This post is in honor of a friend of mine. He recently was told by his doctor that his blood sugar levels were high. In other words- he is pre-diabetic. Blood sugar, or glucose, helps us to survive. It’s the nutrient our brains run on, as well as muscle. We need a steady glucose load to keep our bodies running. But the emphasis here should be on the word “steady”. Too low or too high equals too dangerous.
Our bodies work hard to maintain a healthy balance of all of our necessary nutrients, including blood sugars. When our levels get low, it gets to work releasing any stored glucose or assigns the liver to creating more. It has to move fast, because if levels continue to drop it can progress from lightheadedness and confusion to fainting and coma. Not eating, exercising without replenishing nutrients, medications, and even some other medical conditions can precipitate low blood sugar.
If our blood glucose levels get too high, we now have an excess of sugar circulating within our blood. Now our body needs to reign it in, and it does this by releasing insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. Think of insulin as a taxi driver- it picks up the loose blood sugar and transports it in to the cells, where the body can put it to use. But there are times where there is too much glucose for the insulin existing in the body. Maybe your body doesn’t produce enough insulin, maybe the insulin is not able to function properly, or maybe there is just too much blood glucose. Foods are converted to energy in our bodies, and foods higher in refined starches and natural sugars are our bodies’ greatest sources of blood sugar. Direct sources of sugar are a given obviously, but more than these, most of our foods are sources of glucose for the body. Think dairy, breads, grains, and starchy potatoes, even proteins. Fruits can also be a good source of sugars in our system. Eating good quality sources and in the right quantities can keep us running well. But overconsumption or improper balancing of foods can lead to trouble. Complications of high blood glucose can become life threatening.
In the long term though, unstable blood sugars wreak havoc on our whole system. They can affect our metabolic functioning- our hunger cues, the way our bodies use energy in the form of calories and fat and other macronutrients, as well as our weight. Believe it our not, it also affects our hormones. That’s right, blood sugar impacts our hormone levels. Insulin is indeed a hormone itself. If one hormone is off, our body has to correct it. If it is not corrected quickly and efficiently, the body has to borrow from another hormone to fix it. And then if that goes on long enough, it needs to borrow from more and more hormones. This comes at a pretty big cost to the whole body eventually.
Now for someone who is in otherwise good health, these little episodes of fluctuating blood sugar can be corrected nicely and we are back on track to regular programming. Eating the wrong foods, having the wrong timing of eating, temporary illness, or undergoing stress are common triggers for blood sugar alterations. But if you are not at optimal health, it is harder for your body to navigate these changes. Weight gain, lack of exercise, poor food choices and unregulated stress are risk factors for high blood sugar that eventually leads to diabetes.
Diabetes is pretty well known by now for it’s insidious nature, and hands down prevention is the best approach. Educating yourself on the risk factors and how to avoid them is your best defense. The consequences of poorly managed blood sugar do far more than just make you not feel well. Short term high and low blood sugar episodes can cause fatigue, anxiety, palpitations, nausea, and more. But long terms it’s much worse. High sugar levels in the blood cause damage to arteries and veins, leading to heart disease, sexual dysfunction, cognitive changes, mood disturbances, and even gastric upset. Let it become diabetes, and you are at risk for damage to nerves, retinas, your heart and your brain. Pretty far reaching, isn’t it? Type 2 Diabetes is a disease usually of lifestyle. This is good news because we have to ability to change this.
In the coming posts, we will discuss some ways of addressing blood sugar and how to improve your health. Stay tuned!