Are You Riding the Blood Sugar Rollercoaster?

May 1st, 2009

Blood Sugar RollercoasterBlood sugar is vital to human function and must be consistently kept at a steady level to maintain good health. The failure to do so is a primary cause of many modern health complaints and diseases.

Blood sugar is the glucose that circulates in the blood stream and provides cells with much of the energy they need to function. It’s most commonly obtained through the digestion of food and is especially important to the brain and nervous system. Because of the many critical functions that depend on it, and because it’s toxic in excessive concentrations, blood sugar levels that are too low or too high can be extremely dangerous and are dealt with by the body in an urgent manner.

The Dangers of Blood Sugar Fluctuation

A low level of blood sugar, referred to as hypoglycemia, results in an inadequate supply of glucose to the brain and leads to a considerable amount of malfunction. Hypoglycemia can cause a number unpleasant symptoms including fatigue, weakness, dizziness, inability to concentrate, poor memory, anxiety, depression, irritability, heart palpitations and excessive sweating. It can even cause comas and seizures.

On the other end of the spectrum, a high level of blood sugar is referred to as hyperglycemia and is one of the key symptoms of diabetes. Hyperglycemia can cause similar symptoms to hypoglycemia such as fatigue, inability to concentrate, anxiety and depression. However, it can also cause shortness of breath, nausea, dry mouth, and in severe cases, can even cause comas, nerve damage and blindness.

Blood sugar fluctuation puts a significant demand on the glands responsible for regulating it and this burden is one of the major reasons why fluctuating blood sugar is such a serious health concern. It’s widely recognized as the cause of type 2 diabetes and is also associated with high blood pressure and heart disease.

How the Body Responds to Blood Sugar Fluctuation

High levels of blood sugar trigger the pancreas to respond in emergency like fashion by quickly releasing a large amount of insulin. By facilitating the transport of blood glucose into cells and the conversion of excess blood glucose into body fat, the presence of insulin causes blood sugar to drop. However, the large amount of insulin often causes too much glucose to be removed from the blood and results in a state of hypoglycemia.

The excessive drop in blood sugar creates another state of emergency and stimulates the adrenal glands to release cortisol. This increases blood sugar to a desirable level by facilitating the creation of glucose from body fat and muscle tissue, and also by stimulating the liver to create glucose from it’s storage of glycogen.

While the mechanisms involved in blood sugar regulation provide us with an invaluable source of protection, they also put a significant physiological burden on the body. The continuous demand put on the pancreas to produce excessive amounts of insulin is what eventually leads to type 2 diabetes. In similar fashion, the recurring need for the adrenal glands to produce cortisol can compromise their capacity as well and result in adrenal fatigue.

Although adrenal fatigue is not as widely recognized as diabetes, it can be equally problematic and result in susceptibility to significant health problems. Furthermore, any type of adrenal stimulation, including low blood sugar, invokes the universal stress response that is so frequently associated with poor health.

The Causes of Blood Sugar Fluctuation

The primary and preferred source of blood glucose is digested food. As such, skipping a meal or eating too infrequently will result in an inadequate supply of glucose and will eventually cause blood sugar to drop. In contrast, the consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates can easily cause blood sugar to rise because of how quickly they’re digested into a large amount of glucose.

Caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, soda and energy drinks, provide their energy boost by forcefully stimulating the adrenal glands. Because the adrenal glands are responsible for raising low levels of blood sugar, this direct stimulation will typically cause an increase in blood sugar regardless of how much glucose is currently in circulation. Furthermore, caffeinated beverages are typically high in sugar which significantly increases their potential to cause a dramatic increase in blood sugar.

Alcohol is a significant source of blood sugar fluctuation as well. Because it prevents the liver from producing glucose, it contributes to hypoglycemia by inhibiting the body’s ability to raise blood sugar. This problem is made worse by the large amounts of sugar that most alcoholic beverages contain. The sugar causes blood glucose to rise, but when the insulin response brings it too far down, the alcohol inhibits production of the glucose that is needed to lift blood sugar to an adequate level.

The Blood Sugar Rollercoaster

Eating foods that contain a considerable amount of sugar or refined carbohydrates, which is unfortunately quite common in the modern diet, will cause blood sugar to increase rapidly and provide a short lived burst of energy and happiness. The surge of insulin that this provokes will quickly cause blood sugar to drop too low, may cause one or more of the many symptoms associated with hypoglycemia, will stimulate adrenal activity to lift blood sugar back up, and will result in an increased appetite for more sugary food.

Encouraged by the lethargy and moodiness resulting from low blood sugar, many people will intentionally consume sugar to regain their energy or improve their mood without realizing or caring that it will ultimately lead them right back to where they started. They end up spending much of their day fluctuating from peaks of high energy and excitement to valleys of fatigue and unhappiness, and during this variation, their blood sugar levels are out of control and are causing serious physiological burden.

Alcoholic and caffeinated beverages are nearly as popular as processed foods, and the people who consume them on a regular basis are adding to the fluctuation of their blood sugar and the problems that it causes. Sugar, alcohol and caffeine all have addictive properties that make blood sugar fluctuation a never ending cycle that can be very difficult to end.

Many people become mentally and physically exhausted after years of riding the blood sugar rollercoaster. When they do, they often develop an even stronger reliance on sugar and caffeine to get them through the day. This last ditch effort may keep them pushing along, but will burden the adrenal glands even further, continue to wear their body down, and ultimately bring them one giant step closer to disease.

Tips for Regulating Blood Sugar

One of the best things you can do for your health is to keep your blood sugar at a relatively consistent level. The following tips will help to spare your body from the significant burden of blood sugar fluctuation and will help you maintain a steady mood and energy level.

  • Eliminate sugar and refined carbohydrates from your diet, or keep them to an absolute minimum. If you have any excess body fat, this will help you lose weight in addition to keeping your blood sugar stabilized.
  • Minimize your intake of caffeine. I know this is a difficult one, but if you rely on them extensively, you’re digging yourself into a hole that will be difficult to get out of.
  • Limit your consumption of alcohol and always consume fat and protein prior to drinking it.
  • Follow a consistent eating schedule and try not to go more than 4 hours without a meal.
  • Follow the Metabolic Typing Diet. We each have unique nutritional needs and not adhering to them can have a significant impact on blood sugar.
  • If you feel that you’re vulnerable to low blood sugar, increase the amount of protein and fat in your diet and snack in between meals.
  • Eat the protein and fat portions of your meal first to prevent the carbohydrates from being digested too quickly.
  • Some fruits and vegetables can cause blood sugar fluctuation just as easily as processed foods. Use the glycemic index and glycemic load to identify them. Despite the limitations of these two tools, they will give you a good idea of which foods are most likely to cause an elevation of your blood sugar.
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