Diabetes Health Tech Metabolic Health

For Diabetics, Continuous Glucose Monitoring Offers Many Advantages

Wearable Device Takes Guesswork out of Diabetes Management

CGM devices help diabetics and others learn about their metabolic health and make healthy lifestyle changes.

Bobbi M. opens an app on her smartphone. She looks at a graph that monitors her blood glucose levels through a wearable device. The dips and spikes on the graph show the changes in her levels over the course of the day. This information helps her determine how her diet and lifestyle affect her blood sugar.

A type 2 diabetic, Bobbi is a mom to three young children. She’s also a senior manager at a large tech company. The twin demands of her family and her job often make it challenging to give proper attention to her health. Several times she has had to miss sales meetings at work because she was huddled in the restroom with her finger stick kit. And when her kids need her, she sometimes puts off checking her levels for a couple of hours.

Her doctor told her that it’s important to be more regular in monitoring her glucose levels, and gave her a prescription for a continuous glucose monitoring device to make this task easier. Now, six months later, not only has the device made it easier to check her blood sugar – it’s changed the way she manages her diabetes.

Read on to learn about continuous glucose monitoring and whether it’s appropriate for your health needs.

What is Continuous Glucose Monitoring?

Continuous Glucose Monitoring, or CGM, is a health tech innovation that allows users to track their blood glucose levels. Most CGM systems are wearable devices with an embedded sensor that provides real-time readings of blood sugar levels. Depending on the type of CGM, readings are available multiple times a day, and the data shows the changes in your levels over that time period.

Developed as an aid to diabetes management, the CGM device makes it easier for type 1 and type 2 diabetics to track their blood glucose. In contrast to conventional finger sticks, which can be inconvenient and time-consuming, the CGM provides ongoing monitoring without the need for much intervention from the user.

The devices represent a leap forward in diabetes management for people living with this condition, and that is a game-changer for many.

Understanding the Big Picture of Your Metabolic Health

There is much variability in the way people respond to different foods and lifestyle choices. Dr. Ronesh Sinha, a physician who specializes in insulin resistance, sees the CGM as an opportunity to “get personal feedback on all of the different lifestyle interventions from diet to stress to sleep.”  

When used over a period of weeks or months, a CGM can teach you about your own metabolism. Having individualized input on how you respond to that ice cream cone, hamburger, bowl of oatmeal, or green salad can help you to make lifestyle decisions tailored to your individual needs. And for those who may stress out about a single glucose spike, CGMs provide a big picture look at metabolic health that puts that spike in the context of other factors.

Uncontrolled high blood sugar is tied to a host of serious health complications. That’s why learning about the personal factors that cause glucose to spike or drop is a valuable tool to have in your health toolkit.

A variety of factors influence the way our blood sugar levels shift over the course of a day.

  • Diet
  • Exercise type and duration
  • Sleep quality
  • Stress
  • Alcohol consumption

…all contribute to changes in glucose levels.

But these are highly individual.

“Bananas,” says Bobbi. “That’s what surprised me the most. I thought that eating them would make my blood sugar spike. But I was just fine. The CGM showed that my body tolerates them really well, which is great because they’re such a handy snack when I have a busy day.  

“Another surprise was exercise,” she adds. “I know that it’s a big part of managing my diabetes. But I thought that I needed to sweat for it to make a difference. It turns out that taking a walk is better for my glucose levels than going for a run or going to the gym.” 

Not Just for Diabetics

Since CGMs were developed with the needs of diabetics in mind, these devices fit into a broad program of diabetes management. As such, they are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and require a doctor’s prescription. Most companies that manufacture CGMs – including Levels, Freestyle Libre, Dexcom – sell them in this manner.

However, continuous glucose monitoring devices can be a boon to non-diabetics as well. Blood glucose variability is a risk factor for health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Metabolic health specialists like Dr. Sinha find that CGMs provide insights into these and other conditions that conventional lab tests often miss.

Nutrisense is a company that has made its CGM available to a broader population. They have medical personnel on staff who take care of the prescriptions for customers.

Can a CGM Replace Finger Sticks?

Not entirely. According to the Cleveland Clinic, most diabetics who use a CGM device will still need to use finger sticks. There are several reasons for this. Finger sticks provide an additional data point when setting up or adjusting a CGM device. When physical symptoms of high or low blood sugar don’t match a reading, they can show a bigger picture of your health status and give clues that your doctor can use for diagnosis.

Finger sticks also provide information about blood glucose in real time, whereas CGM devices have a lag of 5 to 10 minutes.

However, CGM users can dramatically reduce the number of finger sticks they need to do each day. And that’s a welcome bonus.

How to Use a CGM

CGMs aren’t overly complicated, but they do have a learning curve. They are as much an educational tool as they are a health management tool, as opposed to a watch or other electronic device that you can slap on and forget. It’s a good idea to take some time to learn how to use your device and get a sense of how it works with your lifestyle in order to maximize your investment and the benefits you can derive from it.

CGM’s are worn directly on the body, usually on your belly or the back of your arm. Most CGMs consist of a sensor and a transmitter. The sensor is inserted under your skin to measure your interstitial glucose levels, found in the fluid between the cells. Once inserted, you activate the sensor using a wearable device or cell phone app, and the transmitter sends your results to that device (or to an insulin pump if you use one).

Once you have applied the CGM, it stays on for 7 to 14 days. During that time, it sends data about your blood glucose levels multiple times a day. You can use these results to track how your daily habits impact those levels.

Creating Healthy Habits That Stick

What works for Bobbi may not work for everyone. The way we respond to certain exercise regimens has a lot to do with our level of metabolic health. High-intensity exercises like weight lifting, long-distance running or interval training may cause glucose to spike. This is reason for caution for those whose metabolism is less than optimal.

Continuous Glucose Monitoring users like Bobbi love the support the devices provide for healthy lifestyle change. Bobbi herself has seen the difference in her health since she started using them. “When I eat something that’s outside my diet, I see how my blood sugar spikes on the app, and I also notice that I don’t feel so great. And I know darn well that eating a piece of cake affects my levels. But there’s something about seeing that graph go up that makes me sit up and pay attention.”

“It’s got me to behave better,” she laughs.

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