Is the Glucose Drink Safe? An OB-GYN Explains

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For me so far, the most challenging tests I’ve done during my pregnancy are the glucose tests. I had to do one, one-hour test and two three-hour tests to be safe, because I have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). This disease makes my body more susceptible to having an insulin resistance — prior to pregnancy and during — which could lead to me having gestational diabetes (GD). That flat orange Fanta-tasting drink isn’t pleasant, but there are some women on pregnancy message boards who are worried about more than just the taste. They’re wondering, is the glucose drink safe? Yes it tastes disgusting, but is there anything else bad about the test OB-GYNs have been using for decades?

According to Dr. Idries Abdur-Rahman, an OB-GYN and medical travel blogger along with his twin brother for TwinDoctorsTV, you can put any worries you may have to rest. The glucose drink is perfectly safe, as “the primary ingredients are water, dextrose (sugar), citric acid, sodium hexametaphosphate, and sodium benzoate,” he explains in an email interview with Romper. Yes, that does sound like a mouthful, but Abdur-Rahman breaks it down for you in normal-people terms so you can know exactly what you're drinking and then passing along to your baby.

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“Citric acid is present in any citrus that we eat (lemon, orange) and it is completely safe in general and during pregnancy,” he says. As for the major tongue twister, sodium hexametaphosphate, Abdur-Rahman says this is used as a food additive for emulsification. Perhaps some of the people worried about the glucose drink’s safety is because of this ingredient, as the FDA labels it as “generally safe.” However, “the reason this substance is on people's radar is that in excessive amounts, it can have a negative effect on the heart, kidneys, bone, and pancreas. The key phrase is in excessive amounts. The amount found in a single glucola is completely safe. If you were drinking the glucola drink three times a day every day of your life, that would be another issue,” Abdur-Rahman explains. And lastly, sodium benzoate is a preservative, and also deemed “generally safe” by the FDA. Again, it has to do with how much you ingest. “Studies have found that humans can ingest up to 800 milligrams of sodium benzoate without adverse effect. Most things that have sodium benzoate as a preservative have no more than 1/10 of a gram,” Abdur Rahman says.

And it’s pretty important that you do take the glucose test during your pregnancy, because you don’t want to have gestational diabetes (GD) and leave it untreated — there are some pretty bad outcomes if you don’t take care of that, including premature birth, a large birth weight, an increased chance of having a C-section, and even an increased risk of "fetal death," according to the American Pregnancy Association (APA). So how does this test work exactly in detecting GD, and why do some people have to take both a one-hour test and a two-hour test? Abdur-Rahman says that GD is caused by insulin resistance in your body, which means “your body is resistant to the effects of insulin, which drives glucose (sugar) from the blood into the muscles and fat. When you drink all of the glucose in the glucola drink, if your body is resistant to insulin, your blood glucose levels will be higher than expected when your blood is drawn.”

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If you past the one-hour test, that’s considered the screening test, so you don’t have to do the three-hour test. “Screening tests in general are designed to separate the low-risk patients from the high-risk patients,” Abdur-Rahman says. “If you have an abnormal one-hour test, meaning you are at a higher risk for gestational diabetes, you have to do the three-hour test, which is the actual diagnostic test,” he explains. “A diagnostic test is a test that makes an actual diagnosis, and in this case, if you fail the three-hour test, you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes.” As someone who has done both tests and drank the not-so-pleasant-tasting glucola drink, the three-hour test is a bit harder since you have to fast, drink double the amount of the drink, and have four blood draws instead of one.

Wish you could just eat a Snickers bar instead of drinking this flat orange Fanta drink? Abdur-Rahman says you’re out of luck with this one. “Well, a Snickers bar only has 27 grams of sugar and you need 50 grams of glucose for the one-hour test (and 100 grams for the three-hour test).” However, Abdur-Rahman does say, “If you can find something that has 50 grams of glucose (or 100 grams) in it that can be ingested in five minutes or less, you absolutely can use that as an alternative.”

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If you cannot find an alternative that your doctor approves for the glucose test, Abdur-Rahman says there are some other flavors you can ask for, including a red fruit punch, and a clear lemon flavor — yum? He’s with you in solidarity in drinking this sickeningly sweet drink, and he doesn’t think it’s too bad. “Well, I guess the taste question is subjective. I drank a glucola just so that I could empathize with my patients and describe the taste to them. To me it just tastes like a flat orange soda, and while it is not something I would drink for pleasure, it's not that bad, just really sweet.” What a nice guy for taking one for the team for his patients.

So there you have it. The ingredients in the glucose test are perfectly safe because they're ingested in moderation. And the benefits of finding out whether or not you have GD absolutely outweighs any risks you think may happen from drinking it. The only thing you have to worry about is not throwing up the sickeningly sweet drink, because then you have to start over again. Don’t worry, and good luck.

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.

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