This week's report linking higher blood sugar levels with lower brain function in people with type 2 diabetes probably sent many people to their computers to research ways to reduce their A1C levels, a measurement of average blood sugar over time. And the Web abounds with suggestions: Sprinkle cinnamon on your breakfast cereal, drink decaf coffee, take chromium supplements, drink red wine.
If only you could reduce your A1C levels by eating that gooey Cinnabon. But unfortunately, none of those alternative treatments hold up to scientific scrutiny, according to the American Diabetes Association. What does work for long-term weight loss and thus lower A1C levels is, you guessed it, diet and exercise. Diet, in particular, has the strongest nonpharmaceutical effect on A1C levels, says Matt Petersen, director of information resources for the ADA. "You can't increase your physical activity enough to make up for the excess calories that most people are taking in," he says.
Diet. The type of diet you follow, whether it's low carb or low glycemic index or something else, doesn't seem to matter as much as whether it restricts how many calories you take in. From this perspective, you're actually better off putting a teaspoon of sugar in your coffee than a teaspoon of cream, says Petersen, because cream packs a higher caloric punch.
Exercise. Getting 20 to 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week is going to help keep the weight off long term. At the Joslin Diabetes Center, the staff emphasizes strength training as an important component. "People maintain their lean muscle mass, and that has the advantage of disposing of a larger amount of glucose from the bloodstream," says Osama Hamdy, medical director of the obesity clinical program at Joslin.
Dealing with diabetes isn't just about keeping down your blood glucose, though. A new approach to managing diabetes emerges from the idea that a more effective treatment in certain patients may be to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. No matter what, diet and exercise are keys to battling diabetes.