Blood sugar balance is such a key to our health and happiness. Our cells need a steady supply of energy and our brain cells mainly eat glucose. The key is that it must be released in a steady and slow way. Not in the roller coaster of blood sugar spikes and crashes.
Hypoglycemia is a very common condition that is rarely diagnosed. It is much more prevalent than and is often a precursor to full blown diabetes, as the same mechanisms are involved. Symptoms of hypoglycemia can relate to the time and content of a meal. Symptoms include nervousness, irritability, emotional problems, fatigue, depression, craving sweets, inability to concentrate, cold sweats, shakes, palpitations, tingling of the skin and scalp, dizziness, trembling, fainting, blurred vision, cold extremities, nausea, midmorning and mid-to-late afternoon tiredness, anxiety, indecisiveness, crying spells, allergies, convulsions, and hyperactivity, for openers. Do you notice how many of those symptoms relate to the brain and nervous system? You see our brain consumes half of the sugar that is in the blood.
The two most significant factors of hypoglycemia in the Western world are diet and stress. The SAD diet or Standard American Diet, is literally a prescription for hypoglycemia, with its common foods like white bread, refined grains, sugar, soda, and coffee.So when we get onto a health food diet, we sometime think, Oh I’m not drinking soda or eating white sugar, but other foods can cause blood sugar spiking such excess honey, maple syrup, fruit, fruit juice, dried fruit, and even vegetable juice like carrot juice and refined grains.
The adrenal gland also plays a role in triggering a rise in blood sugar. First the yoyo effect of simple carbs stresses the adrenals, but so does stress of daily life. Sometimes when you are fasting, such as sleeping, your blood sugar drops and the adrenals sense this and pushes out adrenaline to raise blood sugar, but this hormone also makes you feel wide awake in the middle of the night. So this type of insomnia can be from blood sugar.
Hypoglycemia used to be pooh poohed by doctors who would just suggest to eat a candy bar if one felt weakness. But the results can be quite serious as hypoglycemia has clearly been associated with physical, mental, and emotional disorders, including hyperactivity, schizophrenia, anti-social behavior, criminal personalities, drug addiction, impotency, alcoholism, epilepsy, asthma, allergies, ulcers, and arthritis.
You may have heard of the glycemic index. It is a list of foods that indicate how quickly it breaks down and spikes your blood sugar.
Things that we used to consider healthy like rice cakes and baked potatoes are very high on this index where foods like nuts and fish are very low. You can find long lists of foods and their ratings online.
I think the success of such diets as the paleo or ketogenic diet, is they allow the body to use protein or fat as the main source of fuel and cut out most carbs like sugars, grains and starchy vegetables. This is more like putting a big log on a fire instead of dried leaves and kindling, for a steady fire, instead of a whoosh of blood sugar and then a precipitous decline.
We all know that the pancreas is the gland that has to do the most with blood sugar balance. It actually produces digestive enzymes that it sends into the small intestine to digest proteins, but also produces insulin, which is like a key that open up the body cels so they can receive glucose, the fuel for burning energy. When the pancreas stops producing insulin this is called type 1 diabetes. But there is a type 2 diabetes where the cells become unresponsive to insulin and the sugar build up in the blood stream. This can be dangerous as the high sugar can almost caramelize different small vessels such as the eyes, and fingers and toes and kidneys and cause even blindness or ampuated feet. It can cause nerve damage too of which tingling and numbness in the extremities is a sign. The sugar crystals can also affect red blood cells, making it harder to carry oxygen. Did you know that when there is too much sugar in the blood, the body is desperate to get it out of there, so it is converted to fat and stored in the body, and once it is there, as many know, it can be tough to get rid of.
Diabetes is becoming all too common, in 2014, 422 million people worldwide were affected by diabetes. Some of the most common tell-tale signs of diabetes include an increased need to urinate, extreme thirst, intense hunger, unexplained weight gain or loss, excessive fatigue, tingling and numbness in the extremities. Before modern medicine the Chinese called it the wasting and thirsting syndrome. In past ages doctors would taste the urine to see if it was sweet.
With type 1 diabetes you can die without insulin, so people often have to stay on insulin injections their whole lives, often having to prick their fingertips many times a day to see what their blood sugar levels are, and if too high get an injection or if too low then eat something quickly. This type one was called early onset diabetes, but this is changing as older people are now getting it. But only 10% of people with diabetes have this type.
But for type 2 diabetes there is much more you can do to make the cells sensitive to insulin again, Some people are able to control it by modifying their diets, losing weight, exercising and sticking to an exercise regime along with high quality herbs and nutritional products. Did you know that cinnamon is a great herb for balancing blood sugar, as is the sweet leaf called stevia, and that chromium is a mineral specific for helping blood sugar balance.
Having gestational diabetes, where sugar runs high during pregnancy and then returns to normal after giving birth is a warning sign for type 2 diabetes later in life. Type 2 diabetes tends to develop in people who are over the age of 45 and in individuals who are overweight, eat an unhealthy diet and who do not exercise regularly.
In natural or functional medicine it is common to look more closely at blood sugar levels that may be normal according to regular medicine, but is seen as potentially problematic if looking at functional or ideal healthy ranges. So hypoglycemia can be a precursor and warning sign for diabetes. Thus the doctors, by not picking up on this early enough, don’t allow the person time to reverse their condition and thus a lifetime of annoying, painful and expensive injections. I was testing many patients blood and although a regular doctor would want the fasting sugar level to be under 100, according to functional doctors you should be concerned if it is in the 90’s and perhaps work with a functional doctor to keep blood sugar issues from getting worse. Many people who thought they were pretty healthy had levels close to 100.
There is a newer test called the A1C that checks the average blood sugar over the last 3 months as found in red blood cells which live around that long. For people without diabetes, the normal range for the hemoglobin A1c level is between 4% and 5.6%. Hemoglobin A1c levels between 5.7% and 6.4% mean you have a higher chance of getting diabetes. Levels of 6.5% or higher mean you have diabetes.The target A1c level for people with diabetes is usually less than 7%. The higher the hemoglobin A1c, the higher your risk of having complications related to diabetes.
Did you know that the liver is involved with blood sugar as well? If blood sugar gets too high, like after a binge on sugary desserts or soda, then the liver stores the excess as a starch called glycogen some starch is also stored in the muscles as well. When blood sugar falls, then glucagon is secreted that mobilizes the starch back into sugar to restore the sugar balance. But many people have sluggish and toxic livers. When people have fat under their skins, they also often have fat infiltrating the organs, thus we get fatty liver. Thus the liver can’t effectively change the starch into sugar or the sugar into starch and this makes blood sugar imbalances worse.
In fact, the blood sugar should be so solidly regulated, that you shouldn’t get tired if you miss a meal and shouldn’t feel more energy right after you eat, you should just feel hungry and then satiated. If you get energy by eating that means your sugar has dropped too low and then sugar came up from the recently eaten food, thus the starch or fat to sugar transformation wasn’t working.
As you can now see, if you want to be steady, clear headed and energetic, which are requirements to be happy and spiritually peaceful, it is important to have good blood sugar balance. I would suggest everyone get off refined white sugar and even minimize natural sweeters and stick to whole fruits and complex carbohydrates or sweet vegetables or whole grains if you want carbs or the sweet taste. But if you still feel up and down, you may want to train your body to mostly use proteins, fats and not starchy vegetables for fuels.