Life Extension Magazine

Life Extension Magazine January 2004

What You Don’t Know About Blood Sugar

By William Faloon

How to Assess Your Fasting Glucose Status

In order to assess your fasting blood glucose status, a standard blood chemistry test provides this information at a modest cost.

Dr. Roy Walford is a pioneering scientist who demonstrated that maximum life span could be extended when calorie intake is reduced. Dr. Walford’s research showed that caloric restriction lowers fasting glucose by 21% (from 92 to 74 mg/DL) in humans. Even more significant was Dr. Walford’s finding that these calorie-restricted people had a 42% reduction in fasting insulin!

Overweight and obese people have very high insulin levels.55-56 Chronically elevated insulin contributes to a host of degenerative diseases.57-63 Our new hypothesis suggests that lowering fasting glucose levels results in an even greater reduction in fasting insulin. By secreting insulin when blood sugar levels exceed 83 mg/dL, the pancreas is telling us to keep blood glucose far below the high “normal” reference ranges used by blood test labs. While today’s standard fasting glucose reference range extends to 109 mg/dL before flagging a problem, our new hypothesis suggests that fasting glucose over 85 mg/dL is cause for concern.

As you will read in this month’s cover story, “Pathways of Aging,” excess blood glucose induces enormous damage to tissues throughout the body. The question is, what to do about it?

New Glucose Guidelines Issued by American Diabetes Foundation

On October 24, 2003, a scientific committee of the American Diabetes Association issued a new definition of “impaired glucose tolerance,” also known as a “prediabetic” state.

Under the new definition, the cut-off point for normal fasting blood glucose levels was reduced from 109 to 100 mg/dL, meaning that a value of 100 mg/dL or above would lead to a diagnosis of impaired fasting glucose (or prediabetes). Studies show that many people who fall in the prediabetic range will develop diabetes within 10 years.

A member of the Association’s scientific committee stated that lowering the fasting glucose threshold to 100 mg/dL should help doctors identify more people at risk for developing type II diabetes. These people could then be prescribed an intensive diabetes-prevention program, such as diet and exercise therapy. The objective in intervening early, according to the American Diabetes Association representative, is to reduce the risk of diabetic complications such as heart disease.

Now that the American Diabetes Association has joined the Life Extension Foundation in recommending optimal fasting glucose levels below 100 mg/dL, blood testing laboratories may change their “standard reference range” to alert more people who are in a prediabetic state.

The problem is that the Life Extension Foundation’s new hypothesis indicates that fasting glucose levels above 85 mg/dL are cause for concern. So even if blood labs lower their upper limit range to 100 mg/dL, many people will not be warned that their blood sugar levels are too high.

Ways to Lower Blood Glucose
The safest, most effective way to lower blood glucose levels is caloric restriction. Few people, however, are able to consistently under-eat. Consuming a lower glycemic index/load diet reduces blood glucose levels somewhat.64-69 (For more information about the “glycemic index/load,” see pages 1151-4 of Disease Prevention and Treatment.)

Chromium supplements have been shown to reduce blood glucose significantly.70-74 The dose used in human studies ranges from 200 to 1000 mcg of elemental chromium a day, with best results occurring when 400 mcg or more of chromium is taken daily.

Of interest is an animal study showing that chromium extended mean and maximum life span.75 This study surprised gerontologists, as chromium had not been considered a particularly promising antiaging nutrient. It may have been chromium’s effect in lowering glucose levels that resulted in the significant prolonging of life span demonstrated in this study.

Magnesium, carnitine, alpha lipoic acid, and biotin also can help maintain glycemic control.76-108 A prescription drug for diabetes called metformin significantly lowers glucose levels in most people, but not everyone can take this medication.109-119

Nutrients That Have Been Shown to Reduce Fasting Blood
Glucose Levels
(primarily in diabetic patients)

Alpha Lipoic acid81-94

Regrettably, many aging people will not be able to maintain optimal blood glucose levels of less than 86 mg/dL. In this situation, protecting the body from the toxic effects of glucose becomes paramount. Glycation is a pathological process that occurs when glucose binds to protein molecules, resulting in the formation of non-functioning structures in the body. Higher blood glucose levels mean more-damaging glycation reactions.

Glycation advances slowly and accompanies every fundamental process of cellular metabolism. Glycation accelerates aging and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Fortunately, a nutrient called carnosine confers significant protection against glycation processes.120-121

Higher blood glucose also causes increased oxidative stress. Consumption of antioxidants has shown beneficial results in type II diabetics.122-150 Based on our hypothetical definition that blood sugar over 85 mg/dL is too high, antioxidants may be more important to healthy people than previously thought.

A new fat-soluble form of vitamin B1 has demonstrated significant protection against sugar toxicity at the cellular level. In Europe, this vitamin B1 derivative called benfotiamine is prescribed for those suffering from disorders related to sugar toxicity, such as peripheral neuropathy. The good news is that this nutrient has been added to popular supplements already being taken by most Life Extension members. Consumers can thus help protect themselves against the lethal dangers of excess sugar (glucose) without having to swallow more capsules or spend more money.

Why Our Hypothesis May Revolutionize Antiaging Medicine
Despite their efforts to lead healthier lifestyles, many people are dying prematurely of age-related diseases. Heart attack remains the number-one killer. Kidney failure is a major problem in those fortunate enough to make it past 85 years of age.151 The diseases of aging can be related to an impaired glucose state that we hypothesize may be defined as fasting glucose levels chronically greater than 85 mg/dL.

Sugar levels higher than what cells require to sustain energy metabolism inflict greater damage than lower sugar levels. If moderate to high “normal” fasting glucose levels increase cardiovascular mortality by 40% (as was shown in one large human study), then high normal glucose (and the corresponding excess insulin secretion it provokes) could be one of the leading preventable risk factors for heart attack and stroke.

Because blood sugar levels over 126 mg/dL substantially increase the risk of disease, it might be logical to assume that levels somewhere below 126 also represent an unacceptable danger.

Our new hypothesis indicates that fasting blood glucose of greater than 85 mg/dL is a signal of a metabolic disturbance that may lead to the development of degenerative disease. Most aging people have glucose levels above 85, and this age group also suffers from a plethora of disease states.

We know that type II diabetes markedly accelerates the rate at which humans contract age-related diseases. Type II diabetes is initially characterized by high levels of glucose and insulin in the blood. Today’s reference range for diabetes (fasting glucose of 126 mg/dL or greater on two consecutive occasions) does not adequately reflect the “prediabetic” quandary (fasting glucose over 85 mg/dL) faced by most aging people.