Do you need a chocolate bar, biscuit or coffee to get you past 3pm in the day?
Do you get jittery when you don’t eat?
Are you struggling to lose weight?
Do you have high fasting blood glucose levels or are pre-diabetic?
Do you have an under or overactive thyroid?
Do you have ongoing stress in your life?
If yes, then read on!
You blood sugar balance is one of THE most important aspects of keeping your body and mind healthy.
Every cell in your body requires energy, which is provided in the form of glucose that you obtain from food. Certain cells, such as brain cells require a constant supply of energy, but this doesn’t mean you need to eat all day. Fortunately, your body is hardwired to regulate and control a steady balance of glucose in your blood. How well your body does this, very much depends on the type of food you eat and the frequency of your meals.
The role of insulin and glucagon
Indulging in carbohydrate, whether it is potatoes or a frappuccino with whipped cream, will cause a spike in blood sugar. Yes, this does mean that the type of carbohydrates that you eat are important, but more on this in a moment. Whilst your cells rely on this glucose to provide energy, excess glucose can damage your cells. This is why your pancreas will step into action to pump out insulin in order to keep your body safe and in balance.
Insulin’s main function is to help transform glucose into energy and to distribute it throughout your body. Insulin therefore helps to reduce blood sugar levels by allowing sugar to enter the cells so that it can be used for energy.
During periods of fasting, in-between meals or overnight, when insufficient glucose is available to provide energy to your cells, your pancreas will secrete glucagon in an attempt to maintain a healthy sugar and energy balance. Glucagon signals the liver to break down glycogen (stored glucose) and also stimulate the breakdown of fat cells in an attempt to generate energy for your body.
Your body is therefore able to regulate your blood sugar through insulin and glucagon.
Let’s talk about food
The type of foods you eat impact the speed at which glucose is released into the bloodstream. Eating too many carbohydrates (and I am talking about those without fibre) is a key driver for insulin resistance. When you eat too many refined carbohydrates on a regular basis, over time, your cells lose the ability to respond to insulin. It is like insulin is knocking on the door, but the cells are not listening. This eventually leads to insulin resistance even when that knock gets louder.
When carbohydrates are combined with fibre, protein and fat, the speed at which the sugar is released is much slower than if eaten without fibre and protein. Eating a bowl of vegetables, pasta and fish, will have a much more positive impact on your blood sugar than a bowl of pasta and tomato sauce alone. The problem is that most people’s typical daily diet consists of cereal (refined carbohydrates), followed by sandwiches for lunch (refined carbohydrates), followed by pasta for dinner (carbohydrates). Throw in some coffee, chocolate, crisps and a biscuit or two and you have the perfect recipe for metabolic syndrome.
It is important to note here that the same thing can happen in states of inflammation. You can have a perfect diet, but if you are stressed and have high levels of inflammation, your cells can still become insulin resistant.
The blood-sugar rollercoaster
I am sure we can all relate to that horrible blood sugar crash you feel an hour after you have had too much birthday cake or chocolate?!
This is because too much sugar (without fibre or protein) will spike your blood sugar levels quickly. This will require the release of excess insulin to help transport the sugar into the muscle and fat cells. This swift response to sugar, results in your blood sugar levels crashing down too quick and you end up with a big dipper rollercoaster-effect. This can make you feel jittery, weak, irritable and unable to think straight. This is all because your body doesn’t have enough energy to deal with the situation. This prompts a sugar craving, which then leads you to eating more sugar and the rollercoaster cycle is repeated. Ongoing fluctuations between high and low blood sugar, eventually leads to dysglycaemia and ultimately insulin resistance. Dysglycaemia is a condition when your body loses the ability to keep your blood sugar levels stable.
Dysglycaemia has a lot to answer for. It weakens and inflames your digestive tract and also weakens your mucosal barrier in the gut, which acts your immune defence. Furthermore, it drives your adrenal glands into exhaustion and sets the stage for hormonal chaos and thyroid dysfunction.
Long term implications of the rollercoaster-effect
Every time your blood sugar levels drop too low, your adrenal glands respond by secreting your stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol tells the liver to produce more glucose, bringing blood sugar levels back to normal. Cortisol activates your ‘flight or fight’ response, which leads to an increase in heart rate, blood flow, but most importantly it increases the amount of glucose available to the brain and muscles. This means that high levels of cortisol reduces your body’s ability to secrete insulin and over time your body becomes unable to respond with insulin, resulting in insulin resistance. This is why a western diet coupled with stress is significant risk factor for developing insulin resistance, hormonal imbalances, thyroid disease, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
It is also really important to mention that blood sugar imbalances prompts the body to store glucose as fat, which results in weight gain. This is one of the reasons why chronic stress is associated with weight gain.
This is the early stages of insulin resistance. Here we typically see a drop in blood sugar 2-5 hours after eating. A person with reactive hypoglaecemia will miss meals and rely on caffeine and sugary foods to get them through the day. I often see this in my female clients. They are concerned about weight gain, so will skip breakfast, rely on coffee around 11am and then have a sugary snack for lunch only to crash around 3pm, which triggers the need for a quick sugar fix. They struggle to sleep at night, they have poor memory, they are grouchy and explosive, especially when they haven’t eaten. They struggle with PMS, PCOS, hypothyroidism, headaches, acne, hair loss. Having chronically low blood sugar can have a significant impact on most functions in the body, but most importantly, it is the early and reversible stage of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can have far reaching consequences.
Key risk factors of insulin resistance
- Weight gain
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Dementia or cognitive decline
- Suppressed immune function
- Autoimmune disease
- Hormone imbalances such as PMS, PCOS, endometriosis
- Premature ageing
- Poor skin health
- Depression and anxiety
- Poor sleep/Insomnia
- Thyroid disease
Blood Sugar and your Thyroid
Countless studies show an increased frequency of thyroid disorders in diabetes, and higher rates of obesity and insulin resistance in people with thyroid disease. The reason for this is because healthy thyroid function depends on healthy blood sugar levels and healthy blood sugar levels depends on healthy thyroid function. Studies have shown that this rollercoaster-effect of repeated insulin surges (high and low) increase the destruction of the thyroid gland in people with autoimmune thyroid disease. This destruction eventually lead to lower levels of thyroid hormone being produced.
So let’s first look at how blood sugar impacts the thyroid
As previously explained, when your blood sugar levels drop too low, your adrenals are prompted to secrete cortisol. This is a critical function and a way that your body protects you from prolonged periods of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar), which can ultimately cause death. The function of cortisol is to get the body ready to deal with whatever is threatening your survival.
The biggest concern for people who struggle with low blood sugar is that repeated cortisol release eventually suppress pituitary function, which has a direct impact on your thyroid function.
Dysglycaemia (when you struggle with both high and low blood sugar) can have a significant impact on your metabolism, detoxification, gut, heart, brain, hormones and especially your adrenals and thyroid.
How does the thyroid affect blood sugar?
Thyroid hormone directly influences glucose metabolism. In fact, your thyroid hormone stimulates the glucose transporter, GLUT4.
GLUT4 is the insulin-regulated transporter found primarily in fat and muscle cells. It’s function is to facilitate the diffusion of circulating glucose into fat and muscle cells. It is believed that the active thyroid hormone, triiodothyronine (T3), directly stimulates the GLUT4 transporter to rapidly increase glucose uptake in muscle cells.
Whilst GLUT4 accounts for the majority of post-prandial (post-eating) glucose uptake, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) also increases the expression of GLUT1 and GLUT3. Both these glucose transporters are responsible for glucose uptake during periods with no food.
In cases of hypothyroidism, when T3 levels tend to be lower, GLUT4 action is downregulated, increasing the risk for insulin resistance.
In cases of an under-active thyroid:
- your cells are less sensitive to glucose
- the uptake of glucose by your cells are slower
- the response of insulin to high blood sugar is slower
- your body is slower at clearing insulin from the blood
- it reduces the amount of glucose absorbed in the gut
When you are hypothyroid, everything slows down. This means that even though your blood glucose levels might be normal, you still might be experiencing symptoms of hypoglycaemia (weak, unable to think, irritability, headache, fatigue, hunger). This is why it is so important to focus on blood sugar control if you have thyroid dysfunction.
Why a blood sugar monitor can be beneficial
It might be beneficial to invest in a blood sugar monitor so that you can monitor your blood sugar levels daily. I have done this for years and have found this incredibly beneficial for both myself and my clients. Fortunately a good blood sugar monitor is not expensive, the main cost lies in the test strips.
A blood sugar monitor is one of the most effectives ways to measure which carbohydrates are problematic for you. I recommend that to start with you test several times a day. Before meals (fasting) and then again two hours after meals (post-prandial). It is believed that the post-prandial blood glucose reading is the most accurate predictor of future diabetic complications.
Normal ranges for fasting blood glucose is between 4.2 – 5 nmol/L and for post prandial around 5.5 – 6.7 nmol/L.
It can be helpful to monitor your levels for 2-3 weeks to see how different carbohydrates impact your blood sugar levels. Your aim is to keep your blood sugar levels as stable as possible.
Benefits of improving your blood sugar balance
- Improved energy
- Improved sleep
- Better thyroid function
- Reduced inflammation
- Happy hormones (say goodbye to hormonal imbalances)
- Better adaptation to stress
- Improved cognition and mental clarity
- Weight management
- Healthier immune function
- Healthier heart
… and so much more
How can you improve your blood sugar balance?
This is actually one of the easiest things you can do that will deliver long lasting health results. You don’t need any medication or supplements (although these can help). Instead, you just need to focus on my 6 simple steps to start bringing you blood sugar levels into balance. The results will depend on whether you are willing to stay consistent. Like with anything, if you want results, you need to be fully committed to the outcome. It is a bit like going to the gym once a week and expecting the same results as someone who is going five times a week.
Consistency is key!
Optimising your blood sugar balance should be a key consideration for anyone wanting to improve their health. My 6 simple steps are easy to incorporate into your life and easy to follow. If you are ready to improve your blood sugar balance, then download the TWJ Healthy Blood Sugar Guide today. These are simple steps, to get you closer to feeling better. If you need more specific help with your thyroid, gut, immune or hormonal health, schedule a 30-minute free assessment call where we can discuss the best possible options to specifically target your health goals.
Everyone deserves to live a healthy and happy life.