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From Insulin Resistance to Fatigue: the 7 Things that Affect Your Blood Sugar

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Your body (and brain) need glucose to function and that’s why a sufficient glucose supply plays a critical role in your energy and mood throughout the day. 

How do you make sure you get steady energy and mood throughout the day? 

Well some of that glucose of course comes from the food you eat but your body can also access stored resources from your muscles, liver or fat cells. You may remember me talking about the blood sugar roller coaster before: when you’re eating meals that are too high in carbs, you’ll supply your body with an excess of glucose that your liver will store away as fat for later use. That excess of glucose will still trigger a spike in your blood sugar levels, which will trigger your pancreas to release insulin (the hormone that helps shuttle glucose into your cells for energy) in order to lower your blood sugar levels and let the glucose enter your cells. What happens with age is that our cell receptors become less sensitive to insulin and the process to let glucose into our cells is becoming less efficient. This process is also impacted by declining estrogen levels in women in perimenopause and menopause. That’s why your diet and lifestyle habits become even more important as you age if you want to keep steady energy levels and happy hormones. 

Chronically high blood glucose can lead to insulin resistance, this is when your cells stop responding to insulin. And that will not only result in brain fog, anxiety, irritability, belly fat, lack of energy and possibly lead to conditions like PCOS or other hormone imbalances, but can also develop into pre diabetes or Type 2 diabetes if you don’t do anything against it. 

But not only consistently high blood sugar is dangerous, also major fluctuations of blood sugar or just low glucose (hypoglycemia) are also dangerous as they stress out your brain.   Read more in this research about endothelial function and oxidative stress, two key players in favoring cardiovascular complications in diabetes.

What should your glucose levels look like?

Your glucose levels should remain pretty steady throughout the day: they should stay somewhere between 72 mg/dL and 110 mg/dL and then your post-meal glucose shouldn’t be more than 30 mg/dL higher than your pre-meal level. 

So how do you keep your blood sugar at optimal levels? 

There are 4 main categories or 7 different things that impact your blood sugar: 

  1. Diet

  • The first one is of course your diet: although everyone is bio-individual and some people may be able to eat white rice without having a blood sugar spike, others may not have the same reaction. This study of 800 participants found that many had extremely different blood glucose levels after eating the exact same meals. 

  • The only way to find out how your body is reacting to different foods, is to use a continuous glucose monitor or just a glucose monitor and check your blood sugar levels after each meal. 

  • As a general rule of thumb though, stay away from simple carbohydrates, like sugar (also from fruit) and refined flours. Many people believe that foods like brown rice, whole wheat bread or pasta, quinoa or sweet potatoes won’t impact blood glucose levels, but it’s important to remember that they all still contain high levels of carbohydrates. So be mindful of your carb intake and choose whole and unprocessed foods that are high in protein, healthy fats and fiber. These 3 all slow down the time glucose is released into your bloodstream. So if you eat carbs, always associate them with fat, fiber and protein to mitigate your glucose response. Also eating your fat and protein before carbs can blunt the glucose spike. 

  1. Micronutrients

  • Several different micronutrients have an impact on your blood sugar levels: Magnesium can affect glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity by enabling phosphorus to attach to an insulin receptor and turn it on, which improves insulin sensitivity. Magnesium also seems to help glucose transporter proteins move sugar out of the bloodstream and into the cells.

  • Selenium and vitamin B6 (which is needed to absorb magnesium by the way) also have the potential to impact glucose levels. 

  1. Exercise

  • Exercise helps move glucose out of your bloodstream and into your cells, which is why doing moderate exercise in the hours after eating can help mitigate a blood sugar spike.  

  • Also, exercise makes your cells more sensitive to insulin and improves the movement of sugar into cells, so more glucose can enter muscle cells without additional insulin production.

  • But exercise doesn’t only have an immediate benefit on your blood sugar levels, it also provides long-term benefits a study compared the effects of 15-minute walks after each meal and 45-minute daily walks mid-morning or mid-afternoon and found that both resulted in better blood sugar control over a 24 hour period compared to days when participants didn’t walk. 

  • Regular exercise will also help increase your muscle mass which helps to turn glucose into energy, but also stimulates the liver to reduce insulin clearance.

  • On the other hand, several studies have linked sitting too much throughout the day to more inflammation and higher levels of insulin resistance. 

  1. Sleep

  • When you wake up at night, it’s your stress hormone cortisol that got triggered - this often happens when your blood sugar levels are not steady throughout the day, they continue to fluctuate during the night and when you get low blood sugar, it will raise your cortisol and wake you up. There can of course be other triggers for a rise in stress hormone during the night.

  • A lack of sleep will impact your appetite & satiety hormones ghrelin and leptin, by producing too much ghrelin which can indirectly lead to higher glucose levels by prompting you to overeat. 

  • A lack of sleep also will increase inflammation and therefore contribute to insulin resistance. 

  1. Stress

  • When your body is stressed, it prepares itself to fight off a threat by leaving ample glucose in your bloodstream for your muscles to use. At the same time, your cells become insulin resistant so that glucose stays in your blood. Chronic stress can lead to prolonged insulin resistance, because your body is constantly coping with elevated levels of cortisol. In addition, many people overeat or choose less-healthy foods when they’re stressed, which can further elevate glucose levels.

  • While you can’t avoid all stressors, taking steps to better manage stress can help. For example, diaphragmatic breathing exercises or meditation can be helpful in managing stress and lower cortisol levels. One study of people with Type 2 diabetes showed that a daily 20-minute practice of diaphragmatic breathing led to reductions in fasting blood glucose and post-meal glucose levels in 9 weeks.

  1. Microbiome

  • The balance and composition of your microbiome is extremely important. Emerging research suggests that it plays a critical role in metabolic health. I can just confirm this with my own story again: I’ve had elevated blood glucose levels for the past years and have really reduced to a minimum the amount of fruit, starchy vegetables and grains I’m consuming. Even after all that, managing stress and exercising regularly, my blood sugar hasn’t improved at all. I do have recurring gut infections though due to an immune issue that makes me very vulnerable. This is a great example of how underlying infections negatively impact your blood glucose levels. As I explained before, if you have overgrowing pathogens, they will produce endotoxins that will trigger the release of stress hormone. 

  • Scientists have found that people with Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes have more bacteria that interfere with sensor hormone production that will trigger the pancreas to release insulin. 

  • Also, studies have found that people with Type 2 diabetes don’t produce as much butyrate or short chain fatty acids as metabolically-healthy people, which is linked to the abundance of good bacteria in your gut. Go back to my previous article on butyrate here

  1. Toxins

  • The chemicals or toxins you are exposed to daily via your surrounding air, the food you eat, the water you drink or absorb not only mess with your hormone balance as many of them can mimic hormones in your body, but they also have a negative impact on your blood glucose levels. 

  • For example, studies have shown that nicotine from cigarettes directly alters your fat cells in such a way that they promote insulin resistance.

  • Recent research has shown that diabetes can be caused by exposure to persistent organic pollutants, plastics, air pollution, primary and secondary tobacco smoke, and some pharmaceuticals. 

  • Research suggests that the estrogenic effect of BPA can cause insulin resistance by overstimulating insulin release from the pancreas.

  • Go back to my former article on hormone disruptors for more details. 

While it is impossible to avoid exposure to these things altogether, it is critical to minimize your exposure and make sure you detox or eliminate these chemicals regularly from your body. 

Interested in joining my Spring Cleanse group program to help you safely detox in a group setting? We're starting on 24th February - contact me if you are interested!


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