During my first pregnancy, in 2010, I didn’t really know what the glucose tolerance test was all about, or what to expect. All I knew is that I “had to” do it, and so I did. I figured that the glucola drink was disgusting. I figured it had some artificial colors, being it is bright orange, but I sucked it up and took it anyway. My doctor didn’t even tell me to fast. My test for my first pregnancy was at 2pm, and I skipped lunch but ate breakfast.
I failed the test by 1 point (reading of 136), and was asked to come back for the 3-hour version. That second time, I took the test first thing in the morning, this time fasting, and I luckily had passed.
Both times in my first pregnancy that I had to take the glucose tolerance test, I did feel sick afterwards. I just figured it was from the test itself, and the high sugary drink. I didn’t want to know what was in it, because I didn’t want it to upset me, given I thought I had “no other options.”
The truth is, I DID have other options. Today, I want to share with you how you do as well.
My second pregnancy was different in many ways. I had changed my eating habits from a vegetarian-ish diet to more of a nourishing diet loaded with whole foods, and animal foods raised on pasture. I became much more in tune with my body, and it’s nutritional needs.
I exercised during my first pregnancy, but very low impact. During my second pregnancy, I felt much stronger. I practiced power yoga and barre daily, and was able to go for hour long walks at a time, bursting with energy! At 40-weeks pregnant I was still able to hold a handstand like a boss … actually I felt stronger at 40-weeks pregnant than I do now almost a year postpartum!
Although I felt the healthiest I could have imagined during that pregnancy, gestational diabetes is something you shouldn’t take lightly.
What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a hormonal condition that some women develop around the 24th week of pregnancy. According to a 2014 analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of gestational diabetes is as high as 9.2%. Women develop it only during pregnancy because sometimes the hormones coming from the placenta also block the action of the mother’s insulin to her body. In turn, a pregnant woman’s body is unable to make enough insulin to support a healthy pregnancy. Diabetes does not cause birth defects, but it can harm the baby. At birth, babies may have breathing problems, or damage to their shoulders because of increased size, and are at higher risk for developing obesity in their adolescence and type 2 diabetes as adults.
While it is incredibly important to exercise and eat right during pregnancy, anyone can develop gestational diabetes. Your lifestyle does not make you more or less prone per se. Although, some research states that women over 25, those who have a family history of diabetes, and women who are overweight have a higher risk-factor.
With that said, I am NOT against the testing itself! I am concerned about the method used for testing.
The goal of gestational diabetes testing is for pregnant women to ingest 50-100 grams of glucose in one sitting, after which blood is drawn to see how their body handles the sudden influx of sugar.
The most common way, is consuming a laboratory administered orange drink called “glucola” to measure controlled glucose in the blood. The ingredients in this drink are quite horrifying, and I think it is absurd that they are given to pregnant women. I would not drink this regularly, let alone during such a sensitive time, carrying my unborn child. Doctors educate women on the importance of proper diet and exercise during pregnancy, but require this potentially harmful, unhealthy drink be administered for testing. There is a much better way.
I originally shared these concerned on my old blog. Here is what I printed out to bring to my OBGYN, so that we could figure out a better method to use to administer this testing. I updated it below:
Glucose Test Concerns
Ingredients in Glucola Beverage (50 grams of glucose for 1 hour test)
Water, Dextrose (D-Glucose source: GMO Corn), Citric Acid, Natural Flavoring, Food Starch Modified, Glycerol Ester of Wood Rosin, Brominated Soybean Oil, FD & C Yellow #6, Sodium Mexaphosphate, BHA, and Sodium Benzoate
Problems with this overly processed glucola drink’s ingredients, particularly while pregnant:
- Genetically modified soybean oil – Brominated vegetable oils are known to have adverse side effects (same chemical family as flame retardants, causing hormone dysfunction and lead to problems with brain development in children). In fact, they are banned in Europe as an additive because of health concerns. On May 5th, 2014, Pepsi and Coca-Cola announced that they would be removing this additive from their beverages, yet this is still added to a drink given to pregnant women for testing. Additionally, soybean oil is one of the most inflammatory foods you could eat, especially soybean oil derived from genetically modified seeds.
- Petroleum-based food coloring (FD & C yellow #6): This unnecessary dye caused adrenal tumors in animals. It may be contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals and occasionally causes severe hypersensitivity reactions. Benzidine and 4-minobiphenyl are two different names for the same compound, which is known as a human carcinogen. These artificial colorants have personally caused headaches when I’ve ingested them, and I have been avoiding these in my diet since suffering from migraine headaches over 8 years ago.
- BHA: carcinogenic additive found in vegetable oil products
- Combination of citric acid and sodium benzoate: forms “benzene” a known carcinogenic recognized by the World Health Organization
- Glucose derived from corn: Corn, most-likely genetically modified. GMOs have not yet been proven safe nor harmful for human consumption. Since the up rise of GMOs in our food, there has been an increase in food allergies and disease. Correlation does not always mean causation but constitutes raising awareness and my right to avoid it if I choose.
Here are real food options that contain 50 grams of glucose:
- 16 ounces of 100% fresh pressed orange juice and 1/2 of a banana (50)
- 6 ounces 100% organic grape juice and 1 banana (50)
- 8 ounces 100% organic apple juice and 1/2 banana (50)
- Glucose Tablets: GlucoLift was the only tablets I found that does NOT derive their dextrose from GMO corn, but unfortunately that status has changed since I discovered them, and it was not by choice. The company very much supports GMO labeling and products but is unable to get supply. Dex4 is another “all-natural” tablet, but they do not verify the source of their dextrose, so I assume it is GMO. With that said, real food options are superior, but if you had to choose between Glucola beverage and GlucoLift, I would take the GlucoLift!
Other options for testing blood sugar your doctor may consider:
Carrying a glucometer for a week to test blood sugar. This method may even be more accurate and helpful for a person at a lower risk for gestational diabetes (see above).
- Fasting blood glucose (first thing in the morning) of 86 or lower
- 1 hour after eating= 140 or lower
- 2 hours after eating= 120 or lower
- 3 hours after eating= back to fasting level
Pros of this option:
It is a more comprehensive view of glucose tolerance. I can see what foods cause a higher spike for me personally (since everyone is different) and which ones cause no issues at all. This can help guide me to make the best choices for my pregnancy over the next 12 weeks.
A woman would have to test her blood sugar 4x per day for a week. Maybe twice if the doctor recommended it and wanted to see numbers at both 28 and 33 weeks.
I prefer the fresh pressed 16-ounce juice from Whole Foods Market and half of a banana option. My doctor preferred the glucose tablets (even though it’s pretty much the same thing). I will be honest, I had to fight a little to get my way, but in the end, my doctor actually AGREED with me that the ingredients in that beverage were concerning. He was particularly not keen on the brominated soybean oil.
The more of us moms that stick together, and exercise our rights, the more we move towards positive change. You DO have the right. It is YOUR body, YOUR choice. No one is telling you to skip the test (but it would be your right to do so if you wanted). I believe that is safest to take the test, but to use real food options to get the results.
In the end, my doctor had to order a different lab test. It was more of a general glucose test. I did everything the same, took my natural method of 50 grams of glucose 1 hour prior to getting blood drawn, I did not expend any energy (I sat and waited). I let the tech know before-hand that I had to have my blood drawn by a certain time (even though the test did not state it).
Hopefully, after a while, they will reformulate the drink if enough of us band together, or offer other options without acting like that is the only thing on the planet you can consume to take this test. In the end, my results came back amazing. My blood sugar was 71, my doctor was happy, and I ended up with a healthy, happy baby! I would do it again, and empower any pregnant woman I know to stick up for herself and do the same!