Blood Sugar Balance
Blood sugar regulation is an important bodily process that is constantly fluctuating. Everything that is ingested becomes processed by the body and broken down into usable components (macro and micronutrients). Blood sugar is referring to the amount of glucose that is circulating in the bloodstream at a given time. Glucose is an important substance as it is the body’s main source of fuel. What we eat and when we eat will affect the blood sugar management process which is regulated by various organs and hormones.
Many women, especially as they get older, experience issues with blood sugar balance. This can lead to other health issues such as diabetes, adrenal fatigue, under-active thyroid, and cardiovascular diseases. Learning to manage blood sugar is an important tool to bring balance and longevity to all aspects of the body.
This guide will cover various causes and conditions of blood sugar imbalances, possible complications, and signs and symptoms. It will also provide tips and tools to regulate blood sugar with diet, lifestyle, supplements and herbs.
When we eat foods, especially carbohydrates, glucose begins circulating in the bloodstream which causes the pancreas to release the hormone insulin. Insulin is responsible for lowering blood glucose levels by signaling to the cells to uptake glucose for instant fuel and for the liver and fat cells to store the remaining glucose as glycogen for later use. When the body is in a fasted state (low blood glucose) the pancreas releases the hormone glucagon which signals for the liver and fat cells to release glucose from glycogen to be used as fuel, thus increasing blood glucose levels.
This process, although seemingly simple, can become impaired by various factors. Including:
Over consuming carbohydrates, sugar, and sweet foods - prolonged and excess levels of blood glucose can lead to insulin resistance, where the body is unable to release enough insulin to effectively reduce blood glucose levels
Poor diet - underconsumption of fiber, healthy fats, proteins, and nutrient-dense foods which often means the high intake of processed, refined, and nutrient-poor foods. A poor diet can lead to insulin resistance by increasing blood sugar too much. It also lacks nutrients such as chromium and B vitamins which can help blood sugar regulation.
Overconsumption of High glycemic foods - high GI foods cause a rapid increase of blood sugar then, a rapid and excess release of insulin - which means blood sugar drops too low which can trigger cravings in order to increase blood sugar levels back up. This can become a vicious cycle and can leave you feeling lethargic and unwell.
Poor liver function - which is needed to detoxify and regulate blood sugar levels
Poor pancreas function - which regulates the release of insulin and glucagon to control blood sugar levels
Poor adrenal function - overactive adrenals can correlate with increased blood sugar levels while underactive adrenals can correlate with low blood sugar levels
Hypoglycemia is characterized by low blood sugar. It is very common and often results from overconsumption of concentrated sugars and starches for a prolonged period of time. When this happens, the pancreas can become overwhelmed and overactive thus impairing its ability to regulate insulin adequately. Fortunately, through proper diet and, if needed, supplementation, hypoglycemia is easy to control.
Symptoms of hypoglycemia include: low energy, fatigue, mental fog, cravings for sweets and carbohydrates, feeling faint or dizzy upon rising after lying down, mood swings, nervousness, and unpleasant dreams.
Supplements for hypoglycemia:
Vitamin C (2000-5000mg/day)
Vitamin B Complex (as directed on label)
Herbs for hypoglycemia:
All three reduce insulin resistance by enhancing glucose uptake by cells. Ginseng and bitter melon help to increase insulin secretion.
Use one or two daily as part of your meals. For a greater effect, take in supplemental form (as directed on label)
Hyperglycemia is characterized by high blood sugar and is very common in those with diabetes. Excess levels of glucose in the blood may be caused by poor functioning of the pancreas, hormonal imbalances, various medications or poor liver functioning. Hyperglycaemia is harder to control than hypoglycemia and in many cases must be closely monitored.
Symptoms of Hyperglycemia include: excessive thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, vision problems, weight loss, …
Supplements for Hyperglycemia:
ALA (as directed on label)
Fish oils (1000mg of EPA+DHA/day)
Herbs for Hyperglycemia:
Olive leaf extract
The Link between Low Adrenals and Blood Sugar Imbalance
When adrenals are under-functioning, cortisol levels are too low. This means that when cells are in need of more glucose and cortisol levels are elevated in order to get that extra glucose, cortisol can not be elevated enough resulting in hypoglycemia.
The Link between Low Thyroid and Blood Sugar Imbalance
Low thyroid does not directly affect blood sugar balance. However, low thyroid slows down all aspects of metabolism including glucose and insulin metabolism.
processed foods (any food not in its natural/original state, usually in a package)
wheat, dairy, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, carbonated beverages: generally detrimental to blood sugar stability and insulin sensitivity
large meals: in general, a larger meal means higher glycemic load
going more than 3-4 hours without eating: to avoid blood sugar dropping too low
warm water with lemon in the morning: may help metabolism
smaller meals throughout the day: in general, a smaller meal means lower glycemic load
whole foods and grains, a protein with every meal, increase fruits and vegetables, use healthy fats and oils, limit high glycemic foods, increase fiber: These all help with blood sugar stability and increased insulin sensitivity.
Lifestyle is also an important contributing factor in the regulation of blood sugar. Stress is a major cause of blood sugar imbalances, especially hyperglycemia. When experiencing stress, the body produces high levels of stress hormones which then increase blood sugar levels. Increased levels of blood sugar important in short-term stress responses, however, in the long term this becomes a problem.
Adopting healthy stress management techniques is an important and effective way to manage blood sugar, especially in addition to a healthy diet. There are many ways to manage stress, including
Meditation, yoga, dancing, singing, deep diaphragmatic breathing, painting or other artwork: are all ways to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the rest and digest system. When stressed, the sympathetic nervous system or fight or flight system is activated. Not all of the above methods will work for everyone - find the one which works for you!
Sleep: Lack of sleep has been studied and proven to raise cortisol levels. The general guideline is 8 hours a night. However, some people may need more or less. You may also need more when ill. The way to get the amount of sleep you need is to go to bed as soon as you feel sleepy and sleep until you wake naturally without an alarm.