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Blood Sugar 102: Part 1

Hi there!  I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend so far.  One of my favorite quotes about Sundays goes like this:

A Sundaywell spentis a weekof content

I try to carve out some time each Sunday to do some meal prepping for the week ahead.  I’ll be honest, it doesn’t always happen.  Sometimes life just gets in the way of all that other stuff, and that’s ok, but I do notice the difference.  Anything you can do ahead of time, Sunday or any other day, will be helpful.  Even simple things like pre-mixing a spice mixture for a dinner later in the week, or chopping up veggies to keep ready-to-eat snacks in the fridge.  Whatever you can do!

So on to today’s topic.  We’re returning to blood sugar.  On the last post, we saw how blood sugar should ideally work and how it works for most people in today’s society.  As I mentioned previously, blood sugar is a foundation of our overall health and wellbeing.  This means that if this is not functioning like it should, other areas of our health can be affected.  Some are directly connected and others will be less obvious.  I think for this post, to keep length in check, we will focus on the one that’s directly connected.

Diabetes – You most likely have not only heard of this, but you may know someone who’s been diagnosed or may even have been given the diagnosis yourself.  Here, we are talking about Type 2 diabetes since that’s the type where the beta cells stop working because of chronic excessive needs for high insulin output resulting from diet and stress.  (Type 1 diabetes is caused by a virus or auto antibody attack on the beta cells that cause them to stop functioning.  Their beta cells have lost the ability to make insulin.)

Type 2 diabetes isn’t something that happens overnight though.  It is caused by long term high glucose exposure.  But let’s back up and see the progression that leads into diabetes.

First there’s reactive hypoglycemia.  Remember how the pancreas works quickly to respond to high amounts of glucose in the blood and brings it down just as quickly?  Well reactive hypoglycemia happens basically out of habit of the pancreas.  It means any glucose you eat will cause a massive blood sugar drop.  This can be changed by dietary modifications though.  *Symptoms of hypoglycemia: craving sweets, irritable and/or lightheaded when meals are missed, jittery, memory issues, and blurred vision 

Next that might occur is insulin resistance.  This is where our cells become unresponsive to insulin due to overexposure.  When glucose comes in, the insulin is what puts the glucose into the cells.  So when the insulin “knocks on the cell door”, so to speak, carrying its glucose luggage, the cell refuses to answer.  There’s just no room for more…no vacancy… so the insulin is then left to circulate through the bloodstream.  This would cause the pancreas to actually secrete more insulin, which as you can probably imagine, starts a whole line of problems, including chronically high insulin all because it just has no where to go.  This is also the problem with the idea of eating several small meals/snacks throughout the day.  Eating like this causes a constant insulin output, especially when those meals and snacks still often include something starchy or sugary.  Even the best intentions can backfire here.  Something conventionally touted as healthy such as flavored yogurt and a banana is really high glucose.  For most people, meals that include a good balance of fats/proteins/complex carbohydrates should be enough to keep a healthy regulated blood sugar with just three meals each day.  There may be some bioindividuality in terms of the exact ratio of each macronutrient that each person needs (meaning maybe some people do better on more fats, or more complex carbs, etc).  *Symptoms of insulin resistance: fatigue after meals (especially ones high in carbohydrates), craving sweets, weight gain or difficulty losing weight, and the feeling of needing a dessert after a meal

Then hyperglycemia happens.  Since the cells are now unable to use insulin properly,  incoming glucose can’t be properly stored, leaving that sugar to circulate.  Chronically elevated blood glucose levels can lead to other problems in itself such as high triglycerides, difficulty losing weight, weight gain, or high blood pressure.

Finally, diabetes.  By this point, the beta cells are exhausted from this chronic output of insulin and they pretty much quit their job.

Diabetes

Glycation – Chronically high blood glucose levels can also lead to something called glycation.  While this isn’t an actual “condition”, this occurs when the glucose in the blood starts reacting with proteins in the blood, making them sort of sticky, pretty much rendering those proteins useless to the other cells.  Eventually those proteins, now covered in sticky sugar, become hardened.  This causes things like joint pain, and is especially common in diabetics when eyesight and feet are affected.  Glycation easily occurs in those tiny arteries in the eyes and the small vessels in the toes.  It can also affect the cell membranes in the brain, which is of course never a good thing.  In fact, scientists are now calling Alzheimer’s “Type 3 Diabetes”.

I never want this blog to become one of fear-mongering, but listen…diabetes and blood sugar is a big deal.  Epidemic even.  And here’s the thing: our children are being exposed to more sugar than ever and it’s setting them up for diseases much sooner.  We used to think of diabetes as something in the elderly…then it became more common among younger and younger generations, and now children and teenagers are being diagnosed with this.  There’s something wrong there, do you agree?

To make matters worse, conventional medicine gives poor nutrition advice when it comes to managing diabetes because they assume most people would find it to be easier to just take the insulin.  On some level, it probably is because dietary and lifestyle changes are often challenging, but that doesn’t make it right.  Here’s an excellent article on Robb Wolf’s site written by (one of my favorites) Diana Rogers, who is an NTP and RD, about the unfortunate advice diabetics are getting in the conventional world.  To reduce blood sugar dysregulation now, focus on nutrient-dense whole foods that include proteins, fats, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and low-glycemic fruits.

I’ll be back to continue with a Part 2 of the less obvious results of blood sugar dysregulation.  Have a great week!

In good health,

Michelle

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