Glucose tabs look like candy. But they sure don’t taste as good. That’s the point.
When you go hypo from too much insulin or sulfonylurea and too little food, you need to act quickly to bring your blood glucose level back to normal. Nothing does that better than a little glucose.
Too much glucose, on the other hand, will send your level in the other direction – too high. That’s not good either.
The solution is to take just a few glucose tabs – three or four of them depending on the brand. You want to get a total of 15 grams of glucose when you go low. Then you wait 15 minutes and if necessary take 15 more grams of glucose.
That’s what one manufacturer, Paddock Laboratories, calls “the rule of 15". This is the only company that makes both glucose tabs and gels.
Are glucose tabs or gels better? It depends, says Jeff Myers, a diabetes life and wellness coach in Loveland, Colorado. His Web site, Well Balance: Diabetes Life Coaching, describes the services that he can offer to complement those of your health care team.
“I find the 15 gram glucose gel tubes to be OK in an emergency,” Jeff tells me, “but not user friendly for more frequent adjustments in everyday life situations.” He says that these include addressing a dropping blood glucose level:
When he is driving a car and doesn’t want too eat much
Before going to sleep
When camping in a tent
Before or during a meeting at work
During an athletic activity (with water) when he wants small, measured increments of carbs (although he prefers and typically uses real food; other athletes he knows like the simplicity and accuracy of glucose tabs).
Jeff usually uses the Dex 4 tablets from Can-Am Care. “At $5 to $6 per bottle of 50 they are among the most affordable,” Jeff says. “And they have four pleasant flavors. We get them from Diabetic Express".
Jeff not only has diabetes himself, but his young son does too. “We find them easy for children to chew,” he says, “when they are half asleep and need a quick carb dose at 9 or 10pm to ensure that blood sugars don’t dip low during the night (based on some fast-acting insulin still being available in their bodies). As an adult I enjoy the variety of flavors, sweet-tart-like taste, and 4 grams of carb per tablet ‘dose’ size provides the BG adjustment resolution I want.”
The American Diabetes Association has a directory of “Over-The-Counter Products For Treating Low Blood Glucose.” It is online.
All glucose tabs and gels are essentially pure glucose. This is the sugar that our bodies use the fastest. When our blood glucose levels drop below 60 or 70 mg/dl, we are at risk of hypoglycemia and need to take quick action.
Other sugars don’t work fast enough when we go low. The recommendation that always irritates me the most is to drink orange juice, which is mostly two complex sugars, sucrose and fructose.
The glycemic index of glucose is 100. The glycemic index of orange juice is 50. So orange juice works exactly half as fast and as well as glucose.
For years the standard list has included a half glass of orange juice, sugar cubes, three or four Life Savers, a half cup of Coke or Pepsi, and two tablespoons or raisins. But none of these can compare with glucose tabs or gels in convenience, knowing how much to take, and especially speed.
Whatever you do, don’t wait until it’s too late to take one of these great products. When someone loses consciousness, never give that person anything to eat or drink. Instead, give him or her a glucagon injection or immediately get that person to the nearest emergency room.
If you are susceptible to hypoglycemia, you really need to keep one of these products next to your bed, in your car, and in your purse or briefcase. Treat your body and your glucose tabs or gels with respect and, as the Boy Scouts say, be prepared.
David Mendosa was a journalist who learned in 1994 that he had type 2 diabetes, which he wrote about exclusively. He died in May 2017 after a short illness unrelated to diabetes. He wrote thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and published a monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, A1C level of 5.3, and BMI of 19.8 kept his diabetes in remission without any drugs until his death.