The Blood Sugar Seesaw: How Stress Disrupts the Balance
Posted Jun 06, 2018
Your body and brain depend on balanced levels of blood sugar (glucose) to steadily supply your cells with fuel for energy. Stress normally drives blood sugar up to power a “fight or flight” physical response via the adrenal stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol converts energy stored in your body into glucose so that your blood sugar rises to energize that anticipated surge in activity. As your blood sugar goes up, insulin is secreted by your pancreas to move the glucose from your blood into your cells.
This extra glucose is meant to be used up by a strenuous physical response to the stress, which restores blood sugar back to normal. In the prehistoric world, stress typically came from physical threats against which a short burst of activity increased the odds of survival. However, in the modern world stressors are typically ongoing pressures against which physical activity is seldom used or useful.
If your life is stressful, especially with a diet high in refined carbohydrates and without regular vigorous exercise, the consequent repeated or chronic blood sugar and insulin elevation you experience can create problems over time that prehistoric humans probably never had to face.
When this is occurs too frequently, your cells become more resistant to insulin to avoid the toxicity of excess glucose. This can leave too much glucose in your blood and too little in your cells. To maintain balance, your body converts and stores the excess blood sugar as fat – usually around your abdomen.
Paradoxically the decreased amount of glucose getting into your cells triggers hunger and you may find yourself craving carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrate consumption spikes your blood sugar up and the vicious cycle of blood sugar imbalance and insulin resistance continues – an added stress with ever greater negative consequences for your whole body over time. When it comes to blood sugar, maintaining balance is the key for good health and steady energy.
Tips for Keeping Blood Sugar Balanced
-Keep a daily account of everything you eat for a week. In one column, list every bit of food, drink and medication that you take and at what time. In the second column, list your symptoms and the time at which you experience them. Very often you will see a correlation between what you have consumed and your symptoms. When you do, eliminate those foods or drinks that you notice are contributing to your behavior and note the difference. Important: do not stop any medication cold turkey. If you believe that your medication may be contributing to your symptoms, contact your physician. A diet diary is your personal blueprint: a clear overall view of what you are eating, digesting and assimilating. It can be the first indicator that something is wrong and, perhaps, a very inexpensive way of correcting a very simple problem.
-Eliminate the “main offenders” from your diet. These include sugar, white flour, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, junk food and fast food.
-Exercise caution when eliminating certain substances from your diet, especially ones that are addictive. For example: if you tend to drink a pot of coffee a day, gradually decrease your consumption over time. The same is true for tobacco and alcohol. If you are addicted to tobacco, alcohol or other substances, it’s often best to quit under the guidance of a professional. There are many physicians and support groups helping people deal with all sorts of addiction, which can be very difficult to beat on your own. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
-Replace the bad foods with good ones. Aim for a diet that focuses on the natural: Lean meats, whole grains, brightly colored vegetables and some fruits (those with lower amounts of fructose). Instead of focusing on the foods you can’t have, focus on all the foods that you can have. You’ll soon find that healthy foods can have an addictive taste as well, but without the negative effects.
-Eat 4-6 small meals throughout the day, with snacks in-between. Meals and snacks should contain good quality protein, complex carbohydrate and healthy fat. These three types of food are metabolized at different rates, allowing your blood sugar levels to stay steady longer and avoiding rapid spikes and drops in blood sugar. This helps balance blood sugar and energy levels throughout the day. Reminder: do your best not to overeat. Having smaller meals at more frequent intervals can help avoid overeating.
-Be prepared. Have food with you at all times to balance blood sugar. Keep healthy snacks at work, at home, and anywhere you spend a lot of time. Having healthy snacks and food on hand will also make it harder to cheat by hitting the drive-thru or a convenience store.
-Because of their many bioactive constituents, fresh whole fruit (but not fruit juice) can be a beneficial dietary component, even for people with high blood sugar. Studies have even linked fresh fruit consumption with lower risk of diabetes and its complications. People with hyperglycemia should avoid dried fruits, however, as they are a concentrated source of fructose.
-Be mindful of natural sugars occurring in some natural foods, or foods marketed as natural. Fruit juices, smoothies, granola and energy bars, and yogurts (especially those with fruit) often contain high levels of sugar. Natural or not sugar is sugar, and your body will react to an excess regardless of source.
-Build up a library of natural food cookbooks. These can help give ideas of healthy, low-sugar recipes. Sometimes coming up with food plans can be frustrating, so keep helpful resources on hand. Bookmark recipes and meal ideas on your tablet, phone or laptop for quick reference. There are many websites that offer free healthy recipes, including ones that focus on hypoglycemia-friendly foods.
Image credit: Flickr user HomeSpot HQ