Ok guys, we're continuing the Foundations of Health series with a discussion about blood sugar. While I love talking about digestion and blowing peoples' minds with all the amazing things healthy digestion does for us, I'm also really passionate about balancing blood sugar. Is that something people are normally passionate about? I'm not sure, but that's ok, who ever said I was normal? One reason I'm so passionate about this is because my Grandma had type 2 diabetes for 40 years, and eventually died from complications of the disease. I wish I knew what I know now about food and nutrition, maybe I could've helped her. The other reason is because I tend toward sugar addiction myself, and have had my fair share of blood sugar issues in my life. Thankfully I've never been diagnosed with any blood sugar diseases, but it's something I definitely have to keep an eye on. So let's dig in to how healthy, balanced blood sugar works!
First of all, what is blood sugar? When we eat carbohydrates, they are broken down into their most simple form- glucose. Glucose is sugar that then circulates in your blood stream, and is taken up by cells to use as a quick-burning source of energy, especially for our brain and muscles. When people talk about blood sugar, generally what they mean is the amount of glucose circulating in our blood at any one point.
Day-to-day, the primary organs that regulate our blood sugar are the pancreas and the liver. While we often associate liver function with detoxing (which it does), it has over 500 functions and plays a very key role in blood sugar regulation. It works in concert with the pancreas, which produces two important hormones called insulin and glucagon. Insulin is a storage hormone. When blood sugar begins to rise, the pancreas releases insulin. It tells the cells of our body to take the glucose from the blood stream into the cells, and use it to make cellular energy, called ATP. A small amount of glucose can be stored in both our liver and our muscles as glycogen. The glycogen stored in our muscles can only be used by our muscles. It's reserved there in case of emergency, when we need to quickly run away from a saber toothed tiger. The glycogen in the liver, on the other hand, is for our whole body. Other than the small amount of glucose stored in our liver and muscles, once all our energy needs have been met, any additional glucose is converted into fatty acids and stored in adipose tissue as fat.
As our blood sugar drops too low, the pancreas releases the hormone glucagon. Glucagon stimulates the liver to convert it's stored glycogen back to glucose and release it into the blood stream to raise blood sugar back up to the normal range. It also promotes the synthesis of glucose from simple proteins called amino acids. The liver converts these amino acids into additional glucose to further assist in raising the blood sugar back to normal.
All day long, as we go through periods of eating and fasting (between meals) our blood sugar should remain fairly balanced thanks to the cooperation between the liver and pancreas. They're constantly responding to the rise and fall of glucose levels to either store or use glucose and keep levels within an optimal range (called homeostasis).
Unfortunately, due to the amazingly large amounts of sugar (over 200 lbs. PER PERSON every year) and refined carbohydrates in the standard American diet, this picture I've painted of balanced blood sugar is no longer the norm. We are flooding our system with excess glucose, which leads to excess adipose tissue (obesity) and overwhelms the liver and pancreas as they struggle to keep up with the constant demands. When our blood sugar gets too far out of homeostasis, our emergency blood sugar regulation system kicks in- the adrenal glands.
I am going to dive into blood sugar dysfunction in my next Foundations of Health post in a few weeks. But, if you're experiencing the signs and symptoms of blood sugar dysregulation, such as fatigue, headaches, shaky hands, the 3pm crash, irritability, craving sweets, or memory issues I ask you to really consider joining our 7-Day Restart group! We're kicking off our Restart on Tuesday Feb. 20th. This can be a great first step toward balancing your blood sugar and learning new, healthier habits. Sign up here to join us!
If you want to refer back to this post another time, Pin the image below. Check back soon for my post on blood sugar dysregulation, and what happens when we eat too much sugar.