Balancing Blood Sugar
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 refers 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 experience issues with blood sugar imbalance. This can lead to other health issues such as diabetes, adrenal exhaustion, under-active thyroid, anxiety, depression, and cardiovascular diseases. Balanced blood sugar plays such an important role in optimal women’s health as it influences our hormones. Imbalanced blood sugar essentially leads to imbalanced hormones such as excess cortisol, released by our adrenal glands and mimics glucose which exhausts/stresses the body. The ratio of our estrogen and progesterone hormones become affected which leads to an imbalance of mood regulation, while the production of testosterone is increased and converted into estrogen by fat tissues. Other imbalances of blood sugar affect our eating patterns and lifestyle habits. Imbalanced blood sugar levels in the body create an environment that lacks energy bringing on a host of symptoms like fatigue, irritability, headaches, digestive problems, weight gain, anxiety, and depression.
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.
Understanding Blood Sugar
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 (i.e. low blood glucose) the pancreas releases the hormone glucagon which signals for the liver and fat cells to release glucose from the stored glycogen to be used as fuel, thus increasing blood glucose levels.
This process, although seemingly simple, can become impaired by various factors. These include:
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 and nutrient-dense foods 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.
High-glycemic foods - cause a rapid increase in blood sugar and then a rapid and excess release of insulin. This means blood sugar drops too low which can trigger cravings in order to bring blood sugar levels back up. This can become a vicious cycle.
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 under-active adrenals can correlate with low blood sugar levels
Conditions Related to Blood Sugar Imbalances
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 (2000-5000 mg/day)
Vitamin B Complex (as directed on label)
Zinc (30-50 mg/day)
Chromium (200-600 mg/day)
Herbs for hypoglycemia:
Berberine – Berberine is an alkaloid compound with effects similar to metformin (a standard drug given to diabetic patients to improve insulin action). Berberine reduces insulin resistance and normalizes lipid profiles.
Gymnema Sylvestre – promotes glucose utilization in the cells which lowers blood glucose. Prevents the liver from releasing more glucose into the bloodstream while lowering cholesterol and triglycerides.
Cinnamon – has a positive effect on glycemic control. Improves insulin sensitivity and blood glucose control.
Ginger – soothes stomach and aids in digestion. Normalizes blood sugar levels, has an anti-hyperglycemic effect, lowers cholesterol, and soothes digestive tract helping face acid reflux which is often accompanied by diabetes.
Turmeric – antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant. Helps manage more stable blood sugar levels, boosts immunity and prevent infections.
Fenugreek – helps lower blood sugar by slowing down the process of digestion and absorption of carbohydrates in the small intestine.
The link between the Adrenals and Blood Sugar
The Adrenal glands provide us with hormones that help us adapt to stress, yet when the adrenals are under-functioning, cortisol levels become too low (i.e. adrenal glands cannot release cortisol hormone). This means that when cells are in need of more glucose and cortisol levels are elevated in order to get that extra glucose, cortisol cannot be elevated enough resulting in hypoglycemia. The adrenal glands also become overworked and burned out.
The link between Low Thyroid and Blood Sugar
Low thyroid does not directly affect blood sugar balance. However, low thyroid slows down all aspects of metabolism including glucose and insulin metabolism.
The link between Sleep and Blood Sugar
Sleep and being well-rested allows for positive health management, healthy habits/ lifestyle choices along with hormonal balance. Not sleeping at appropriate times, poor quality sleep or not enough sleep will affect insulin. The effects of negative sleep patterns include increased stress and appetite hormones that may lead to severe health problems as diabetes. Create goals for 7-8 hours of sleep with a consistent sleeping /waking schedule.
Improving Blood Sugar Regulation
Diet is the most important and influential component for blood sugar balance. It is often the cause of imbalances and is the best tool for correction and maintenance.
warm water with lemon in the morning
regular meals at regular meal times
enough fat, fiber, and protein
Plate portion guidelines include: ⅛th protein, ⅛th starchy vegetables, ¾ non-starchy vegetables, with 1 tbsp good oils/healthy fats.
create consistency, (i.e. not going 2 to 3 hours without eating) - simple, healthy snacks help!
choose natural sweeteners (e.g. raw honey, dates, pure maple syrup)
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.
processed foods (any food not in its natural/original state, typically come packaged)
wheat, dairy, sugar, excess caffeine, alcohol, carbonated beverages: all of these are generally detrimental to blood sugar stability and insulin sensitivity
large meals: in general, a larger meal means a higher glycemic load
going more than 3-4 hours without eating: this will avoid blood sugar from dropping too lo
Regulating Stress- 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 are 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 raises cortisol levels and dis-regulate blood sugar 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 ideal way to get the amount of sleep you need is to go to bed as soon as you feel sleepy and then sleep until you wake naturally without an alarm.
Blood sugar balance is very much affected by dietary and lifestyle choices. It's relatively easy to restore using diet and lifestyle modifications - perhaps with the help of supplements as well. Blood sugar balance is an important long-term health priority that needs to be consistently managed, in order to avoid imbalance and achieve optimal health.