What is an A1C test and why do we measure it?

By Amanda Schulte Beyeler Apr 1, 2017

When you join the NERD Health and Wellness Center, you will undergo an intake exam with one of our registered nurses and wellness coaches. One of the tests we will administer is a blood test called a hemoglobin A1C.

Basically, the test measures the percentage of hemoglobin — or oxygen-carrying red blood cells — that have a glucose (sugar) molecule attached.  Red blood cells generally live about 3 months, so the test gives a 3-month average of a person’s blood glucose, or blood sugar. The higher the number of hemoglobin with glucose attached, the higher the percentage. A normal level for non-diabetics is usually considered to be 5.7 percent and below.           

It is one test used to screen for diabetes and pre-diabetes, and unlike the traditional blood glucose testing, it does not require fasting. It can also be used by healthcare providers to monitor Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics.

Studies show that diabetics who keep their A1C below 7 percent reduce their risks for other diabetes complications, but specific A1C goals should be discussed with a healthcare provider.

A nutrition consultation is included with every community membership to the NERD Health and Wellness Center. Our nurse practitioner can help you review your current dietary habits and discuss small changes you can make to improve your overall nutrition. Your health and wellness coach can help you tailor achievable goals aimed at improving your A1C, encourage you in your wellness journey, and help keep you responsible for your goals.

Diet, exercise and other lifestyle choices all contribute to your hemoglobin A1C result. Below are some actions you can take today to help reduce your A1C over time.

Fit more movement into your day.

  • Make it a habit to get up and walk while talking on the telephone.
  • Watch your favorite TV show while walking on a treadmill or do stretches and strength training exercises during commercials.
  • Hit the mall to increase your steps in a climate-controlled environment.

Eat a balanced diet.

  • Start slow. Since the A1C is a measurement over three months, sticking with smaller changes over time will be more beneficial compared to making drastic changes that are hard to stick with in the long run.
  • Keep a food diary to track to monitor trends on what you eat, when you eat, and how you are feeling.
  • Choose whole food over processed foods as much as possible, and increase your vegetable intake, even if you start by adding just one additional serving per day.

Follow your doctor’s medication and treatment recommendations.

  • Be systematic about your treatment plan. Take medications and monitor blood sugar (if recommended) on the same schedule every day.
  • Track your results. If your provider has recommended blood-sugar monitoring, keep a log of the time and result and bring it along to appointments.
  • Be upfront with concerns about medications. If side effects are keeping you from taking medication as prescribed, discuss with your provider what alternatives might be available. Similarly, if medication cost is an issue, ask about less-expensive alternatives, manufacturer discounts, or for information on medication aid programs.

Amanda Schulte Beyeler

Amanda Schulte Beyeler is a registered nurse and a health and wellness coach at the NERD Health and Wellness Center. She enjoys listening to NPR, exploring new books in the nonfiction section of the library, and spending time with her husband, Andrew, and their two daughters. 

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