The T1D Taste Test: My Unofficial Ranking of Drugstore Glucose Supplements

This blog post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on June 27, 2018. I’m sharing it again today because it’s a blog post that has a surprising number of views – likely due to the fact that people have strong opinions (rightfully so) on glucose tablets and their various iterations! Read on for my thoughts on the best version of drugstore glucose supplements…

You may have heard of glucose tablets, but what about glucose gummies? Or liquid glucose, or glucose gel? Have you tried any of these forms of glucose?

The four forms of glucose (that I’ve tried).

I’ve used them all, and I’ve formed some pretty strong opinions about each of them. I thought it’d be fun to rank them in order of most appetizing to least appetizing, because while they can effectively and efficiently correct low blood sugar, they certainly aren’t created equally:

  1. Best Tasting: Glucose Tablets. I can hardly believe that the most boring variety is the winner here, but it blows the competition out of the water for several reasons. For starters, glucose tablets come in an array of flavors. Orange, raspberry, fruit punch, grape, tropical, and sour apple are among the flavors I’ve tried over the years, and most of them are palatable. Plus, glucose tablets are most akin to actually candy: I’ve described them as giant Smarties to inquiring friends in the past. While actually Smarties are more fun to eat, glucose tablets are their closest counterpart in the diabetes world, making them a number-one choice in low blood sugar situations.
  2. Runner-Up: Glucose Gummies. I’m awarding second place to glucose gummies, mainly because of their novelty. It’s not particularly a standout in other categories like taste and texture. The gummies only come in three flavors: grape, orange, and apple, leaving something to be desired in terms of variety. And all three of those flavors taste a little…off, like there’s a little too much artificial additives going on. Maybe this was done deliberately to distract from the texture of the gummies, which tends to be hard/stale in my experience. It’s nice that the gummies have a layer of sugar on them to convey the likeness of real gummies, but that stuck-to-your-teeth feeling makes it harder to appreciate the gummies for what they are.
  3. Third Place: Glucose Gel. I’ve only ever found glucose gels in the fruit punch flavor at Walgreens – do they actually come in other flavors? Besides being one-note, the gel is a unique texture situation…not quite a liquid, not quite a solid. Gels aren’t a mainstay in my low blood sugar kit because I’m not fond of having to slurp them out of the pouch like a tube of Go-Gurt; in fact, I’d much rather have yogurt from a plastic tube than a gel because the yogurt is much tastier. The gel is just too artificial, with a medicinal aftertaste. And it doesn’t help that the consistency of it reminds me of hand sanitizer.
  4. The Loser: Glucose LiquidIt’s surprising that the glucose liquid wound up in last place, because on the surface, it had a lot going for it. I liked that it came in a small bottle and it seemed like it would be super easy to consume. All I’d need to do is pop the cap off and swig it down. But MAN, the taste was HORRIBLE! I thought I’d like the mixed berry flavor, but it tasted so supremely saccharine and fake that I could scarcely force myself to swallow it. I know, I know, it’s liquid glucose, it’s supposed to be very sweet. But this stuff was just over the top. I definitely will not be buying glucose liquid again any time soon. I’ll stick with my tried-and-true tablets.

Do you agree with my rankings? Did I miss any form of glucose that can be bought in most drugstores, and you think I should give it a try? Let me know in the comments!

A Rookie Mistake

You’d think that 24 years of living with diabetes would turn anyone into a seasoned veteran of the condition, but even the most experienced people with diabetes slip up and make mistakes every now and then…

Case in point? Me, because I neglected to make sure I had a way of monitoring or checking my blood sugar when exercising…and then experiencing a scary low that I probably could have caught sooner, or maybe even avoided, if I hadn’t been so careless.

This all happened because I inserted a new Dexcom sensor just before taking off for my 3-hour self-defense class. I knew that the sensor’s warm-up period would end and that my continuous blood sugar readings would begin partway through class, so I felt fairly comfortable going without a blood sugar meter as a back-up. After all, my Dexcom sensors almost always start up without any issue, so I was trusting that this one would follow suit.

And that was my biggest mistake: trusting my technology.

Any time I make a rookie diabetes mistake, my palm goes straight to my face in embarassment.

When the warm-up period was complete and the class was taking a quick water break, I decided to check my Dex to see what my first blood sugar readings were. I was surprised (and instantly annoyed) to see that instead of a number, my Dexcom was displaying a request for a blood sugar calibration – just like the old G5s used to ask for upon insertion of a new sensor. I couldn’t understand why this happened, but I knew that pondering the matter wouldn’t make any difference…the only thing that would get my Dexcom running normally again was the finger stick checks, which wouldn’t be possible for me to do until I got home from the class because I was without my meter.

So I had no choice but to rely on nothing but my instincts and sensations in order to get a sense of where my blood sugar was headed for the remainder of the class.

And let me tell you, I can’t remember the last time I felt so vulnerable in terms of my diabetes. I was running on zero information, other than the fact that I typically can feel oncoming low blood sugars and that I tend to feel thirstier when my numbers are on the upswing. It was disconcerting – even more so when a little while later I started to feel shaky and dizzy, like I was starting to go low.

I knew I could either 1) treat what I thought was a low blood sugar and deal with the potential consequences (high blood sugar) when I got home, or 2) take a chance and ignore the low symptoms because I couldn’t confirm whether or not I was actually low. I hate to admit it, but I let a good 15-20 minutes pass before I decided it was better to correct what felt like a low rather than run the risk of passing out in front of the entire class. Turns out that I made the right call to treat my low: I felt much better after I ate some fruit snacks, and my blood sugar when I got home that evening was in the low 80s, indicating that I probably avoided a pretty nasty low in class.

While the whole incident could’ve been easily avoided, it did remind me that I ought to take some of the trust that I have in my technology and distribute it a little more evenly between it and my instincts. I proved to myself that in emergency situations, I don’t need a meter or a CGM to pick up on low blood sugars (though I obviously would prefer to have that equipment at my disposal at all times). Instead, I need to trust my instincts more and procrastinate less when it comes to taking an action – because if I had waited longer than those 15-20 minutes, the situation could’ve escalated and then I would’ve really been kicking myself for leaving my meter at home.

Rookie mistakes suck when they happen, but at least the silver lining is that there’s always a lesson to be learned (or reinforced) when they do.

3 Nighttime Lows in a Row

The night of the first low, I was “good” and treated with glucose tablets.

The night of the second low, I shamelessly treated with a leftover Halloween candy blondie (okay, two of them) that I had made earlier that day.

The night of the third low, I was exhausted. And feeling nothing other than a desire to sleep, I treated with both glucose tablets AND sour patch kids, because my body decided it needed that many carbs in order for my blood sugar to level out for the rest of the night.

By that third night, I was so dang tired. I’d had to go downstairs to get the sour patch kids, and by the time I was done eating them, I couldn’t fathom walking all the way back up the stairs to get into my big, comfy bed. So I just crumbled onto the couch, pulling a blanket over me, and snoozed there for a bit. I probably could’ve curled up into a ball on my carpet and slept just as soundly, even if only for awhile, because I was so spent from being woken up in the middle of the night for the third evening in a row to treat a low blood sugar.

I wish that people knew that diabetes is truly a 24/7/365 condition.

I hate having my sleep – which seems harder and harder for me to get enough of as I get older – interrupted by something as stupid as a low blood sugar.

I hate having to eat in the middle of the night and ruining the minty taste leftover from my brushed teeth prior to bedtime.

I hate that sometimes, the low is bad enough that I get woken up one or two or even three more times in the same night because I’ve got no choice but to consume more carbs.

It seems fitting to write about this – how disruptive my diabetes has been to my sleep over the course of three nights, let alone my entire life with diabetes – during National Diabetes Awareness Month. Because I don’t think the rest of the world really understands that diabetes truly does not have an “off” switch. People who live with diabetes don’t have the luxury of sleeping peacefully without having a single worry about diabetes: It can and will disturb the soundest of sleeps, and it’s frustrating, inconvenient, and annoying every time it does.

Minty Apple Juice

Some weird food combinations actually work – I know this for a fact because I Googled it and the Google machine is always right…right?

Okay, so maybe I’m not brave enough to try combos like olive oil and ice cream or oreos in orange juice, but at least I can tell you about an odd food pairing that most definitely does not work.

And that, my friends, is anything minty with apple juice.

I should know because I got to try this less-than-delightful combo two nights in a row…thanks to diabetes.

If you’re guessing that I experienced a low blood sugar immediately after brushing my teeth and chose to correct it with apple juice both times, then you’re a smart cookie (or at least a cookie who can put two and two together).

On the first occasion this happened, I figured that drinking a juice box for the low was probably the wisest decision because I wouldn’t have to worry about getting food stuck in my teeth – I could maybe even drink the juice without needing to brush again.

I was very wrong about this.

10/10 would not recommend drinking apple juice right after brushing teeth.

The moment I started drinking my apple juice, my taste buds were rocked by the unpleasant union of minty freshness with tart sweetness. It was truly disgusting and I wanted nothing more than to brush my teeth again…but laziness and exhaustion (from both my day and my blood sugar) caused me to collapse into bed instead. I fell asleep with that weird bitter taste lingering, much to my chagrin.

So you can bet that when the exact same thing happened the following night – my Dexcom alerted me to a low within 60 seconds of me finishing my teeth brushing – I forced myself to brush my teeth again because I simply couldn’t stand the minty-apple-y taste.

And I decided to make a mental note, after this second encounter with nasty minty apple juice, that I would check my Dexcom before brushing from that point onward.

The 1 A.M. Cupcake

Zzzzz…huh? What’s that? I was sleeping so deeply…

Oh, I’m low.

Dazed, I roll out of bed and suddenly become aware of how hot I am. Beads of sweat are rolling down my back, making my pajamas stick to my skin. I look at the number on my Dexcom – there isn’t one.

It just says LOW.

I grow more alert and turn to my test kit to do a fingerstick check and verify my Dexcom reading. My meter says that I’m 44.

And suddenly, I’m feeling that low. I need sugar, stat. I could open the bottle of glucose tabs conveniently perched on my nightstand, chew 5 or 6, and then get settled into bed and fall back asleep relatively quickly. But the desire to get downstairs and eat the contents of my kitchen strikes, even though it’s 1 A.M. and eating too much at this time of night wouldn’t be good for either my blood sugar or my sleep hygiene.

Ignoring my more rational side (as well as my glucose tabs), I grab my phone, my meter, my PDM, and my bathrobe and stumble down the stairs in the dark. I turn on the ceiling fan in my living room in a desperate attempt to cool down faster before I walk into the kitchen.

My eyes fall on a cupcake sitting innocently on the counter.

This isn’t a picture from this particular incident – nobody wants to see me when I’m this low – but this is one of the cupcakes that I’d made. Violet always wants me to share.

I don’t think twice – I tear the wrapper off and three bites later, it’s gone.

I collapse on the couch, directly under my ceiling fan. I am a sweaty mess. This low is hitting me hard. I put the TV on in a futile attempt to distract myself while I wait for the cupcake to kick in, but instead of paying attention to what’s on the screen, all I can feel is gross for choosing to eat a damn cupcake at 1 in the morning instead of doing the “right” thing and treating my low from the comfort of my bed with glucose tabs.

20 minutes later, I start to feel chilly. I’m no longer perspiring and I feel all of my low symptoms subside. I’m better, so it’s time to head back upstairs and try to fall back asleep.

I toss and turn for a bit, cursing diabetes and its middle-of-the-night low blood sugar curveballs, and the stupid 1 A.M. cupcake that my diabetes somehow convinced me to eat to treat a low instead of waiting to have it at a time that I could actually enjoy it.

Diabetes strikes again, I think as I drift back to sleep.

Trying to Outwalk a Low Blood Sugar

I was a mile into my regular morning walk when the beeps started.

Dammit.

The beeps were coming from my Dexcom app on my phone and they were alerting me to a low blood sugar. Rather than correcting the low, though, or even opening up the app to dismiss the alarm, I just kept walking.

Outwalk the low blood sugar, Molly.

Outwalking a low blood sugar is easier said than done.

I really couldn’t understand why my blood sugar was low in the first place considering that I had no food in my system or insulin on board (other than my standard basal rate). Fasting workouts tend to virtually guarantee stable blood sugars for me, which is wonderful because otherwise exercise tends to make me crash. But what was different about this morning? I was utterly befuddled. My Dexcom alarm chimed a second time.

Outwalk the low blood sugar, Molly.

Even more confusing was my complete and utter determination to not treat the low blood sugar until I got home. I had glucose tablets on me, so it’s not like it was a matter of lacking a treatment. Rather, I think I was more focused on maintaining my fasted state for as long as possible, since I almost always do an exercise circuit (weight lifting, cardio training, HIIT intervals, etc.) when I return home from my morning walks. My low alarm rang a third time, just as loudly as it had before.

Outwalk the low blood sugar. You’re only 15 minutes from home.

I was deaf to my Dexcom’s persistent alarms for the next 15 minutes as I somewhat floundered down the road home, letting my impatient puppy tug me along. It’s almost like she knew that I was low and was trying to hurry me home, and I was 100% okay with that because my brain was starting to get fuzzy.

Outwalk the low blood sugar…

At long last, nearly half an hour after my first low alarm sounded, I was crossing the threshold of my front door and fishing my phone from my bag. I tapped through my notifications and cleared the low alert, noting that I was 66 mg/dL and definitely needed to eat something before continuing on with my morning routine. I sighed, set my sight on the kitchen (where a low blood sugar food stash awaited me), and resigned myself to the fact that I couldn’t outwalk the low blood sugar this time.

5 Ways Hot Weather Affects Diabetes

This blog post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on August 6, 2018. Call it an “oldie but goodie” because the ways in which hot weather can affect diabetes haven’t changed in the last few years and they won’t be changing any time soon…and with summer just around the corner, it’s good to remind ourselves of the extra precautions we might want to take in order to combat the heat. Read on for more on the ways summer weather can affect people with diabetes…

The summer heat seems to be here to stay in Massachusetts. We’ve experienced several weeks of soupy, high-heat weather that *almost* makes me long for cooler, autumnal days…but not quite, because that just means winter (and snow – blech) is right around the corner.

Truly, I do enjoy the summertime. To me, summer is about trips to the beach, ice cream consumption (and lots of it), barbecues with family and friends, long walks in the neighborhood, and endless outdoor adventures. Aside from all of those lovely things, summer also means that it’s time to be a little more diligent when it comes to my diabetes. That’s because hot weather can play some cruel tricks on a T1D’s body. What do I mean by that? Here’s five ways diabetes can be affected by hot weather.

Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun, please shine down on me (and don’t make me go low or high…)
  1. Dehydration can lead to high blood sugar. Everyone knows that it’s important to stay hydrated when it’s hot out, but it might be less common knowledge that dehydration can directly affect blood sugar. There’s a scientific explanation for this: If not properly hydrated, the body sees an increase in blood glucose concentration because blood won’t flow as easily to the kidneys, making it difficult for the kidneys to get rid of excess glucose in urine. The best way to prevent this, naturally, is to drink plenty of water and monitor blood sugars.
  2. Sunburn can drive up blood sugars. I’m very familiar with how a sunburn can result in higher blood sugars; in fact, just last week I was dealing with a particularly gnarly sunburn on my thighs and belly that not only made my numbers higher, but also really hurt. My skin was literally damaged, so the stress from the injury lead to retaliation from my blood sugar. Luckily, it only lasted about 48 hours, but those couple of days were challenging as I dealt with sticky highs that were practically resistant to insulin. And for the record, I DID apply sunscreen – numerous times – when I was at the beach. Next time, I’ll seek shade under the umbrella.
  3. Sweat can make it difficult for devices to stick. I don’t know a single medical device that’s immune to prolonged exposure to moisture/water, but that doesn’t prevent me from spending as much time as I can outdoors/at the beach/by the pool in the summer. Thank goodness for Skin-Tac wipes and medical adhesive tapes that help preserve my precious pods and sensors!“
  4. Insulin can overheat. There’s a reason why insulin vials come packaged in cartons with directions that specify what temperature insulin should stay at in order for it to be safe to use. Insulin can spoil easily when it reaches a certain temperature, so it’s important to store it in a cool place when the weather’s warm. I alternate between a mini portable cooler (that can hold 3 vials of insulin) and a pouch from FRIO – both do an excellent job at keeping my insulin cool.
  5. Low blood sugars can occur more frequently. Summertime is prime time for outdoor activities that result in higher energy expenditure. So it’s no wonder that blood sugar tends to plummet in hot weather. Looking at it on the bright side, it’s an excuse to eat even more ice cream – but it also means that monitoring how I feel and checking blood sugars often is that much more important.

Regardless of the diabetes challenges it may cause, I love summer weather, and I know I’ll miss it the moment the first snowflake falls this year.

3 Things That Make Low Blood Sugars More Tolerable

This post was originally published here on Hugging the Cactus on August 21, 2019. I’m sharing it again today because it’s the perfect little companion to Monday’s more hateful post geared towards high blood sugars.

Okay, to be TOTALLY honest, low blood sugars aren’t – and won’t ever be – fun. Nine times out of ten, they can be inconvenient, upsetting, and even scary (depending on how low it is). But like most things associated with diabetes, I try to look at the bright side every now and then to remind myself that it could be worse. So even though I don’t welcome low blood sugars in just about any circumstance, I decided to look at them, and their less-than-pleasant side effects, from another perspective. Hence, this three-item list that explains what makes low blood sugars slightly more tolerable to me.

#1: The sweat. I detest sweating. I don’t care if sweat is the result of a good workout or a day spent at the beach – it’s gross either way. And it’s definitely not an attractive low blood sugar symptom. But…on the other side…I tend to sweat a LOT when my blood sugar is low and it makes me feel like I’ve just had an excellent workout without any effort or exertion on my part. So I guess it’s kinda like gleaning the health benefits that you’d get from sitting in a sauna for a bit? IDK…it’s a bit convoluted but just agree with me on this one.

#2: The excuses. I’ve made it a personal mission to try to avoid using my diabetes as a scapegoat. There are times, though, that it really does prevent me from doing something in a timely manner/when I’m asked. For example, if I’m experiencing a low blood sugar at work and a colleague comes by to talk to me and ask me for something, I do find it’s best to let them know that I can’t attend to it right away because of the blood sugar. Nine times out of ten, people understand, and they let me treat it accordingly. And it gives me time to just relax and deal with it, taking the stress away from a situation by simply being honest about it (so I guess it isn’t really an excuse, but sometimes I feel a little guilty about using a low as an out on something. Low guilt is real, people!).

#3: The cake. (Or really any food when you’re low. Because it all tastes delicious. But nothing is quite as satisfying as cake.) I think the inspiration for this blog post came when I was enjoying a big, fat slice of cake in order to bring my blood sugar back up. My goodness, some foods just taste beyond amazing when I’m using them to treat a low. The sweeter it is, the more satisfying it is to both my taste buds and blood sugar levels. And anyone who has experienced a low blood sugar before (people with and without diabetes) can attest to the fact that food is simply a million times better when it’s being consumed at a time that your body is URGENTLY telling you to feed it.

Alright…now that I’m looking back at these three things, I’m kind of laughing at myself. Because I can TRY to make low blood sugars a more positive thing, but let’s be real, they still kind of suck. But I guess there’s no harm in trying to be upbeat about them.

5 Things That Make My Blood Sugar Crash Quickly

Have you ever noticed that certain activities have a swift and obvious impact on your blood sugar levels?

Well, if you aren’t a person with diabetes, then the answer to that is probably “no”…but I digress! Recently, I realized that there are five things that absolutely, definitely, without-a-doubt make my blood sugar plummet before long. Here’s my list – what’s on yours?

1 – Vacuuming. I live in a fairly small condo – less than 900 square feet total – but when it comes time to vacuuming the floor, it takes me a good chunk of time to do a thorough job. Maybe about 30 minutes total. So it shouldn’t be surprising that by the time I’m done, I’m normally a little sweaty and often in need of a snack because all that moving around has made my blood sugar drop.

Who else “celebrates” vacuuming their entire home by cracking open a fresh…juice box??

2 – Baking. This might be surprising because I’m the type of baker who must lick the spoon and sample the finished product as soon as it’s done, so you might assume that this activity makes my blood sugar go up. Not so. And this is because I am also what I call a “frantic baker”. I shuffle around the kitchen, rifle through cabinets, curse when I can’t find an ingredient and need to rush out to the store to get it…now you must get the idea. I’m always in motion when I’m baking, which pays off in the end. I need to try my baked goods in order to boost blood sugar that went low in the process of creating them. This is one of the many reasons why I love baking!

3 – Playing with my puppy. Little Miss Violet is four months old now and more rambunctious than ever. She loves fetching, running, chasing…and nine times out of ten, I’m fetching, running, and chasing right along with her. Before too long, Violet’s winded and on her way to dreamland while I’m on my way to the kitchen to grab something that will treat my low blood sugar.

4 – Cleaning the bathroom. A self-professed neat freak, I have a very specific process when I’m cleaning the 1.5 bathrooms in my condo. This process probably isn’t the most efficient because it involves a lot of walking up and down the stairs to gather various cleaning supplies, but it does do one thing well: lower my blood sugar, of course.

5 – Walking. This is pretty dang obvious because any sort of physical activity/exercise is bound to make my blood sugar drop, but not in the same way that walking does. I swear that 10-15 minutes of walking at a normal pace is enough to drop my blood sugar by about 100 points – that’s how effective it is for me. Walking is my sneaky little trick when my blood sugar is a tad too high: Instead of taking insulin to correct it, I just have to get a quick walk in and I’m falling fast in no time.

The Worst Time for a Low Blood Sugar

There’s never necessarily a good time to have a low blood sugar: Whenever they happen, they’re bound to be at least a little inconvenient.

But I was thinking about it the other day and it occurred to me that there is most definitely a worst time for a low blood sugar…at least, for me.

And that time is the middle of the night.

I love sleeping, but like many adults, I simply don’t get enough of it. So when something like a low blood sugar interrupts my slumber, it’s downright intrusive and honestly a bit scary, because I always have an underlying fear that I’ll sleep through my Dexcom alarms.

Take a recent middle-of-the-night low blood sugar for example…I was dealing with a lingering low at 1:30 A.M. I’d only been asleep for a couple of hours when I heard my Dexcom sound. I ignored it the first 3 times it went off, but something – my intuition, maybe – told me to roll over and at least check to see the level that my Dexcom was reporting.

I was somewhere in the 60s: low enough that I needed a juice box. I promptly drank it and got settled back under my covers, assuming that I would shoot back up in no time.

Nothing like waking up to a screaming Dexcom that demands you to eat sugar, stat!

Not quite. I don’t know how many minutes later, but I looked at my Dexcom again and it said I was 56. I did the whole “confirm the number with my meter” shtick and ate some glucose gummies to supplement the juice box. I was irritated and my eyes were oh-so-heavy, but from there I forced myself to turn the television on and try to get distracted by a show so I wouldn’t fall back asleep until I knew that my blood sugars were stable again. Before too long, I was heading up, so I did my best to lull myself to sleep, though I tossed and turned for awhile before I finally did drift off.

All in all, I lost about an hour to an hour and a half of sleep because of this one instance! Not all of my lows are like that – sometimes I can fix them in 5 minute flat, other times they keep me up for upwards of two hours – but it doesn’t even really matter. It’s more so the principle of the thing.

Plus, think about how freakin’ ridiculous it is that people with diabetes have to eat something sugary to come up from a low – that in itself isn’t wild, but it IS grating to have to do in the middle of the night when you aren’t hungry and were enjoying a deep sleep. Also…ever try drinking orange juice after you’ve brushed your teeth? It’s unpleasant, to put it mildly.

So you have it: The middle of the night is the absolute worst time for a low blood sugar, in my semi-expert opinion.