “My blood sugar is high; what did I eat?” Certainly, that is a major factor but not the only one as you will appreciate after reviewing all of the behaviors. Healthy eating is learning about how to eat nutritiously through meal planning and by being carbohydrate conscious.
Being Active. Getting regular physical activity is part of overall health and when it comes to diabetes, it helps to control blood sugar. Activities that raise your heart rate help to burn extra blood sugar and control weight. In particular, activities that help you build muscle and strength also reduce your body’s resistance to insulin and helps you burn calories, even when you’re at rest.
Taking Medication. Because certain functions and hormones aren’t doing what they should when someone has diabetes, medications are often needed. For example, the pancreas – the gland behind the stomach – doesn’t make enough insulin. Also, the liver can release extra sugar into your system. Medications help to address these areas in order to help your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol. But are you taking your medications to get the biggest effect? Are you on the best dose and not experiencing side effects? Are you having trouble affording your meds? We explore all those questions.
Monitoring. Checking your blood sugar and A1C helps you know about your diabetes health but there are other numbers to keep track of as well. In order to know how well your heart health is doing, you want to know the numbers for your blood pressure, cholesterol and weight. Ask us what are your individual target levels and at what point you should take action with any of the numbers associated with diabetes health.
Healthy Coping. The emotional aspects of diabetes can impact how well you manage your daily care. The daily effort required for self-care can make some feel discouraged, stressed, burned out, or depressed. It’s important to lean on your support system (family, friends, others with diabetes, and your healthcare team) to help you get through tough times. What are activities you find helpful when you’re feeling down? Oftentimes exercise, meditation, enjoying your hobbies, or joining a support group can help.
Problem Solving. Do you know what to do when your blood sugar goes too low or too high? What to do that is different when you get sick? How to plan for the unexpected? How alcohol can make sugars go high and low? What to do if you have a planned surgery? That’s what problem solving is all about. It helps you not only identify possible causes for blood sugars results, but helps to anticipate issues in advance, have a plan of action in case, and reduce swings in blood sugar (called glucose variability).
Reducing Risks. Knowing and getting the health maintenance check-ups will help to keep your diabetes in a safe place. Because diabetes puts you at a higher risk for complications, you can take steps now to prevent them from happening. How? Don’t smoke or inhale second-hand smoke. See your regular doctor or healthcare provider for an annual exam. Get your eyes checked initially and then if no issues, every 2 years. Keep your feet clean and dry, and let your healthcare team know right away if you find any redness or sores. See your dentist twice a year for cleaning. Have your kidneys checked once a year (blood and urine tests). And if you have high blood pressure, monitor it at home, and know when you need to call us. This is really just the beginning of what diabetes self-management education and support covers. It’s a little like the need to take driving lessons before taking the car out for a spin for the first time! It takes time to apply what you learn. You want to know the basics, how to be safe, and then how to optimize your program - not only lower your A1C - but to feel good and confident about your health. Besides, getting diabetes education is a gold standard of care, and you deserve having the best care. Our team of certified diabetes educators helps you to learn all the important areas to keep your diabetes in the healthiest state possible. Liu, L., Lee, M. J., & Brateanu, A. (2014). Improved A1C and Lipid Profile in Patients Referred to Diabetes Education Programs in a Wide Health Care Network: A Retrospective Study. Diabetes Spectrum,27(4), 297-303. doi:10.2337/diaspect.27.4.297