There are many reasons to take steps towards balancing blood sugar – maximizing energy, balancing moods, and keeping your weight in a healthy range, to name just a few. To keep blood sugar in balance, the biggest factor is your diet. Understanding what contributes to blood sugar regulation helps us to make good choices and be conscious of those choices every day.
After a meal, the body responds to a rise in blood sugar by secreting insulin. Insulin lowers blood sugar, or glucose, by increasing the rate that glucose is taken up by cells throughout the body. Declines in blood glucose, which occur during food deprivation or exercise, cause the release of glucagon. Glucagon stimulates the release of glucose stored in body tissues as glycogen. If blood sugar levels fall sharply or if a person is under stress, it may result in the release of epinephrine (adrenaline) and corticosteroids (cortisol) by the adrenal glands. These hormones provide quicker breakdown of stored glucose for extra energy during a crisis or increased need.
A great deal of Americans tax these control mechanisms through poor diet and lifestyle choices. The average American consumes 100 pounds of sucrose (table sugar) and 40 pounds of corn syrup each year. As a result, diabetes and hypoglycemia are becoming increasingly more common. Refined sugar has been linked to aggressive/criminal behavior, PMS, migraine, atherosclerosis, intermittent claudication, angina, syndrome X, and hyperactivity in children.
Obesity and Blood Sugar
Obesity is strongly linked to blood sugar disturbances because in obesity, there is a decreased sensitivity to insulin. When the body isn’t responding to insulin, blood sugar remains high and can cause excessive weight gain even without overeating. Obesity precedes 90% of adult onset diabetes (DMII). Some signs and symptoms of diabetes mellitus include excess urination, hunger, fatigue, weight loss, vaginal itching, visual changes, poor wound healing, hyperpigmented skin tags, and chronic candida. Lack of fiber, high sugar intake, too much iron or free radicals can also contribute to the exhaustion and destruction of the insulin producing cells of the pancreas, leading to type II diabetes.
Under the circumstances of insulin resistance and high blood sugar, fat tends to accumulate in the truncal region, salt and water are stored at a greater rate, food cravings increase, acne and polycystic ovaries increase, blood vessels are narrowed, cholesterol production increases in the liver, atherosclerosis and plaques increase, and vitamins K and C are inhibited, leading to weak vessels and connective tissue. The triad of insulin resistance, high blood pressure and increased blood lipid levels is referred to as “Syndrome X”.
Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar)
Hypoglycemia occurs when blood sugar peaks and insulin decreases blood sugar levels to lower levels than the body would like. This can also happen in the early morning or when someone hasn’t eaten or exercises hard. Signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia include headaches, foggy thinking, extreme fatigue, especially a few hours after eating, shakiness, sweats, irritability, fear/panic attacks, dizziness upon standing, angina, extreme hunger, crying spells, anger fits and heart palpitations. Typically, patients with hypoglycemia feel better with food.
I have to admit, I am prone to hypoglycemia. We have something in our household called “The 30-Minute Warning.” If I give my husband the 30-minute warning, and he fails to find food for me within that time frame, I’m not responsible for the person I become! It has helped when we’re trying to decide where to eat or order food from – it’s kind of a joke between us, but in reality he takes it very seriously because hypoglycemic Nicola isn’t her best self!
Ways to counteract blood sugar dysregulation:
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals, at least every 3 hours, balanced in protein/complex carbohydrates/healthy fats.
- Avoid simple sugars, saturated/hydrogenated fats, and starchy vegetables.
- Include protein with each meal. Aim for at least 20 grams at breakfast.
- Eat plenty of fiber to decrease rapid rises in blood sugar. Legumes, nuts, seeds, psyllium seed husks, pears, apples, and most vegetables are high in fiber and should be consumed with every meal.
- Supplement with chromium and cinnamon. Chromium helps insulin sensitivity, allowing glucose to be transported in and out of cells more easily.
- Start exercising. Exercise improves many aspects of glucose metabolism, including enhancing insulin sensitivity, improving glucose tolerance in existing diabetics, and increasing tissue chromium concentrations. People with blood sugar issues should try to get some form of exercise on a daily basis.
- If you tend to wake up in the middle of the night due to hunger, eat a balanced complex carbohydrate/protein snack before bed.
Maintaining healthy blood sugar regulation can be done. It starts with diet and lifestyle choices; supplements if needed; and medications as a last resort. Most people can keep their blood sugars happy with small, frequent meals, adequate protein, and low refined sugars.