Watching blood sugar levels is essential for people with diabetes, and it’s becoming a trendy option among non-diabetics as well. A growing number of people are using continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) devices to detect changes in blood sugar 24 hours a day in the hopes of optimizing their diet and metabolic health .
“Continuous glucose monitoring has recently become an area of interest for non-diabetic individuals aiming to understand how different foods and activities affect their glucose levels,” says Barbara Kovalenko, a registered dietician and nutrition consultant at Lasta Inc.
Content creator and influencer Joslyn Davis recently shared her experiences with continuous glucose monitoring on social media. She said tracking her meals, exercise, and blood sugar levels helped her gain a better understanding of her energy level and how her body reacts to sugar.
Flow Advisor Dr. Piraye Yurttas Beim, PhD and founder and CEO of Celmatix, a biotech focused on improving ovarian health, recommends limiting processed sugars to protect your ovarian health as you age. She says using a CGM (she recommends the FreeStyle Libre) to track her blood sugar levels helps her “stay motivated.”
Only 6.8 percent of Americans have optimal metabolic health, according to recent research. The other 92 to 93 percent are at an increased risk for developing chronic conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. But is tracking blood sugar spikes for non-diabetics necessary—or even helpful? Here’s what to know about this trend.
How does continuous glucose monitoring for non-diabetics work?
Continuous glucose monitoring has two parts, explains Mrinal Pandit, a registered dietitian and clinical nutritionist at Oliva Skin and Hair Clinic. A small sensor is placed under the skin, often in the arm or abdomen, where it contains an electrode to measure how much glucose is in the interstitial fluid (the fluid filling up spaces between cells).
The collected measurements are then transmitted wirelessly to a smartphone that displays data from how your blood sugar looks at a given moment to tracking how your glucose levels change throughout the day.
“Its data helps in understanding how physical activities, sleep patterns, and stress levels interact with glucose metabolism,” says Kovalenko, who adds that the comprehensive information may empower individuals to make positive lifestyle changes when it comes to diet and exercise. For example, recognizing how specific foods and meals affect blood glucose can guide people to create nutritional plans to lower the risk of prediabetes and boost heart health.
The benefits of glucose monitoring for diabetics is proven and lifesaving. But is there any science to support continuous glucose monitoring in non-diabetics? There are only a few research studies that have looked at the issue.
One 2019 study used continuous glucose monitors on 153 people without diabetes to measure their blood sugars. Except for people over 60, almost everyone had a blood sugar reading that would be considered normal. A second study tested the effectiveness of continuous glucose monitoring and therapy on 19 adults classified as overweight or obese. After 10 days, people reported feeling more informed on the benefits of exercise, were more motivated to work out, and put more effort into getting some physical activity. “Continuous glucose monitoring may aid in weight loss or management by promoting awareness,” adds Kovalenko.
Downsides of continuous glucose monitoring for non-diabetics
Tracking blood sugar spikes in real-time not only gives people like Davis a sense of control over their health but helps them take immediate action when needed. However, experts have expressed some concerns about the trend of using CGM technology to self-monitor blood sugar levels in non-diabetics.
Misinterpreting data can cause needless dietary restrictions. One potential issue with continuous glucose monitoring is the stress of responding to every single blood sugar spike. Glucose levels naturally fluctuate throughout the day and not understanding these changes could cause people to misinterpret normal variations as problems needing dietary intervention. This could lead to unnecessary dietary restrictions or changes when users are interpreting data without considering other outside factors. Kovalenko advises regularly seeing a nutritionist or other healthcare professional to ensure that they are making appropriate and safe dietary and lifestyle changes when monitoring glucose levels.
Expensive cost. Monitoring your blood sugar comes at a hefty cost. The sensors used to measure glucose levels do not last forever and need to be replaced every 7 to 14 days. (Though last year the FDA approved Eversense E3 System, a continuous glucose monitor last year with a sensor that lasts up to six months.) The cost of replacing sensors can range from $100 to $500 a month — meaning you’re spending several thousand dollars a year, depending on the brand. And while insurance would likely cover the cost for a person with diabetes, non-diabetic users are unlikely to receive coverage. There are also less expensive alternatives for measuring blood glucose levels, such as regular blood tests, fitness trackers, and diet trackers.
It’s not the most comfortable or fashionable accessory. While there are noninvasive options on the market, most continuous glucose monitors have their sensors under the skin with adhesive material to keep them from falling out. Kovalenko says the material used in these sensors has caused irritation for some users. They have also caused scarring or skin thickening at the insertion site. The adhesive patch is also an eyesore, and wearing a visible sensor could make people self-conscious on how they look.
For those considering continuous glucose technology, Pandit urges people to speak with a doctor first. They can provide guidance on whether this technology is right for you, as well as discuss any potential risks of using a CGM device. You’ll also want to do your research and figure out how much you’re willing to spend and whether premium features such as more detailed data or extra storage for test results is worth it.
Most brands require an assessment to get a baseline of your metabolic health. From there, try experimenting with different foods and check in regularly to see how your dietary habits influence your health goals. When paired with regular physical activity and stress management, the personalized data may help you build some long-lasting healthy habits.