By Diane Hwang
Summer is just around the corner, and that means many will be spending more time soaking up the sun. But if you have diabetes, soaking up the summer rays can be very risky business.
Extreme temperatures like the summer heat (or in the winter cold) can wreak havoc on a person’s blood sugar levels. In fact, research has discovered that hot weather is associated with a 30% increase in hospitalizations for people with diabetes. It is important for people with diabetes to be aware of how the heat and other extreme temperatures affect their health — especially now, as summers become hotter each year.
If people with diabetes want to stay safe during the summer months, it’s important to take extra special care to monitor their levels when outside in the heat. But why does diabetes make a person so sensitive to extreme temperatures? Here’s what you need to know about diabetes and temperature sensitivity.
Does Blood Sugar Affect Body Temperature?
The relationship between diabetes and body temperature is a complicated one, but people with diabetes need to be particularly mindful of their body’s unique response. Firstly, research suggests that our insulin levels play a big role in determining our core body temperature.
According to a 2009 study, insulin in the brain sends messages to the body’s brown adipose tissue to produce more heat. This information suggests that high insulin levels could raise a person’s core temperature — which might make them more susceptible to the dangers of the summer heat.
Diabetes and Heat
And just as insulin levels can impact your body temperature, the outside temperature can impact your blood sugars. Most insulin can tolerate temperatures up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit — but if it encounters higher temperatures, it can break down more quickly and become less effective.
Some of the side effects of diabetes can also make managing the heat more difficult. Many people with diabetes suffer from nerve damage, which can affect how their sweat glands function. Sweat is your body’s natural form of temperature control — but if your sweat glands aren’t working effectively, you might “feel the heat” more than others.
People with diabetes need to keep this information about diabetes and temperature sensitivity in mind during the summer months. If you let your blood sugar levels get too high, you might be at a greater risk of overheating, and if you leave your insulin in a hot car or in your beach bag, it may not be as effective by the time you need it.
Diabetes and Cold Weather
Of course, the heat is not the only extreme temperature that can affect people with diabetes. Cold body temperatures can affect your diabetes, too.
Many people with diabetes experience higher blood sugar levels during the winter, which many professionals credit to behavioral changes during this time of year. Everyone tends to eat more and exercise less during the winter months, but this shift in routine can lead to dangerous increases in blood sugar levels.
Additionally, cold temperatures can send the body into a “fight or flight” response, which leads to an increase in adrenaline and cortisol production. These stress hormones trigger the liver to release more glucose. If that glucose isn’t burned off as energy (and remember, you’re less likely to exercise in the cold), the body can end up with overly high blood sugars,
What You Can Do
Now that we’ve discussed the relationship between diabetes and temperature sensitivity, there’s just one question: what can you do about it? After all, you can’t control the weather, and you shouldn’t have to miss out on summer or winter activities with your loved ones just because of your diabetes. Luckily, there are steps you can take to ensure your health even in extreme temperatures.
Firstly, try your best to maintain your diabetes management routine all year long. If you continue to exercise, eat diabetes-friendly foods, and take your medication appropriately, your body will be healthier overall — which makes adjusting your treatment for the weather a little easier.
Next, make sure you plan appropriately before going out in the heat or the cold. If you are planning a beach day with your friends and you need to bring insulin along, make sure you store it somewhere where it won’t be exposed to high temperatures. If you know that your diabetes causes you to sweat less than average, bring plenty of water to keep yourself cool. A little planning can go a long way.
Finally, it is critically important to monitor your blood sugar levels when you’re in extreme temperatures. If you watch your blood sugars carefully, you can have a snack or take your insulin at the proper time to keep your levels safe and healthy.