Diabetes Ireland

Making Sense of the Glycaemic Index


Mid October, I went to the DiabetesSisters Weekend for Women conference Alexandria, Virginia. See disclaimer at the end. One of the outstanding presentations I attended was by Thriveabetes 2016 speaker, Gary Scheiner’s presentation on “Making use of the Glycaemic Index”. This should not be a surprise to anyone has read Gary’s book “Think Like a Pancreas”. I will be honest here; when I heard the words “Glycaemic Index” I pretended I didn’t. And the reason is that several years ago, when it became a thing that was relevant to diabetes management, I tried to learn but I found it completely and utterly confusing. So I went to Gary’s talk as a skeptic.

BUT! As always Gary puts the information together well. See his blog posts here.

He started by saying that the glycemic index is the speed glucose enters the blood in the first two hours. It does not measure how fast foods enter the blood as glucose beyond that or how long it takes at all. A-ha! Ok so glycemic index is useful information for first two hours. I feel exonerated now.

This is hugely relevant to my diabetes management because I know that my rapid acting insulin peaks in approx 2 hours and that I might need additional insulin doses after that to cover the glucose released into my blood after the two hours.

The glycemic index is measured from 0 to 100. The closer to 100 a Food is, the higher its glycemic index is and the quicker the glucose hits your blood.

Here is a snapshot of the other things I learned;

  • A mixed meal, ie a meal with protein, carbohydrates and or fat gravitates towards the carb. Meaning your body will process that first, albeit slower than if it was just carbs. So I might need to take a post meal dose of insulin in addition to my pre-meal dose.
  • If you have a low GI food before your meal it will slow down the follow up starch in your meal. This is really good to know! Bring on the peanuts before the pasta or pizza :-)
  • Larger portions take longer to digest. This isn’t new information to me but I suppose I always underestimate just how flippin’ long it takes.
  • Time since your last meal affects the glycemic index. If you are still processing your food from the last meal, it’s going to slow down glucose absorption even more.

Some additional pieces of information not related to glycemic index but valuable.

  • Don’t trust your CGM when you are recovering from a low. The lag time in full force.
  • Insulin on board pump feature doesn’t take into account the food on board. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, if you are still digesting food you may need to override the insulin on board recommendation.
  • Insulin resistance can happen if you have a meal with a lot of fat.
  • Protein to insulin formula = ½ The total of protein grams and treat as carbs.
  • Amylin/Symlin is a hormone that slows gastric emptying. People who don’t have insulin don’t have amylin either so stomachs process food quicker.
  • Victoza is a GLP-1 injectable medication and reduces glucagon secretion; slows down the absorption of food.

In summary, glycemic index important to people with diabetes because:

  • Satiety. Low glycemic index meals help you feel full for longer.
  • Helps with the Timing of insulin. For example, if you know a meal or snack is going to have a high glycemic index then you could take your insulin 15 - 20. Minutes beforehand to give it a head start.
  • Helps avoid post meal spikes

So, I’m glad that I learned all of this and I’m glad that I don’t have to waste any more of my time trying to figure it out because it makes more sense to me now. And It may help me to know the glycemic index of a Food I’ve never tried before so that I can figure how to deliver my insulin (pre-meal, at meal or extended Bolus).

Disclaimer: Diabetes Sisters paid for my conference registration and accommodation but also gave me a contribution towards my travel costs. All they asked for in return was that I would write a blog post about the conference which I had to do anyway because I learned so much that needs to be shared;-) And I wrote here about how I was selected.

Diabetes on steroids

Back in October, I had a steroid injection in my hip. And yes, it drove my glucose levels bananas! For those of you who may not be aware of it, steroids are one of the medications that truly mess up glucose numbers for lots and lots of people.  The ultimate craziness only lasted two to three days but the residual crazy lingered a couple of weeks.

Here’s a little of the backstory behind why I got a steroid injection.

I have been complaining about my right hip for some time and I finally did something about it in September 2016. I went to my GP. He referred me to my physiotherapist and we did some “process of elimination” exercises. They didn't work. So then I went for an MRI and was referred to a rheumatologist.

At least now, we think I know what is wrong with my hip! It would seem both my physiotherapist and my rheumatologist agree that I have bursitis. And my rheumatologist injected steroids to reduce the swelling. If you have diabetes and you have steroids that plays absolute havoc with blood glucose.

However, no one could tell me how many days, weeks, months the glucose madness would go on for and how severe it would be.

Here is my experience of what happened to my glucose levels.

Prior to my injection my diabetes management was going fairly well with just the usual ups and downs. I had the shot mid morning and my glucose levels didn’t feel the effect of the injection until after lunch. But after lunch my numbers remained in the high teens until the early hours of the next morning. On day two, I noticed that if I increase my mealtime insulin significantly more than usual it would keep them in check. However, if I forgot to make the increase then I struggled to bring my numbers back down for hours.

Then the effect of the steroid started to wane slowly over the next two weeks and I had the opposite problem: trying to keep my glucose levels above hypo level. I adjusted insulin doses slowly and only making one or two changes at a time to bring them back to my normal diabetes levels (?!?!).

I was grateful that not only was I aware that this would more than likely happen but that both my endocrinologist, rheumatologist and physiotherapist reminded me it would. I'm probably going to have another dose in January but now, at least, I have a good idea of what to expect.

Weather the diabetes havoc-er


One of the factors not included in Diatribe’s 22 factors that influence glucose levels is the weather. Sometimes the weather plays with my diabetes management. And here’s how. Do you remember that really, really wet day we had last week? It seems like a distant memory now and I don’t think it had a name, like a storm name, but most of the country was flooded under a yellow weather warning.

When I got up that morning and look out the window I thought “Nope, I’m not walking, I don’t mind being wet and drippy but not that wet!” I was disappointed because most days I love my walk. It clears my head as I inhale clean fresh energy and exhale stress. I swing my arms vigorously and loosen up my neck and shoulders. I had missed my walk the day before due to a doctor's appointment so I was doubly disappointed.

So, with my daily constitutional off the menu, I took my “no-walk” breakfast insulin dose, which tends to be twice what I take if I am walking and off I drove the kids to school.

However, as I was dropping the teen and preteen to school the rain wasn’t that bad. So, I changed my mind (GASP)…. but how can I avoid a hypo seeing as I’ve taking all this insulin without using calories to prevent the low glucose reaction that will surely follow?

I decided to turn my background/basal insulin down to zero for one hour on my insulin pump. Yes, it was going to take an hour to take effect but it was better than a severe hypo. At least it might soften the blow.

Now, if I was on injection pens there is no way I could have avoided preventing a low without glucose.

So was I successful? Weeelll, kind of. I did have a hypo. A doosy at 2.8mmols but it didn’t feel as bad as it was and I didn’t feel like I had to consume the entire kitchen just about a dozen small jellies.

Compared to most hypos this one rebounded quite quickly and not too high. However, I did spend most of the day with glucose levels that were more elevated than my usual.

And there you have it, diabetes the spontaneity killer and weather the diabetes havoc-er.

The Death of the Animas Insulin Pump

Last week, Johnson & Johnson Diabetes, who own Animas, announced that it was “exiting” out of the insulin pump business, effective immediately in the US and Canada. And eventually in the rest of the world. Once I read all the way down the press release to realise that it was just USA and Canada for now, I was relieved.

Then I was seriously miffed, but not completely surprised. Since the Vibe insulin pump was introduced, a number of years ago, innovation seemed to have stalled within the company. Johnson & Johnson own both Animas and the glucose meter company LifeScan/OneTouch but they didn’t even innovate between these products, not even to do what all others were doing and that was to sync products via Bluetooth or whatever internet cloud magic they choose. One might even say they really checked out of the diabetes industry a long time ago by their lack of interest.

So, what does this mean for us in Ireland? And what does this mean for me an Animas Pump user?

I have been using an Animas pump since my pumping beginnings in 2010. Then in 2014, I upgraded to the Vibe and in 2015 I added the Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitoring System (CGM) to it. I didn't choose which insulin pump I would have, it was chosen for me, but I didn't have any complaints. In fact, it's been a great relationship!

Now I'm trying to think ahead and I realised that in the not too distant future I'm going to have to find a replacement for my insulin pump.

What are my choices in pumps? Do I actually have a choice, when the only other insulin pump my health service has a contract with is Medtronic? Yes it's probably a good pump but I don't want to be forced into it.

BUT it's not just my pump I need to consider!

This also effects my CGM device. How will my new pump interact with my current CGM, if at all? My Dexcom receiver IS my insulin pump, meaning that my glucose sensor transmits the information straight to my pump. So I need to either get a new receiver device or change CGM’s.

And then, there's my glucose meter which I was also able to upload to my insulin pump software programme which allows me to create useful graphs that help me make better decisions about my daily care. All of my information, from all of my devices is uploaded to the same place where I can see it all and it was easy!

Will I need to change both of these devices to make life easier? What will the overall software platform be that I use?

I want to be able to upload/Bluetooth/cloud sync all my devices to the same place!

I want to use whatever d*** device I like best. And I really don't like that I have to research all of this when managing diabetes is enough work already.

The Flu Vaccine what to do?

Every year, around this time, I have a conversation with myself about whether or not I should get the flu vaccine. And every year I make a different decision. Two signs of insanity right there; talking to myself and complete indecision. Whose worried? Not me! Oops, there I go again, talking to myself.  😆

Should everyone with diabetes get the flu vaccines? Well that is completely totally up to you.

So far, I've only gotten it once and that was the winter I was pregnant with my now 13 year old daughter. Since then, I maintained that if it's not broke don't fix it and I never get flu so I didn't bother.

Except last year, I had clocked up one or two flus that knocked me out for a week at a time, I decided that I was going to get it. However, when I went to my GP, I already had a cold and decided to wait but then never got around to it. I'm not sick very often so I figure the odds are still on my side. I do know as I approach 65 I will decide that I'm better off vaccinated.

This year I'm still undecided but maybe swaying towards the “I will” side.

If you are like me and still thinking will I, won't I, here's some additional information for about it


“Yes” and “No” because nothing is ever straight forward in our health system.

Yes, the flu vaccine itself is free to everyone in the “At Risk” groups which includes people with diabetes.

No, because if you do not have a medical card, a GP services card or a HAA card, you will have to pay for someone to jab it in.

A lot of pharmacy chains offer the flu vaccine so you do have the option to walk into one of those and have it done there and then without making an appointment. Next time you are collecting your diabetes supplies you can ask.


Pneumococcal Vaccine

It's also worth mentioning that the HSE have also launched a Pneumococcal Vaccine campaign which shouldn't be confused with the Flu vaccine. I would like to thank our guest speaker, Paul, from our last diabetes support group meeting for clarifying this information for us. WHAT IS THE Pneumococcal Vaccine?

“Pneumococcal disease is an umbrella term for a range of illnesses caused by a type of bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae (also known as the pneumo bug). It is a major cause of serious infection that can lead to death, particularly amongst the elderly, the very young, those who have an absent or non-functioning spleen, those with long term medical conditions*, or those with weakened immunity.” SOURCE

However, the pneumococcal vaccination is USUALLY A SINGLE VACCINATION (ie once in your lifetime dose) for those at-risk. The most at risk group are children under age 2 years and adults over 65. Once you get it once you should be protected for the rest of your life. There are exceptions to this guideline so if you would like to know more ask your GP or visit http://pneumo.ie/