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Do you need a continuous glucose monitor?

The popularity of continuous glucose monitors has surged over the past few years thanks to the constant promotion on social media by health and fitness influencers and regular media appearances from celebrity scientists with skin in the blood-sugar game - we’re looking at you, Tim Spector. Is all the attention warranted? If you’re fit, healthy and eat well, will you really benefit from monitoring your blood sugar levels every second of the day? Or are these monitors designed with a simple goal of separating the “worried well” from their hard-earned cash?

As the fields of health, fitness, medicine and technology forge an ever-closer union, more products are being touted as everyday life-enhancing services for the general population, rather than life-saving solutions for the sick and unwell for which they were originally invented.

Of these new “innovations”, the continuous glucose monitor (CGM) – originally developed for people with diabetes to manage blood sugar levels more effectively – has seen a spike in popularity amongst people with no history of health problems.

Instead, CGMs are being increasingly used by people interested in their health to provide real-time data on glucose levels, offering instant insights that can better inform dietary and lifestyle decisions with the goal of optimising physical and mental performance, enhancing overall health and preventing chronic diseases.

But do you really need a continuous glucose monitor? Should you be skeptical when so many CGM products are sold as part of a “personalised nutrition” service that claim to know exactly what you should eat and when for better health?

Is this just the latest in a very long line of interesting but nonessential healthcare products promoted by so-called scientific experts designed to appeal to the “worried well” to get them to part with their money?

What are Continuous Glucose Monitors?

Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) are wearable devices that track glucose (blood sugar) levels in real-time. Unlike traditional finger-prick tests that provide a single glucose reading, CGMs continuously measure glucose levels throughout the day and night, offering a comprehensive picture of glucose trends and fluctuations.

This constant monitoring helps the user understand how different foods, activities, and stress levels affect their glucose levels, providing invaluable insights for better health management. CGMs can significantly improve glycemic control and reduce the risk of hypoglycemia in individuals with diabetes, according to a study in “Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics”.

What are blood sugar levels?

Blood sugar levels, or blood glucose, is the concentration of glucose in the bloodstream. Glucose is a vital energy source for the body’s cells and is obtained from the food we eat, particularly carbohydrates. The body regulates blood sugar levels through hormones like insulin, which facilitates the uptake of glucose into cells.

Maintaining stable blood sugar levels is crucial for energy balance, metabolic health, and overall well-being. Persistent high or low blood sugar levels can lead to serious health issues, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome.

Why are CGMs so popular?

The rising interest in CGMs is driven by advancements in technology and a growing awareness of the importance of blood sugar management for overall health, not just for those with diabetes. Recent studies, such as those published in “The Lancet” and “JAMA”, highlight the benefits of CGMs in improving glucose control and reducing complications in diabetes patients.

Additionally, fitness enthusiasts and biohackers are adopting CGMs to optimise their diets, enhance athletic performance, and gain deeper insights into their metabolic health – even though some of the benefits of CGMs, as well as the big risks of blood sugar spikes, have been significantly overplayed. However, the ease of use, improved accuracy, and real-time data provided by modern CGMs have made them increasingly popular.

How do continuous glucose monitors work?

CGMs consist of a small sensor inserted under the skin, usually on the abdomen or arm, which measures glucose levels in the interstitial fluid. This sensor transmits data to a receiver or a smartphone app, allowing users to monitor their glucose levels continuously. The device can alert users to high or low glucose levels, enabling timely interventions.

Do I need a continuous glucose monitor?

Whether you need a CGM depends on your health goals and conditions. For individuals with diabetes, they can be a game-changer, improving blood sugar control and reducing the risk of complications. For those without diabetes, CGMs can offer insights into how lifestyle choices affect glucose levels, helping to optimise diet and exercise regimens.

However, they may not be necessary or right for everyone – especially if you are someone prone to obsessing or worrying about your health data. Consulting with a healthcare professional can help determine if a continuous glucose monitor is right for you, considering your specific health needs and objectives.

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