What’s the point of continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) for non diabetics?
Jules Walters • Published: Nov 19, 2023
Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) has emerged as a game-changing technology in the management of diabetes. Traditionally, finger-stick blood testing provided intermittent glucose readings, but CGM systems now offer a more dynamic approach.
Now, there is rapidly growing interest in using CGM by health conscious, non-diabetics as a way of monitoring in real time how different foods affect their blood glucose.
In this blog, I take you through how CGM works and look at its potential benefits – as well as possible drawbacks – as part of monitoring a healthy lifestyle.
- Monitoring your blood glucose levels can help you make more informed choices on diet, exercise and the best times to eat for your metabolism.
- Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) has come a long way in the past 20 years, and many now say it’s time has come for wider adoption among non diabetics.
- CGM is increasingly being used by people with diabetes, as well as without; to monitor their sugar levels, obtain real-time data on their own bodies, and personalize their diet and overall well being.
- There are several CGM devices now on the market.
- CGM’s not for everyone. The monitors are relatively expensive. Occasionally, they can give off false alarms. They’re also intrusive by nature, and some people find them uncomfortable to wear.
Why is CGM increasingly popular among non diabetics?
There are a surprising number of reasons for CGM’s popularity with people who don’t have diabetes or non diabetics. Here are the main ones:
Health and wellness monitoring
CGM provides valuable insights into blood sugar fluctuations throughout the day, allowing normally healthy users to identify patterns and spikes in sugar levels. By monitoring glucose levels continuously, consumers gain a better understanding of how different foods , exercise, stress, and sleep impact their blood sugar levels. For example, I learned to stop eating raisins!
Athletes and fitness enthusiasts can use CGM readings to optimize their performance. By tracking glucose levels during exercise and training, they can fine-tune their nutrition and hydration to get the right amount of fuel for their bodies, and prevent energy crashes or performance dips.
Metabolic health and weight management
CGM can be a useful tool if you’re looking to lose weight, or improve your metabolic health. Tracking glucose levels can help identify how specific foods or eating habits affect blood sugar, which helps to make healthier choices and achieve weight loss. For example, a bowl of ice cream just before you go to bed, may not be the best time to eat ice cream. Watch what happens on the CGM.
Pre-diabetes and diabetes risk assessment
For individuals at higher risk of developing diabetes or pre-diabetes, which is a staggering 38% of American adults, CGM can provide early warning signs of blood sugar spikes. By identifying patterns of elevated or fluctuating, fasting glucose levels, non-diabetics can take proactive measures; such as only cutting down the amount of sugar in their diet, or only taking in sugar with fats and protein.
Personalized data and insights
CGM devices provide real-time glucose data, which can be easily monitored through a smartphone app. This data-driven approach allows consumers to gain insights into their personal glucose responses and make adjustments. No two bodies are the same so knowing how your metabolism responds to sugar is a big step forward towards a longer, healthier life.
CGM technology has significantly advanced in recent years, making the devices more user-friendly, accurate, and accessible. Smaller sensors, longer wear times, and improved connectivity have made CGM devices more comfortable to wear and easier to integrate into daily life for non diabetics. In turn, that’s contributed to their increased popularity among everyday consumers.
Metabolic health differs from person to person
Metabolic health can vary a lot from one person to another, including how fast your body processes, stores, and uses energy. Your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, glucose tolerance, body weight and composition, and lifestyle factors – such as how often you exercise – all play a role.
At one end of the spectrum, you may have excellent metabolic health, with normal fasting blood sugar levels, healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and a healthy body weight. That will all lower risk of developing metabolic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
At the other end, poor metabolic health can be indicated by elevated blood sugar, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, and obesity. This increases the risk of developing chronic conditions related to metabolic dysfunction.
You can boost your metabolic health by exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, managing stress, and having regular check-ins with your doctor. You could also measure your own metabolic health through companies like InsideTracker, which visualizes your data in a handy table so you can see you are doing over time.
By taking proactive steps to improve metabolic health, non diabetics can work towards optimizing their overall well-being and reducing their risk of developing metabolic diseases.
What is continuous glucose monitoring (CGM)?
CGM is a method of monitoring sugar levels in your blood. Traditionally, this was done by people with diabetes, so they have early warning of sugar lows and sugar highs (what’s called hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia).
Increasingly, consumers without diabetes are recognizing the usefulness of a continuous glucose monitor too.
Unlike traditional blood glucose meters that provide a snapshot of blood sugar at a single moment, such as through a finger prick, CGM uses a small sensor inserted under the skin to constantly measure glucose levels. The sensor, typically inserted in the upper arm, is connected to a transmitter that sends real-time data to a receiver or smartphone app.
CGM allows non diabetics to see their glucose levels throughout the day, helping them to better understand patterns and trends, and make more informed decisions; not just about insulin dosing, if they’re living with diabetes, but also exercise and diet.
The evolution of CGM
Continuous glucose monitoring systems have evolved significantly over the past decade. Initially, CGM systems were complex and largely unreliable, limiting their use to medical professionals. However, advancements in technology have made CGM more accessible and accurate for everyday use.
In the early 2000s, the first commercially available CGM systems hit the market, offering people with diabetes a new way to monitor their glucose levels. These systems combined subcutaneous or under- the-skin sensors with wireless transmitters, delivering real-time glucose readings to a receiver. Though initial models had some limitations, they laid the foundation for future improvements.
Fast forward to the 2020s, and CGM technology has made great strides. The accuracy and reliability of CGM sensors – combined with transmitters that send signals to smart phone apps – have significantly improved. That’s enabled non diabetics to obtain near-continuous glucose data at home, without relying on finger-stick measurements.
Why NOT use a continuous glucose monitor?
There are a few reasons why using a CGM device at home might not be the best idea:
Without proper knowledge and understanding of interpreting CGM data, you may misinterpret the results or make unnecessary health decisions based on inaccurate information. It’s good to get some data and then talk through the results with your doctor.
Without medical expertise, you may not know how to respond appropriately to unexpected readings or understand the context of the data.
Applying a CGM can be intrusive as the sensor needs to be inserted under your skin. You might not like the idea of something inserted into your arm. You can also feel the CGM during the two weeks it’s inserted, which is how long one monitor is usually attached. It feels a bit like something stuck on your arm, which it is!
CGMs can be expensive and, without a medical necessity, your insurance probably won’t cover the cost if you don’t have diabetes. So, using a CGM unnecessarily may be one financial burden you can do without.
A good alternative is finger-stick blood testing, for which you’ll need a blood glucose meter and test strips from your local pharmacy. That is a lot cheaper, but this finger-stick approach only takes one glucose reading on at one particular point in time. It won’t show you the sugar peaks and troughs during the day.
Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) has come a long way since its inception as a daily tool for diabetes management at home.
The recent advances in the technology make continuous monitoring an appealing option for people without diabetes, keen to prevent diabetes, improve their athletic performance, or simply to understand more about their metabolic health.
Though some super-smart dogs have a knack of sensing their owner’s blood sugar spikes ahead of time, the average human can’t rely on sight or smell in the same way. So, CGM systems offer valuable real-time insights into how exercise and what you eat, when you eat it, affects your blood sugar levels.
As CGM tech continues to evolve, we can expect it to play an increasingly prominent role in optimizing health and well-being, for those living with diabetes and those without.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)
Do I need a doctor’s prescription for a CGM?
In the United States you do need a prescription, as CGMs are considered medical devices. You can’t just walk into a pharmacy and buy one, as you can with a traditional blood glucose monitor and test strips for finger-stick testing.
However, the leading CGM providers now partner with physician networks directly to handle the scrip issue after you place your order.
What are the best continuous glucose monitors (CGMs)?
There are several continuous glucose monitors on the market. In my article Best CGM for Healthy Living, I’ve reviewed some of the leading ones.
Are food and exercise the only factors that impact your glucose levels?
No. Food and exercise aren’t the only factors. Other factors that can affect glucose levels include stress, hormones, medications, illness or infection, alcohol consumption, and sleep patterns.
How can I measure blood sugar at home without a CGM?
To monitor your own blood glucose levels without a CGM device, you can follow these steps:
- Buy a blood glucose meter, available at any good pharmacy. Carefully read the instructions!
- Collect all the necessary supplies, including test strips, lancets, alcohol swabs, and a sharps container
- Insert a new test strip into the meter. Ensure it’s compatible with the meter model you have
- Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and warm water
- Use a lancet to gently prick the tip of your finger
- Collect a small blood sample. (Touch the test strip to the blood drop that appears on your finger)
- Wait for the results. The meter will take a few seconds to analyze the blood sample and display your blood sugar reading on the screen
- Record the result. Write down the date, time, and blood glucose level in a logbook or digital tracker
- Dispose of used lancets and test strips in sharps container