What Factors Affect Blood Sugar Levels?

When people first start to track their blood sugar, they often zero in on decreasing their intake of refined carbohydrates and sugar. While this can help, there are several other factors that could be affecting your blood glucose levels.

a man and a woman stretching in a grassy area with a cityscape behind them

Food, beverages, your environment, and your lifestyle can all impact your blood sugar. Even some medications and vitamins can have an effect.

This article will provide you with specific examples of how each factor can influence your blood sugar levels. You can apply this knowledge by making changes to your health that will support tighter blood glucose control.  

How Food & Drink Factors In

Let’s start with the factor which may have the biggest influence on your daily glucose levels. Food and drink choices can cause blood sugar to rise within fifteen minutes of eating. 

Tips for Managing Blood Sugar with Food and Drink Choices

  • Balance your meals to include moderate portions of carbohydrates, and plenty of vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats. 
  • Time your meals evenly throughout the day to maintain consistent blood sugar. 
  • Choose unprocessed whole foods as often as possible. Refined and ultra-processed foods tend to be higher in sugar, salt, and fat, which can make it more difficult to stay on top of your blood sugar levels. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong> <a href="/blog/macronutrients">macronutrients and how to pick the healthiest forms of fat</a>.</p>

a plate with quinoa, arugula, chicken and avocado on a blue table
Avoiding sweetened beverages, refined grains and fried foods helps promote stable blood sugar.

How Personal Biology Affects Blood Sugar

Each person will have a unique response to glucose. Biological factors can influence how quickly (or slowly) your body metabolizes sugar.

  • Hormones impact your appetite and weight, which may increase your blood sugar. 
  • The hormone insulin clears sugar out of your bloodstream. Insulin resistance can develop over time, which contributes to high blood sugar. 
  • Allergies can trigger an inflammatory response, which raises blood sugar in some people. 
  • Adequate hydration can lower blood sugar, while dehydration can increase blood sugar.
  • Natural aging may increase your blood sugar, especially with preexisting health conditions. 
  • The phase of your menstrual cycle can either lower or raise your blood sugar.
  • Your gut microbiome is home to essential bacteria that play a role in managing your overall health and stabilizing your blood sugar. 
  • Your metabolic health directly influences how efficiently your body can metabolize glucose. 
  • Increased muscle mass can increase the uptake of blood glucose2.  
  • Different ethnicities, including African American, American Indian, Asian American, and Latinx are at a higher risk for increased blood sugar levels3

Biological factors are more difficult (if not impossible) to control. Focus your energy on making changes in areas of your life you have control over. For most people, this will include diet, beverage choices, and daily lifestyle habits. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong> <a href="/blog/reverse-insulin-resistance">how to reverse insulin resistance</a>.</p>

Exercise Is A Big Factor

Physical activity is proven to lower blood sugar levels in most people. You don’t have to run a marathon to see results—even small amounts of regular movement can help. 

  • Improving your level of fitness is important for overall health and stabilizing blood sugars. 
  • Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (N.E.A.T) promotes daily movement which helps with weight loss and lowers blood sugar.   
  • Walking is an inexpensive way to move your body, achieve weight loss goals, and lower blood sugar.
  • Strength training burns through glucose without prompting an insulin response and lowers your blood sugar. Anaerobic exercise may also boost metabolism and improve insulin sensitivity, which helps to lower blood sugar levels. 
  • High-intensity interval training is proven to rapidly lower your blood sugar. 
  • Exercising after eating can lower blood sugar. 
  • Intermittent exercise throughout the day may decrease the risk of blood sugar spikes around breakfast.

Consistent exercise is critical to lower blood sugar and support good overall health. If going to the gym doesn’t appeal to you, get creative and find ways to incorporate daily movement into your everyday life. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong> <a href="/blog/exercise-lower-blood-sugar">how to exercise to lower blood sugar quickly</a>.</p>

a heavyset woman happily dancing in her living room
Not feeling athletic? Taking a walk or dancing to your favorite music is a good place to start.

How Lifestyle Choices Can Affect Blood Sugar

Day-to-day activities can impact your blood sugar levels, perhaps more than you realize. One stressful day at work is normal. But chronic stress and irregular sleep patterns is a different story. 

  • High stress levels can increase blood sugar in some people. 
  • A regular sleep schedule supports healthy blood sugar. 
  • Nicotine (from smoking, vaping, gum, pills or patches) can increase blood sugar. 
  • Work stress has been proven to increase blood sugar levels.4 
  • Long-term adherence to a vegetarian diet can reduce blood sugar and reduce your risk of developing type two diabetes.5 
  • Some people may see short-term or long-term decreases in blood sugar while following the keto diet
  • Similar results may be achieved through intermittent fasting. 

Your daily routine has a big impact on your long-term health. Making small changes, such as managing your stress or quitting smoking, can lead to a significant improvement in your blood sugar levels. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong> <a href="/blog/water-lower-blood-sugar">how much drinking water can lower blood sugar</a>.</p>

Environmental Factors and Blood Sugar

Did you know your daily environment can play a part in your blood sugar metabolism? 

  • People who live in climates with limited sun exposure are at an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency, which can impair glucose metabolism.
  • Pollution creates oxidative stress in the body, which is an inflammatory response that can increase blood sugar. 
  • High temperatures can change how your body responds to insulin, which may result in higher blood sugar levels.6  
  • Food deserts and living in food insecurity can increase your risk of high blood sugar.7

There are several elements within your environment that can have an impact on your blood sugar. Having access to fresh produce and whole foods, and reducing your exposure to pollution are two key components that can help improve your blood sugar levels. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong> <a href="/blog/ways-to-reduce-inflammation">what causes inflammation, and how to reduce it</a>.</p>

Medications and Other Substances

Some vitamins and medications can affect your blood sugar levels. If a medicine or supplement has been prescribed to you, and you have concerns about its potential impact on your blood sugar, follow up with your physician. 

  • Steroids increase your blood sugar.
  • Antidepressants may lower blood sugar levels in some people. 
  • Antipsychotics increase your blood sugar. 
  • Antibiotics that contain fluoroquinolones may lower blood sugars8. This side effect will subside when the course of antibiotics is finished. 
  • Niacin (vitamin B3) supplements can contribute to high blood sugar levels9.
  • Oral contraceptives can increase blood sugar levels. 
  • Untreated high levels of thyroid hormone can increase blood sugar levels. 
  • Beta-blockers may decrease blood sugar levels. 

The dosage and timing of your medication may impact your blood sugars. Certain medications may also interact with foods and supplements in your diet, and should not be combined. Your pharmacist and doctor should review this information with you. 

a woman holding a variety of pills in the palm of her hand
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about how your medications or supplements may be affecting blood glucose.

The Most Important Blood Sugar Factors

The immediate blood sugar factors to focus on are your food and beverage choices, followed by your level of physical activity. Making improvements in these areas should lower your blood sugars quickly. Here is a blood-sugar-friendly 7-day meal plan that can help you get started. 

For long-term success, it is essential to manage your body weight and stress levels. Changes in weight and chronically high stress can both trigger inflammatory responses in the body. Inflammation affects hormones, including insulin, making it harder to keep blood sugar stable. 

Making changes to your lifestyle can be challenging. It is common to feel motivated and then overwhelmed, especially if you take on too many changes at once. To prevent burning out, start with small realistic goals which can be consistently completed.

Remember, improving your blood sugar is not a race. You will see the best results if you are consistent, disciplined, and fulfilled by the changes you are making. 

How to Track Which Factors Affect Your Blood Sugar Most

As mentioned above, everybody will have a unique response to glucose. A continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device can help you learn how your blood sugar levels change throughout the day. 

The device is painlessly implanted and worn for ten consecutive days. It takes glucose readings every fifteen minutes and uses Bluetooth to transfer the data to your mobile reader.

Collecting this data and using the Signos app to analyze trends can help you better understand your body’s glucose metabolism. You will have visual tools to help you interpret the numbers and learn which factors in your life are having the greatest impact on your blood sugars. 

As you’ve noticed from this list there are many possible factors that could be affecting your blood sugar levels. It can take a while to pinpoint which elements are directly affecting you, but the best time to start tracking is right now. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong> <a href="/blog/cgm-data-weight-loss">using a CGM to crack the weight loss code</a>.</p>

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References

  1. Pepino, M. Y., Tiemann, C. D., Patterson, B. W., Wice, B. M., & Klein, S. (2013). Sucralose Affects Glycemic and Hormonal Responses to an Oral Glucose Load. Diabetes Care, 36(9), 2530–2535. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc12-2221 
  2. Taha, M., AlNaam, Y. A., al Maqati, T., Almusallam, L., Altalib, G., Alowfi, D., & Haider, N. (2021). Impact of muscle mass on blood glucose level. Journal of Basic and Clinical Physiology and Pharmacology, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1515/jbcpp-2021-0316 
  3. Herman, W. H., Ma, Y., Uwaifo, G., Haffner, S., Kahn, S. E., Horton, E. S., Lachin, J. M., Montez, M. G., Brenneman, T., & Barrett-Connor, E. (2007). Differences in A1C by Race and Ethnicity Among Patients With Impaired Glucose Tolerance in the Diabetes Prevention Program. Diabetes Care, 30(10), 2453–2457. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc06-2003 
  4. Sancini, A., Ricci, S., Tomei, F., Sacco, C., Pacchiarotti, A., Nardone, N., Ricci, P., Suppi, A., De Cesare, D. P., Anzelmo, V., Giubilati, R., Pimpinella, B., Rosati, M. V., & Tomei, G. (2017). Work related stress and blood glucose levels. Annali di igiene : medicina preventiva e di comunita, 29(2), 123–133. 
  5. Olfert, M. D., & Wattick, R. A. (2018). Vegetarian Diets and the Risk of Diabetes. Current Diabetes Reports, 18(11). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11892-018-1070-9 
  6. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, July 27). Managing Diabetes in the Heat. Retrieved July 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/features/manage-diabetes-heat.html 
  7. Gucciardi, E., Vahabi, M., Norris, N., del Monte, J. P., & Farnum, C. (2014). The Intersection between Food Insecurity and Diabetes: A Review. Current Nutrition Reports, 3(4), 324–332. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13668-014-0104-4 
  8. Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. (2018, July 10). FDA reinforces safety information about serious low blood sugar levels and mental health side effects with fluoroquinolone antibiotics; requires label changes. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved July 2022, from https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-reinforces-safety-information-about-serious-low-blood-sugar-levels-and-mental-health-side 
  9. Koh, Y., Bidstrup, H., & Nichols, D. (2014). Niacin increased glucose, insulin, and C-peptide levels in sedentary nondiabetic postmenopausal women. International Journal of Women’s Health, 913. https://doi.org/10.2147/ijwh.s69908

About the Author

Julia Zakrzewski Headshot
Julia Zakrzewski is a Registered Dietitian and nutrition writer. She has a background in primary care, clinical nutrition, and nutrition education. She has been practicing dietetics for four years.
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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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