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Glucose monitors for non-diabetics: Fad or fab?

Image showing a person using a continuous glucose monitor and smartphone

There's been a surge in the popularity of wearable Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGMs). This device is a game-changer for diabetics (especially those with type 1 diabetes), offering potentially life-saving benefits by providing real-time information about the amount of glucose in their blood.

However, there's recently been a trend for manufacturers to market CGMs to non-diabetics with the promise that they'll provide insights into the metabolism, which will lead to better diet and exercise choices. Is this just a fad or is it a fabulous idea? Let's take a closer look.

How do CGMs work?

Diabetics typically use a sharp tool called a lancet to prick their fingers and obtain a drop of blood. This is then placed on a test strip and inserted into a glucose meter to measure their blood sugar levels. CGMs eliminate the need for diabetics to prick their fingers.

CGMs work by inserting a tiny sensor under a suitable site on the body, usually the abdomen, upper buttocks, or upper arm. The sensor measures glucose in interstitial fluid, which is the fluid that surrounds and fills the spaces between the cells in the body's tissues.

That measurement, which is similar to blood glucose levels, is then transmitted from the sensor to a connected device, such as a smartphone, to view real-time glucose levels.

A diagram showing how a CGM works

CGMs for non-diabetics are a fad

While CGMs are useful for diabetics, the pitch from manufacturers regarding their benefits for non-diabetics is questionable.

Arguably, Manufacturers are working hard to position CGMs for people without diabetes because there's a huge amount of money to be made in bringing them into the trend of wearable health technology. Many of us already own devices that allow us to monitor our weight, heart rate, or steps per day.

And it looks like they're succeeding to a degree, primarily thanks to the noise on social media. It's not hard to find influencers who extol the benefits of using CGMs to make healthier food choices by bringing awareness to how it affects glucose levels, typically for weight loss.

However, despite what you hear, there are few if any actual studies on the use of CGMs for weight loss in non-diabetics. On the other hand, there are many studies on how glucose levels are affected by more than just food, such as exercise frequency and intensity, hydration, sleep, stress, and caffeine.

You also won't hear many influencers talk about the downsides of using CGMs. For example, long-term use of CGMs can cause visible damage to the skin. CGMs are commonly worn for 7–14 days, at which point the sensor must be replaced. If the site of the sensor is not changed, overused sites can present with unsightly blemishes and, in some cases, infections. While wearing a CGM may be a daily necessity for diabetics, non-diabetics can choose to more easily preserve their skin if they do not use CGMs.

Finally, CGMs can induce stress caused by information overload. If you've ever tracked your calories and macros, you'll know how obsessive and anxious the process of counting your food intake can become. Unless you have pre-diabetes, diabetes, or another health condition related to glucose levels, a constant stream of data could cause anxiety and be overwhelming. This could harm your lifestyle and lead to demotivation or unhealthy obsessions. Remember: just because you can measure something doesn't mean you should.

CGMs for non-diabetics are fab!

For non-diabetics, CGMs can provide insights into the impact of food and exercise on their glucose levels. This is useful for novice exercisers or those that are relatively early in their weight-loss journey.

If people can see in real-time how a particular meal spikes their glucose levels, they may eat those foods less often, or be motivated to take a post-meal walk. This will help increase insulin sensitivity, which allows the body to use insulin more effectively and regulate blood glucose levels. There is a small study that shared the results of providing sedentary people with a CGM and an activity tracker. Generally, participants felt more motivated to exercise.

Perhaps the most appealing aspects of a CGM are how it satisfies our curiosity and provides the illusion of control. Let's be honest, we all love to see data about our bodies, even if we're not sure what to do with it. Receiving more information about your food intake may provide you with a sense of control over your health, and, of course, possibly identify health conditions such as pre-diabetes in healthy people.

Fad or fab?

CGMs are undeniably valuable devices for diabetics. They offer both life-saving benefits and ease the mental burden of managing the condition. However, for non-diabetics, they may be more of a hindrance than a help and could lead to information overload. Having said that, there's no real harm in wearing one and if the information it provides motivates you to develop healthier habits, then that can only be a good thing.

In my personal opinion, this is just another trend in a slew of unnecessary devices and supplements marketed by companies looking to profit from the over-complication of a healthy lifestyle. The benefits of CGMs can just as easily be achieved by learning more about your body and consuming a healthy diet (check out my nutrition blogs) that is both balanced and sustainable.

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