For people with diabetes, the A1C blood test is one of the most important tools for managing blood sugar and preventing complications. This simple test shows your average blood glucose levels over the past 2-3 months.
Understanding your A1C results allows you and your healthcare team to assess how well your current treatment plan is working and make any necessary lifestyle or medication adjustments to better control your blood sugar.
The higher your A1C level, the higher your risk of diabetes complications like heart disease, nerve damage, kidney disease, vision loss, and stroke. By maintaining your A1C through healthy everyday habits, you can lower your risk and stay healthier long-term.
Key Takeaways: How to Lower A1C Naturally
- A1C tests measure your average blood sugar levels over the past 2-3 months.
- Keeping your A1C in the recommended target range helps reduce risks of diabetes complications.
- Making healthy lifestyle changes to diet, exercise, weight, stress, etc. can lower your A1C naturally.
- Work with your healthcare team to set an appropriate A1C goal for your individual needs.
- Check your A1C routinely to evaluate your diabetes control and make adjustments as needed.
- Sustainable changes to your daily habits are key for maintaining healthy A1C levels over time.
What is A1C?
A1C, also called hemoglobin A1c or glycated hemoglobin, is a blood test that provides information about your average blood sugar levels over the past 2-3 months. It specifically measures the amount of sugar (glucose) that has become attached to hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen.
The higher your A1C level, the higher your blood sugar levels have been over time. A1C testing is important for diagnosing and monitoring diabetes. Keeping your A1C in a healthy range can help reduce the risk of diabetes complications.
Why You Should Care About Your A1C Levels
Keeping your A1C within target ranges is important for controlling diabetes and avoiding complications. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), optimal A1C goals for people with diabetes are:
- Less than 7% for most non-pregnant adults
- Less than 6.5% if you can achieve this without significant hypoglycemia
- Less than 8% of those with a history of severe hypoglycemia, limited life expectancy, advanced complications, or comorbid conditions
Higher A1C levels have been associated with an increased risk of diabetes-related health problems like heart disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, eye damage, and stroke. By maintaining your A1C through healthy lifestyle choices, you can reduce these risks.
What Impacts A1C Levels?
A1C levels are influenced by your average blood sugar over the past 2-3 months. Anything that affects your blood sugar levels will also impact your A1C. Key factors include:
- Diet – Carbohydrate intake directly affects blood sugar. High-carb, high-sugar diets can raise A1C.
- Physical Activity – Exercise helps lower blood sugar and A1C by improving insulin sensitivity.
- Medications – Certain medications (Like Ozempic) used to treat diabetes can lower A1C.
- Weight – Excess weight contributes to insulin resistance. Losing weight can help lower A1C.
- Age – Aging can contribute to higher A1C levels. Lifestyle changes become even more important with age.
- Health Conditions – Conditions like anemia and kidney disease can impact A1C results.
Lifestyle Tips on How to Lower A1C Naturally
Making healthy lifestyle changes is one of the most effective ways to lower your A1C naturally. Here are some tips:
1. Follow a Balanced, Low-Glycemic Diet
Your diet has a big impact on blood sugar and A1C. Focus on fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. Limit processed carbs, sweets, sugary drinks, and refined grains like white bread.
Spread carbs throughout the day rather than concentrating at one meal. Choose low-glycemic foods that are absorbed more slowly to prevent spikes. Pair carbs with protein, fat or fiber to slow absorption.
2. Increase Physical Activity
Regular exercise can significantly lower A1C by improving insulin sensitivity. Aim for 150 minutes per week of moderate activity like brisk walking, swimming or cycling. Include both aerobic and strength training.
Even small amounts of activity make a difference. Take the stairs, go for a walk after meals, do bodyweight exercises at home, or try active hobbies like gardening. Move more throughout your day.
3. Lose Excess Weight
Carrying extra weight, especially around the abdomen, contributes to insulin resistance and higher A1C. Losing just 5-10% of your body weight can lower your A1C significantly.
Focus on sustainable changes – improve your diet, reduce portions, choose nutritious foods. Add more physical activity into your daily routine. Work with your doctor to set safe weight loss goals.
4. Limit Alcohol Intake
Drinking alcohol can cause blood sugar spikes and fluctuations, especially if you drink on an empty stomach. It also impacts the liver’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels. Limit intake to one drink or less per day for women, two for men.
Many researchers have concluded that alcohol consumption is protective against T2DM,24 however, this is not true for binge drinking.25 Evidence from NHANES suggests that alcohol consumption increases insulin sensitivity, which may explain its ability to lower HbA1c.26 Given the inconsistencies in clinical practice around the recommendations for alcohol use in blood sugar control, this investigation aims to clarify the relationship between alcohol and HbA1c by controlling for known confounders. Alcohol has been associated with poorer T2DM self-care,27 yet it remains unclear if alcohol is metabolically helpful for those with T2DM.
5. Manage Stress
Chronic stress leads to elevated cortisol levels, which can raise blood sugar and A1C. Make time for stress management like meditation, yoga, deep breathing, or other relaxation techniques. Maintain healthy social connections. Get 7-9 hours of sleep nightly.
6. Monitor Blood Sugar Regularly
Check your blood sugar levels routinely, especially when making lifestyle changes. This helps you evaluate the effects on your blood sugar. Work with your doctor to determine optimal testing frequency.
7. Take Medications as Prescribed
If lifestyle changes alone don’t lower your A1C enough, your doctor may prescribe medications like metformin, insulin, or other drugs. Take medications exactly as prescribed and monitor your blood sugar regularly.
Dietary Tips for Lowering A1C
Diet plays a major role in blood sugar management. Here are some healthy eating tips to help lower your A1C:
1. Choose Low-Glycemic Foods
Focus on foods that are absorbed more slowly and cause lower spikes in blood sugar and insulin compared to high-glycemic foods. Low glycemic foods include non-starchy veggies, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, whole fruits, minimally processed whole grains, and low-fat dairy.
2. Increase Soluble Fiber Intake
Soluble fiber forms a gel-like consistency and slows digestion, resulting in slower absorption of sugars into the bloodstream. Include foods like oats, flaxseeds, beans, lentils, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, and Brussels sprouts.
3. Watch Carb Portions
Carb counting can help manage your blood sugar response to meals. Work with a dietitian to determine your ideal carb intake. Be mindful of portions and servings, especially with higher glycemic foods like starchy vegetables, grains and fruit.
4. Choose Healthy Fats
Include mono and polyunsaturated fats found in foods like olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. Limit saturated and trans fats from red meat and full-fat dairy. Avoid fried and processed foods high in unhealthy fats.
5. Increase Protein Intake
Eating protein foods like fish, chicken, eggs, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and plant-based proteins helps slow the absorption of carbs. It also helps you feel fuller for longer.
6. Stay Hydrated
Drink water instead of sugary drinks like juice, soda, and sports drinks. Dehydration negatively affects blood sugar control. Aim for 6-8 glasses of water daily. Add lemon, mint, cucumber or other natural flavors.
More Tips for Controlling A1C
In addition to diet and exercise, other healthy habits can also help lower your A1C:
- Take medications and insulin as prescribed
- Check blood sugar routinely
- Manage stress levels
- Focus on consistent, sustainable changes
- Attend regular doctor’s appointments
- Test and track your A1C every 3-6 months
- Join a diabetes education class or support group
- Avoid smoking and limit alcohol
- Prioritize sleep and get 7-9 hours nightly
Work With Your Healthcare Team
Partnering with your doctor and other members of your healthcare team is key for successfully lowering your A1C. Here’s how they can help:
- Set personalized A1C and blood sugar goals
- Make medication and insulin adjustments
- Provide nutritional guidance and meal planning
- Oversee safe exercise programs
- Help manage stress
- Track your A1C progress
- Screen for diabetes complications
- Connect you with specialists or diabetes educators as needed
Having regular appointments helps ensure you are on the right treatment path for lowering your A1C. Make sure to communicate openly about challenges you face in managing diabetes so your team can provide the best support.
How to Interpret Your A1C Results
Understanding your A1C test results allows you to evaluate your diabetes control and progress:
Below 5.7% – This is a normal A1C level, indicating your average blood sugars are likely in a healthy range. Continue your current diabetes prevention efforts.
5.7% to 6.4% – This result signifies prediabetes. Lifestyle changes can help bring your A1C down to normal. Have your A1C retested in 3-6 months.
6.5% or Higher – An A1C at this level indicates you likely have diabetes. Work with your doctor on treatment options and lifestyle changes to lower your A1C.
Decreasing A1C – If your A1C is lowering over time, you’re moving in the right direction. Stick with the changes you’ve made.
Increasing A1C – If your A1C is steadily rising, speak to your healthcare team about adjusting your treatment plan to gain better blood sugar control.
Fluctuating A1C – Major fluctuations between tests may indicate issues with your diabetes management. Look at your records for clues, and speak to your doctor.
Setting an A1C Goal
Your target A1C range will be personalized based on factors like your age, diabetes type, health history, risk of hypoglycemia, and more. Speak with your healthcare provider about an appropriate goal for you.
Although under 7% is recommended for most adults, do not aim for over-intensive control. For some, trying to lower A1C too far can lead to dangerously low blood sugar levels. Work with your doctor to find your “goldilocks” number.
A1C test results are reported as a percentage. The higher the percentage, the higher your blood glucose levels over the past two to three months. The A1C test can also be used for diagnosis, based on the following guidelines:
- If your A1C level is between 5.7 and less than 6.5%, your levels have been in the prediabetes range.
- If you have an A1C level of 6.5% or higher, your levels were in the diabetes range.
Maintaining Long-Term Control
Successfully lowering your A1C takes consistent effort over time. Here are tips for maintaining control in the long run:
- Make sustainable, realistic changes
- Learn how to healthfully eat at restaurants
- Join a diabetes cooking class for new meal ideas
- Find a diabetes-friendly exercise routine you enjoy
- Practice stress management regularly
- Get support from friends and family
- Connect with other people managing diabetes
- Note triggers that sabotage your control
- Review your A1C and blood sugar data routinely
- Re-evaluate your plan with your doctor regularly
Diabetes is a journey requiring dedication every day. Stay positive, take it step-by-step, and celebrate small victories. Your efforts will pay off with lifelong benefits.
Troubleshooting High A1C Results
If your A1C remains elevated despite your best efforts, try these troubleshooting tips:
- Review your food and activity records to identify patterns and problematic areas
- Speak to a dietitian about improving your meal plan
- Consider using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to track your sugar 24/7
- Look for hidden sources of carbohydrates or unhealthy fats in your diet
- Assess your medication regimen with your healthcare provider
- Check for conditions that could impact your A1C like anemia or kidney disease
- Rule out other contributors like stress, poor sleep, inactivity
- Test your blood sugar more frequently to catch highs
- Commit to more consistent self-care and diabetes management
Don’t get discouraged. High A1C levels can be lowered with diligence and time. Work with your support team to find solutions.
Warning Signs of Diabetes Complications
Along with monitoring your A1C results, be alert for potential signs of diabetes complications which can occur when blood sugar levels are not well controlled over time:
Vision changes – Blurry vision, difficulty focusing, problems seeing at night
Tingling hands/feet – Numbness, pain, or burning sensations in the extremities
Slow healing cuts/sores – Cuts, scrapes or sores that are slow to heal
Increased infections – Yeast infections, urinary tract infections, gum disease
Skin changes – Patches of dark, thick skin in body creases
Food digeston issues – Heartburn, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain
Fatigue – Feeling exhausted even after ample rest
Mood changes – Irritability, anxiety, sadness, difficulty concentrating
Alert your doctor promptly if you experience any of these common diabetes complication symptoms. Early intervention, lifestyle changes and treatment can help prevent long-term problems.
Final Tips for Management
Controlling A1C and blood sugar levels with diabetes involves daily effort. Here are some final tips to remember:
- Work with your healthcare team
- Check your blood sugar routinely
- Take medications and insulin properly
- Reduce stress and get enough sleep
- Prepare healthy meals and watch portions
- Stay active – exercise helps lower A1C
- Check your A1C every 3-6 months
- Manage conditions like obesity, high cholesterol
- Monitor for signs of diabetes complications
- Join a diabetes education or support group
Diabetes (even type 2 diabetes) requires dedication, lowering your A1C is possible. Healthy lifestyle choices combined with medical care can help you successfully manage diabetes and avoid complications. Be patient and keep focused on your A1C goal.
Frequently Asked Questions on How to Lower Your a1c Level
What should my A1C target be?
For most non-pregnant adults, an A1C goal of less than 7% is recommended. However, goals are individualized based on factors like age, other health conditions, hypoglycemia risk, etc. Discuss an appropriate target with your doctor.
How often should I have my A1C tested?
Experts recommend having your A1C checked at least two times per year. If your medication changes or if your A1C is not at goal, your doctor may want to test it more frequently such as every 3 months.
What can I do to lower my A1C levels?
Lifestyle measures like a balanced, low-glycemic diet, regular exercise, weight control, stress reduction, and not smoking can all help lower your A1C. Medications may also be used under a doctor’s supervision.