The general public has become more aware of the fact that high sugar foods are bad for their health. There still seems to be a disconnect, however, between knowing that sugar is bad for health and understanding that most blood sugar-related diseases, such as type II diabetes and hypoglycemia, occur as a result of a high sugar diet. This means that you can avoid these diseases by getting the sugar out of your diet and managing your blood sugar.
Another aspect of high sugar diets that isn’t part of common awareness is that the first step to managing any kind of hormonal disruption is to manage blood sugar. Yes, those of you suffering from insomnia, mood changes, PMS, hot flashes, night sweats, etc. can benefit greatly by managing your blood sugar!
Below are strategies for managing your blood sugar and some detailed information about how your body processes sugar.
Understanding the physiology of blood sugar regulation
It all starts with the pancreas, which secretes the hormones insulin and glucagon. Insulin is secreted during digestion to move carbohydrates/sugar from the blood into the cells, so that the cells can produce energy. Excess energy is stored as glycogen in the liver for future energy needs. The pancreas secrets glucagon between meals to convert the stored glycogen back into blood sugar so that the cells have a constant fuel supply. Yes, carbohydrates are necessary, but only in managed quantities.
Insulin and glucagon work together to keep the blood sugar levels stable throughout the day. If one’s blood sugar strays too far above or below the set point, the body shifts into a stressed state and engages the adrenals to secrete cortisol and adrenaline. You can imagine that this might show up as anxiety, a rapid heart rate, or a hot flash.
Cortisol is necessary to keep the liver receptive to signals by glucagon to release glucose back into the bloodstream. If someone has lived in a state of constant stress, their adrenals may grow tired and not produce enough cortisol to do their job. This can lead to hypoglycemic crashes not long after a meal. The crashes can manifest as light headedness, nausea, or panic if the person doesn’t quickly consume a glass of juice or eat some crackers.
When someone consumes large quantities of sugar/carbohydrates, the liver can store only so much glycogen before it begins to store the extra carbohydrates as fat. The habit of eating a lot of sugar/carbohydrates leads to weight gain and obesity.
A hormone that counteracts insulin and its propensity for fat storage is human growth hormone. Exercise and fasting trigger the pituitary to release HGH, promoting tissue growth and repair. This is the important link between exercise and blood sugar management. It also contributes to our understanding that a lack of human growth hormone may play a role in wound healing issues in diabetics.
As you can see, when blood sugar management goes awry, other endocrine glands will compensate. For example, as shown in the image below, taken from Life Without Bread, by Wolfgang Lutz and Christian Allan, high blood sugar can cause a relative increase in insulin and a relative decrease in sex hormones and growth hormones. In the second scenario, the relative increase in insulin causes a relative increase in thyroid hormone secretions. Either result is an example of metabolic dysregulation, which leads to unwanted symptoms.
Understanding the numbers
Measuring blood sugar is a simple thing to do with an inexpensive glucose meter, found at a drugstore or on Amazon. You can also learn what your blood sugar level is if you get lab tests done at your doctor’s office.
A good fasting blood sugar in a healthy person is between 75 and 85. After a meal, it shouldn’t exceed 110, and in a very healthy person, it won’t ever get to 100. Insulin and glucagon keep your numbers in a fairly tight range when you are healthy. 140 is considered to be borderline diabetic. In a diabetic person, blood sugar level may go as high as 200, which is a bit scary, as peripheral nerve damage begins when blood sugar exceeds 120. Retinal damage begins to occur when blood sugar exceeds 140.
If you measure your blood sugar at home following a meal, you can begin to see which foods affect you the most and then avoid them. It is an empowering way to take control of your health. When you decrease your intake of carbohydrates/sugar, you will see changes very quickly in your blood sugar numbers, and you will be able to get control of the cascade of symptoms that occur with high blood sugar readings.
What else can you do?
- Avoid hypoglycemia (low blood sugar episodes) by eating something at least every 3-1/2 hours. Remember to bring snacks with you so you don’t get stuck without food.
- Eat complex rather than refined carbohydrates, and eat them in small quantities (e.g. 1/2 cup of brown rice, quinoa, sweet potato, fruit).
- Don’t consume caffeine before eating breakfast. Caffeine seems to decrease insulin sensitivity and increase cortisol release. High cortisol over long periods tends to produce glucose, i.e. raise blood sugar.
- Eat a protein-rich breakfast.
- Oops…eat too many carbs? Go for a brisk walk. This will allow your body to use the excess glucose, rather than secreting insulin to get the glucose into the cells and store it.
- And, finally…avoid sweets as much as possible! The more you follow the above guidelines, the easier it will be to thwart sugar cravings.
Take control of your health!
By making these simple, but crucial, changes to your diet, you will make huge strides in managing your blood sugar. Even type II diabetics can make major changes in their blood sugar by diet alone in a relatively short period of time.