HbA1c is a blood test that shows how well you are controlling your blood sugar over time. It does this by taking a look at how much sugar is attached to your red blood cells. The more sugar that’s attached, the higher your HbA1c. In this post, we’ll take a look at how this test works and ways to keep your results in the healthy range.
What Does HbA1c Mean [Video]
In this video, you’ll learn…
- How the HbA1c test works.
- How the HbA1c test relates to blood sugar and diabetes.
- Ways to keep your results in a healthy range.
What is HbA1c?
HbA1c goes by different names. It is referred to as the A1C test, the hemoglobin A1C test or the glycated hemoglobin test.
While the final name mentioned is the most complex, it does the best job of explaining what the test measures.
It measures the amount of sugar or glucose that is sticking to a specific protein in your red blood cells. This protein is called hemoglobin. The process of glucose binding to hemoglobin is called glycation, hence the name, the glycated hemoglobin test.
Your Red Blood Cells and A1C
Your red blood cells are great targets for this test because of their unique structure and their use of glucose to survive.
Red blood cells are plentiful in your bloodstream. Their primary job is to carry oxygen around your body. They take their job very seriously, so as red blood cells mature, they fill up with more and more hemoglobin, which is the protein that actually carries the oxygen.
This accumulation of hemoglobin makes things very cramped inside the cell. To make room, mature red blood cells sacrifice their mitochondria.
Mitochondria are the powerhouses that the majority of your cells rely on to make energy. Without these powerhouses, your red blood cells must get their energy through a much less inefficient process that involves the fermentation of glucose.
Screening for Pre-Diabetes and Diabetes
While this fermentation process works, it wears the cells out quickly.
The average lifespan of a red blood cell is typically only a few months in length. During that short life, your red blood cells provide a record of how much glucose they encounter.
This acts as a good indicator of how well you’ve been controlling your blood sugar over time. This ability to reveal a picture of your average blood sugar over a few months is what makes the HbA1c test useful as a screening test for pre-diabetes and diabetes.
Having red blood cells that are essentially sugar-coated sounds a bit alarming, but it’s normal to have some glycation present, so your HbA1c would never be zero.
According to the National Institute of Health, a person without diabetes has an A1C level below 5.7 percent. A person with diabetes has an A1C of 6.5 or above. In between those two figures, a person is classified as having pre-diabetes (1).
Nutrition’s Affect on your HbA1c!
Keeping your HbA1c low is a desirable goal. Fortunately, there are a number of actions to take that will naturally lower your results.
The best approach is to reduce the amount of quick-digesting carbohydrates that you’re eating.
When you eat carbs, your digestive tract breaks them down into glucose, which is then transported to your blood where the simple sugar comes in contact with your red blood cells.
Eat in a way that minimizes the rush of sugar into your blood. Reduce carbs that break down quickly like sugar and refined foods like the 3 C’s: cookies, cakes, and candies.
Some carbs like leafy greens, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, and seeds contain fiber and nutrients that slow their breakdown and absorption, so you don’t need to eliminate all carbs from your diet, just make different choices.
The Importance of Exercise.
Exercise is also beneficial because it helps your body use the sugar that is available by improving insulin sensitivity.
When your cells are more insulin sensitive, they have an easier time pulling sugar out of your blood, so there is less circulating.
The exercise does not have to be exhausting to be helpful, even short, brisk walks after dinner will move you in a positive direction.
These lifestyle changes, when done consistently, can result in weight loss, which is another way you can bring down your HbA1c.
Weight Loss Improves HbA1c
In fact, the effect of weight loss can be dramatic.
This study followed 522 middle-aged, overweight men and women for more than three years. During the study, the subjects were split into an intervention group that was given help losing weight and a control group.
Due to the lifestyle changes that resulted in weight loss, the risk of diabetes was reduced by 58 percent (P<0.001) in the intervention group (2).
A Plan for Success!
Lifestyle choices will make a difference in your HbA1c level, which is good news because that means that you have some control.
If you’re looking for a guide to get you to your goal, I invite you to check out my program. Thanks so much for reading. Till next time, have a great week!
(1) “The A1C Test & Diabetes.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1 Apr. 2018, www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/tests-diagnosis/a1c-test.
(2) Tuomilehto, Jaakko, et al. “Prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus by changes in lifestyle among subjects with impaired glucose tolerance.” New England Journal of Medicine 344.18 (2001): 1343-1350.
About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.