Naomi Brewer, a research fellow at the University’s Centre for Public Health Research.

Blood sugar levels might be new measure of health

Blood sugar levels might be just as important in measuring good health as blood pressure or cholesterol, new University research suggests.

Naomi Brewer, a research fellow at the University’s Centre for Public Health Research, is the lead author of a study published in the leading international diabetes journal Diabetes Care, published by the American Diabetes Association.

The study followed 47,904 people who had undergone haemoglobin A1C testing – a standard way to measure blood sugar – as part of a screening program for hepatitis B from 1999 to 2001. They were followed until the end of 2004, when it was found 815 had died.

Ms Brewer and her team discovered that the likelihood of death rose in parallel with blood sugar levels, even when the analysis was restricted to people without diabetes. Those in the highest category of blood sugar levels had more than twice the death rate of those with low levels.

“In future, people will need to know their haemoglobin A1C level, just as they may currently know their blood pressure or their cholesterol levels,” she says.

As well as the association with the overall risk of death, strong associations were seen for some specific causes of death, including endocrine, nutritional, metabolic and immunity disorders (which can include diabetes and cystic fibrosis), and diseases of the circulatory system (which can include heart disease). Weaker associations were noted between elevated blood sugar levels and deaths from cancer. The associations were equally strong in men and women.

Ms Brewer was surprised at the lack of previous research in to the subject in New Zealand. The association has previously been seen in several overseas studies, but this new study is the largest that has been carried out internationally on this topic, and the first such study in New Zealand.

“People might have thought of those with diabetes as being in one corner and themselves in another. This suggests there might be more to it than that,” Ms Brewer says.

“It is interesting because it’s something people might want to know, and to think about. There’s possibly more of a continuum between not having diabetes and having diabetes than previously supposed.”

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