Medically reviewed by Anna Goldman, MD.

If you have diabetes, you already know the basics of blood sugar control, but you may not realize that diabetes management goes beyond just diet, exercise, and medication. Here are seven surprising ways to ensure your numbers remain where you want them to be.

As always, whenever you make changes to your lifestyle, please keep your doctor in the loop.

1. Hydration for Blood Sugar Control

We all know that drinking enough water is good for us. However, did you know that dehydration could be one reason your sugars have been fluctuating more than usual?

Multiple studies say ample hydration not only helps regulate blood sugar levels in people with diabetes but also delays the onset of the condition in non-diabetic individuals.

People who don’t drink enough water have higher levels of a hormone called arginine vasopressin (AVP) in the body. High AVP levels may increase the risk of developing diabetes and shoot up fasting blood sugar levels. Drinking more water could be the simplest way of reducing AVP levels — though this hasn’t been proven in a randomized controlled trial. 

Also, higher AVP levels have also been associated with the development or worsening of liver diseases like MASLD and MASH. These liver conditions often coexist with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

So, that’s now two reasons to fill your water bottles and drink them up — without overdoing it, of course.

2. Cold Showers

Turning your shower valve to cold and standing under the shower for a few minutes each day may actually help regulate blood sugar levels!

Cold exposure is a very popular form of therapy right now, and cold showers, ice plunges, or cryotherapy (a medical therapy using near-freezing temperatures) are different types methods you could try.

A small-scale study suggests that cold therapy may help improve insulin sensitivity by up to 43 percent by increasing the activity of the brown adipose tissue (BAT). BAT is a type of body fat that is activated when the temperature dips. It starts burning glucose and fat quickly to provide the body with warmth. Cold exposure also reduces inflammation in the body (and we know that inflammation increases the risk of diabetes and its complications).

If you are new to cold exposure, start with a cold water shower and slowly increase the exposure. Excess cold exposure comes with its own dangers, so please exercise caution. 

3. Mindfulness Practices

Stress is one of the biggest factors affecting both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. When cortisol (the stress hormone) levels increase, managing diabetes becomes more difficult. Mindful practices like meditation or deep focused breathing can combat stress, which could, in turn, help regulate blood sugar levels.

A 2023 study subjected 58 middle-aged women with diabetes to six weeks of either aerobic exercises or a combination of aerobics and mindfulness practices. At the end of six weeks, the group that went through aerobics and mindfulness practices had lower cortisol and fasting blood sugar levels than the group that only exercised. 

And a group of adults with type 1 diabetes who underwent six months of mindfulness meditation practices found a definite improvement in general health, functioning, and average blood sugar levels at the end of the study. Their diabetes distress score (a score that measures how frustrated the person is in handling diabetes) also improved significantly. 

Staying mindful, calm, and aware is generally good for the body and mind. Apparently, it also makes handling diabetes easier.

4. Probiotics

Probiotics are live microorganisms found in fermented foods like yogurt and kefir. They are known to be good for the gut and help prevent digestive issues. According to recent studies, including probiotics regularly in your diet may improve fasting blood sugar levels, decrease A1C levels, and control insulin resistance. 

There are several ways probiotics might help manage blood sugars.

  1.  Probiotics help increase the production of the hormone Glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1). Now, GLP-1 controls insulin secretion, so, when you include more probiotics, it may help improve insulin secretion in people with type 2 diabetes. Interestingly, Ozempic, the diabetes and weight loss that we have all been talking about, works by mimicking the GLP-1 hormone. 
  2. Probiotics also directly influence the immune system and inflammation levels. Increased inflammation is known to worsen the symptoms of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
  3. Probiotics improve gut health, and the quality and quantity of microorganisms present in the gut. These microbes influence insulin sensitivity and the risk of complications of diabetes.

5. HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training)

We all know that exercise is great for burning calories and lowering blood sugar spikes. While all forms of physical activity are helpful, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) seems particularly effective for people with diabetes.

What is HIIT? It is a kind of workout where you do extremely intense exercises for shorter durations, usually 60-90 seconds. A typical HIIT session involves multiple such short-duration training sessions. Some of the common exercises you can include in your HIIT sessions are jumping jacks, squats, push-ups, kettlebell swings, lunges, rower sprints, and burpees — going so hard that you can’t possibly go on for two minutes.

Studies suggest that HIIT may be far superior to moderate continuous exercises for controlling blood glucose levels, because it depletes glucose stored in the muscles much faster. Here is a 4-week HIIT plan that you can try, even if you are new to intense workouts. (People with kidney issues may want to be cautious, however, given that HIIT workouts carry a risk of kidney injury.)

6. Light Therapy

Light therapy is treatment using different sources of light. Red light therapy (RLT), in particular, has been associated with many physical and mental benefits.

A 2024 study reports that just 15 minutes of exposure to red light (670 nm) may help decrease blood sugar spikes by up to 27.7%! 

Another small-scale study in Japan used infrared light therapy on people with type 2 diabetes and reported that just four 15-minute light therapy sessions helped decrease fasting blood glucose, cortisol, and insulin levels. 

A completely free light therapy you could try is moderate sunlight exposure! Did you know that the body needs vitamin D to produce insulin and that low vitamin D levels have been associated with decreased insulin sensitivity and glucose intolerance? Getting out in the sun may help up your vitamin D levels and help handle glucose fluctuations.

However, overexposure to sunlight may be harmful, increasing the risk of diabetes retinopathy and skin cancer. So make sure you don’t overdo this. Getting out in the sun for just 10-20 minutes in summer and spring and slightly more in winter would help soak in vitamin D. If you are vitamin D deficient (which most people are), ask your doctor about getting vitamin D supplements. 

7. Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is a technique of restricting your eating window to a specific period and not eating anything before or after that. Also called time-restricted eating (TRE), this is a popular dieting method. 

With TRE, you focus more on when you eat rather than what you eat. Most people find themselves comfortable with an 8-hour eating window. This means that if you have the first meal of the day at 9 AM, you finish the last meal of the day before 5 PM. 

Several studies have found a positive relationship between TRE and improved insulin sensitivity and fasting blood sugar levels.

A 2023 clinical trial conducted a 6-month study on the effects of TRE on type 2 diabetes and concluded that an 8-hour eating window may help in significant weight loss and bring down A1C levels when practiced regularly. 

Another study reports that a 6-hour early time-restricted feeding window in men with prediabetes helped improve insulin sensitivity and decreased blood pressure and oxidative stress in just five weeks. 

Fasting can be effective for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. However, fasting while on insulin or oral diabetes medications such as sulfonylureas can increase the risk of hypoglycemia. So, talk to your doctor about possibly adjusting medications if you are fasting longer. 

The Takeaway

It is absolutely normal to feel overwhelmed by handling diabetes because of the sheer number of factors associated with the condition. However, thanks to science, we know more about diabetes and how it works with each passing day. Staying aware and understanding what works and doesn’t work for us will make it easier to keep your blood sugar levels where they are meant to be, avoid the complications of diabetes, and stay healthy.

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Read more about A1c, diabetes management, exercise, GLP-1, insulin, Intensive management, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), retinopathy.

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