In my previous Foundations of Health post, we talked all about balanced blood sugar and how the liver and pancreas work together to keep our blood sugar balanced. Unfortunately, balanced blood sugar is no longer the norm. In the US, we eat an average of over 200 lbs. of sugar per person every single year. That is an enormous amount, higher than ever before in history! While our bodies do their best to deal with this sugar overload, it takes a toll on our organs, and really our whole body.
One common sign of blood sugar dysfunction is called reactive hypoglycemia. When we eat carbohydrates, our body releases insulin, which effectively lowers our blood sugar. The amount of insulin produced is an average amount based on what you need over time. This means that if you're eating lots of sugar and refined carbs, then even when you eat just a little, your body is releasing a burst of insulin. This large spike of insulin means that our blood sugar is lowered too much and we bottom out. This is the lovely carb crash that we often experience after eating sugar or carbs. We begin to feel tired and irritable. This happens when our blood sugar lowers, and the glycogen we have stored in our liver can't adequately support raising our blood sugar back to a normal range.
In the event that our blood sugar is getting too low, we may not even feel it right away, but our body is in a stressed state. Our adrenal glands (two small glands that each sit on top of our kidneys) release a hormone called cortisol. This is a stress hormone that has several properties to help our bodies get through short bursts of stress. Immediately the cortisol inhibits glucose uptake from the blood stream into storage. This means that more sugar remains in the blood stream, effectively raising blood sugar. Muscle proteins are also broken down and the amino acids are sent to the liver, where they're converted into new glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis. The combination of this new glucose and the temporary insulin insensitivity, our blood sugar can increase back to a normal range.
Sometimes our blood sugar gets dangerously low. This is beyond a stress for the body, and actually turns on our fight or flight response. This is when we get weak, shaky, hungry, irritable, and even light headed. This crash is something I'm so familiar with. I used to get to the state where I couldn't function, and I would physically crash along with my blood sugar. When this happens, our adrenal glands aren't just releasing cortisol, but also adrenaline and norepinephrine. When you get so hungry that you have shaky hands, that's actually caused by adrenaline coursing through your veins. These two hormones stimulate the liver and muscles to convert glycogen back to glucose, stimulate the liver to produce new glucose from proteins, increase heart rate and blood pressure, to essentially create a big sugar dump into the blood stream, which is then quickly pumped around the body for use. The norepinephrine shuttles blood away from core organs (like intestines) to the muscles and heart so they have adequate fuel to deal with this emergency.
These responses work great to help us run away from saber tooth tigers now and then. The problem with present day, is that our bodies are constantly in stress, which is triggering these blood sugar responses throughout each day or week. $.90 of every American food dollar is spent on processed foods that are loaded with sugar and artificial flavors, chemicals, and toxins. These foods encourage large swings in blood sugar, taking us on a blood sugar rollercoaster of constantly imbalanced and unstable blood sugar, swinging us from high to low and back again. By putting our bodies in chronic stress, we are creating chronic insulin resistance, which leaves us with high blood sugar and our cells without the fuel they need. This stress can also wear out or damage our blood sugar organs- the adrenal glands, pancreas, and liver. Adrenal fatigue is not recognized by the medical community until it reaches the point of complete exhaustion. However, more and more people are seeking alternative medicine or nutritional therapy options to deal with their adrenal fatigue. Over time the liver can struggle to constantly convert glycogen to glucose, causing issues like fatty liver disease. It also puts other essential liver functions on the back burner while the liver struggles to keep our blood sugar in homeostasis (which needs to happen so we can stay alive). Lastly, our pancreas can eventually wear out, and become incapable of producing sufficient amounts of insulin to deal with all of the sugar. This can quickly lead to a diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes.
While insulin resistance is a problem, Type 2 Diabetes is a catastrophe for personal health, and for our health care system as a nation. Type 2 Diabetes used to be referred to as Adult-Onset Diabetes (versus Type-1 that was Childhood Diabetes). Unfortunately now we are seeing young children, still in elementary school, that have already developed Type 2 Diabetes. If we do not turn this ship around, 1/3 of the population born in 2000 or later will become diabetic. One third of our population?? That is quite literally mind boggling. This means hundreds of billions of dollars will be spent on diabetes costs, either in direct medical costs or in a loss of productivity. 90% of Type 2 diagnoses are associated with high carbohydrate consumption. I would add, that it's associated with high refined carbohydrate consumption, because eating lots of unrefined carbs like apples and brown rice is unlikely to give you diabetes. Diabetes impacts every system of the body, narrowing the veins affecting our eyes, kidneys, feet, and brains, inhibiting a strong immune response, infertility, obesity, depression, insomnia, etc. While this may all seem dire, the good news is that Type 2 Diabetes is 100% preventable, and possibly reversible (and reactive hypoglycemia and insulin resistance are 100% reversible)!
So how can we balance our own blood sugar to have sustained energy throughout the day, and avoid the moodiness, headaches, and insistent hunger?
1. The first, and easiest thing to do is to remove highly refined, processed carbohydrates from your diet. Natural carbohydrates are paired with fiber, which takes longer to digest and has less of an impact on your blood sugar. But refined carbohydrates have been stripped of their fiber, and all that remains are sugars and starches that are quickly broken down, and will spike your blood sugar. Instead, focus your diet on high quality meats and fats, as well as fruits and vegetables.
2. Eliminate sugary drinks. It's as simple as that, these have really got to go. No more soda (even diet), gatorade or other "exercise drinks," bottled fruit juices, sweet tea, or frappuccinos. These are sugar bombs that pump you full of sugar but have absolutely nothing in the way of nutrition. As a substitute, try swapping out flavored sparkling waters and kombucha or water kefir. These are hydrating and can be full of good nutrients like vitamins B and C and probiotics.
3. Fat is the preferred fuel for the body. Although fat has been demonized for decades now, our body can run quite efficiently on fat. Fat provides long-burning fuel and helps us avoid the rollercoaster of sugar. Ketones can replace a substantial amount of the glucose needed by the brain. Ketones are a byproduct produced by the liver when fat is broken down. By increasing fat in your diet, you can increase the satisfaction and fullness you get from food, without the crash. We need a variety of fats in our diet, including saturated fats. Avoid denatured fats that come from things we don't eat (for example- canola, grape seed, and cottonseed). However animal fats from pasture-raised animals, coconut oil and coconut, olive oil and olives, avocado oil and avocados, seeds nuts and their oils (do not heat these fragile oils) are all great sources of fats and nutrients. As sugar and refined carbs decreases, they need to be replaced by something in your body, so look for higher-fat options.
4. If you feel like you really need a total Restart to clean up your diet, I highly recommend an elimination diet to help you break food addictions and see how good you can feel when you fuel your body properly. Check out my 7-Day Restart e-book for more nutrition information, a meal plan, shopping list, and delicious recipes that will help you start fresh. Since March is National Nutrition Month, use the code NUTRITIONMONTH for 20% off my ebook until March 31, 2018!
5. Perhaps you have gotten a diabetes diagnosis, or you feel that your entire day is spent figuring out when you can eat next, feeling sluggish, and not being as involved with your friends and family as you'd like. I am here to help you conquer the blood sugar rollercoaster, dig deep to figure out nagging symptoms you're having, and begin feeling your best. For National Nutrition Month I am also offering 20% off my Restart, Functional Evaluation, or Kitchen Clean-Up Nutritional Therapy Packages with the code NUTRITIONMONTH!! I have never discounted my NT services before, but I'm thrilled to offer a discount this month so we can all re-focus on nutrition and overall health. If you've been considering Nutritional Therapy, now is the time to start!
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