Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) are worn by people with diabetes to track blood sugar levels—but they could have health benefits for others as well
Maintaining good control of blood sugar levels is important to optimizing health. And for those with diabetes, it’s paramount to avoiding potentially serious complications such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, and eye problems.
People with diabetes are often prescribed a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to help monitor blood sugar levels with real-time updates—but it’s possible that people without diabetes could see additional benefits from using one of these devices.
Should you try a CGM? Read on to find out.
What is a continuous glucose monitor (CGM)?
A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) uses a small sensor inserted just under the skin to measure the glucose found in the fluid in between your cells every few minutes. It transmits frequent readings to a monitor or smartphone, which makes it easier for people with diabetes to track their blood sugar levels and maintain better glycemic control. Popular models include:
“CGM devices are typically used by patients with Type 1 diabetes or those with Type 2 diabetes who are insulin-dependent,” notes Mahmud Kara, MD, founder and CEO of KaraMD. CGMs allow the user to set notifications of out-of-range blood glucose levels so they can take action right away.
But it’s possible that people without diabetes—who don’t need to monitor their glucose levels so closely—could still benefit from wearing a CGM.
Could CGMs help people without diabetes?
People without diabetes wearing CGMs to monitor blood glucose levels and identify trends has become more and more popular in recent years. Although, there isn’t a lot of research on the benefits—yet.
According to a 2022 study in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology, we may soon learn more about the potential benefits of CGM use in people without diabetes, including the ability to predict an increased risk of diabetes from glycemic patterns produced by CGM tracings. The growing interest in defining the role of CGM may lead to clinical trials that demonstrate the specific role of CGM in people without diabetes.
“I believe that CGM will eventually be widely used by people who do not have diabetes because we will likely find signals in the glucose concentrations that indicate the early onset of various preventable diseases, including prediabetes and some types of other diseases characterized by non-specific perturbations in glucose concentrations,” says one of the study’s authors, David C. Klonoff, MD, the medical director of Diabetes Research Institute at Mills-Peninsula Medical Center in San Mateo, California.
In fact, we spoke to one provider who is a longtime user of a CGM herself, despite not having diabetes. “I am keen to have a better understanding of how my food choices impact my current and future health,” says endocrinologist Florence Comite, MD, the founder of The Comite Center for Precision Medicine & Health, who uses her CGM in conjunction with the Groq Health app. “Wearing a CGM is an incredibly useful self-quantifying practice. It helps me better understand how my daily diet, sleep, and exercise affect me as an individual.”
How to use a CGM without diabetes
Whereas someone with diabetes will wear a CGM continuously (as the name suggests), those without diabetes will likely not need to wear it consistently. “If people without diabetes occasionally wear a CGM, it will provide useful information that can be combined with other physiological information to provide a comprehensive health picture,” Dr. Klonoff says.
Dr. Kara elaborates, saying that a healthcare provider might prescribe a CGM to someone without diabetes if they “experience major highs or lows in blood sugar levels that are not tied to diabetes.” Reasons for these varying levels could include prediabetes and/or obesity.
People with prediabetes have elevated blood glucose levels, but not elevated enough to qualify them for a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis. CGMs could help them track their blood sugar levels and take steps to prevent diabetes.
Similarly, people who are overweight or obese could use a CGM to learn to recognize risk factors, such as impaired glucose tolerance or insulin resistance early. This could help them prevent health conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes since they’re already at elevated risk of developing these diseases.
Essentially, CGM would open up the possibility of earlier intervention, prolonging the development of metabolic disease or maybe even preventing it altogether.
How to get a CGM
Whether you have diabetes or not, you will need a prescription from a healthcare provider to obtain a CGM. If you think you could benefit from using one, start by talking with your healthcare provider. Not all providers will recommend the use of a CGM to people without diabetes.
However, as a person without diabetes, you will need to consider the cost factor. If you don’t have diabetes, your insurance may not cover the cost of a CGM, according to Dr. Comite. “It’s an out-of-pocket cost that individuals need to consider carefully,” she says.
You would have to buy the device and the sensors, and the costs can vary, with some costing more than others, especially if you use them in tandem with a program. According to the company Nutrisense (which specializes in prescribing its own device), a CGM program will typically range from $134 to $399 per month, not including the cost of the device.
Luckily, SingleCare can help you save on out-of-pocket costs for these pricey devices. For example, the average cash price for the FreeStyle Libre 2 is around $117, but you can lower the price to around $70 with a SingleCare savings card. Just search for a coupon on singlecare.com, adjust for your location, and show the coupon to your pharmacist when you purchase the CGM.
Now, if you do have diabetes and your provider prescribes a CGM, your insurance plan may cover some or all of the cost. The Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists (ADCES) operates an online tool that you can use to see what your insurance will cover.
“CGM technology may seem expensive,” Dr. Comite says, “but there is no comparison to the cost of diabetes or heart disease or all chronic aging disorders.”
The bottom line
If you don’t have diabetes, but you’re interested in learning more about how continuous glucose monitoring could help you, talk to your healthcare provider. You can discuss whether trying CGM makes sense for you, especially if you know you’re at risk for developing diabetes.
The important thing to remember is to not go it alone. Learning how to interpret and use the data generated by a CGM could be confusing, and collaborating with your provider will help you get the best information and recommendations possible