Do you find yourself being irritable between meals? Is a mid-morning or mid-afternoon coffee or soda break a must? Do you find yourself yawning and tired after a meal? Do you have chronic or irresistible sugar cravings?
Functional imbalances in your body could be responsible for these symptoms, including your sugar cravings – like pain, these symptoms could be a signal to you that something is wrong. Most sugar cravings are caused by our body’s natural ability to try to balance out our blood sugar levels. Blood sugar dysregulation could ultimately lead to a diagnosis of Diabetes, a disease in which your blood sugar levels are consistently above normal.
It likely that you or someone you know, has received a Diabetes diagnosis. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 29.1 Million people, or about 1 out of every 11 people, have diabetes and American Diabetes Association reports that every 17 seconds someone new is diagnosed with Diabetes. Diabetes causes more deaths a year than breast cancer and AIDS combined. The CDC predicts that 1 in 3 Americans will have Diabetes by 2050.
Our bodies need sugar to use as energy. However, never in the history of humans have we had the amount of sugar in our diets that we have currently available. Our bodies are simply not adapted to dealing with high sugar levels. in fact, we have 7 hormones that RAISE our blood sugar levels but only 1 hormone that is responsible for lowering it. Our bodies were created to quickly raise blood sugar levels (and our energy) to handle acute stress – or as I like to say – to be able to run from the saber-toothed tiger. Before industrialization, the major sources of sugar in our diets were from honey and seasonal fruits. (And my guess is, if we had to fight bees for honey, we didn’t try that often.) The cheap, processed sugar available today is creating a problem that our bodies were never designed to deal with, ultimately throwing our bodies out balance and causing more cravings.
What happens to your brain on sugar
To get through the bees though, we needed some kind of incentive. There is some research that sugar actually triggers the same areas of the brain that drugs do, making it potentially as addictive as cocaine. In 2013, the New York Times reported that the research at the Big Food Companies was focused on developing tastier and more addictive products. Almost, 40% of children’s diets now come from added sugars and unhealthy fat.
Your body categorizes your food into three macronutrients: Protein, Carbohydrate, and Fat. These ultimately are broken down into components that are used for fuel in your body. Your body wants to use glucose (sugar) and fats the most for fuel. A healthy body is actually able to burn both glucose and fat in its’ day to day activity. However, due to blood sugar dysregulation most of us are only burning glucose.
Energy (ATP) production is done in the Cells. Remember that cells make up the tissues in your body and the tissues ultimately make up your organs. Glucose is stored mainly in the cells of the liver and muscle tissue. Extra glucose is ultimately changed into fat and stored in the cells of the adipose tissue of the body. The blood is responsible for making glucose available to the cells that need it for energy. As you’ll see later in the discussion, both too much and too little glucose in the blood is a problem, so the body has a vary narrow range that it wants to keep the blood sugar level at. (see the normal blood sugar graph below.)
The main organs in blood sugar regulation, the pancreas and liver, are constantly receiving signals from the brain about the blood sugar level and release the hormones glucagon and insulin as needed to increase or decrease the blood sugar level. (see picture) Remember, that hormones are just messengers. Insulin, in particular, is just responsible for telling the cells to take in glucose.
blood sugar rollercoaster, modified from NTA training materials
So when we eat a high sugar carbohydrate meal at breakfast (insert your favorite breakfast cereal here) then it spikes our sugar levels outside of the normal levels. And immediately, our body goes into panic mode, the pancreas releases insulin to tell the cells to store the extra glucose. But alas, too much insulin was released, we store too much, and then we crash at around mid-morning. Our body realizes this is a huge problem, and you get a coffee craving (insert sugary caffeinated coffee because your body just gave you a sign that blood sugar/energy was low). Here’s where the other 7 hormones come into play. All of a sudden your body is panicked because it might have to run from the tiger and you don’t have enough energy. So now your adrenal glands have to fire shooting out the stress hormones – in particular – cortisol and adrenaline. And the blood sugar roller coaster goes on….
Your adrenal glands are not one of the main players in blood sugar regulation – they should only get involved in an EMERGENCY situation. But instead because of the high sugar content in our food they now are involved every day. The adrenal’s eventually get worn out having to work to regulate blood sugar more than they should. Adrenal’s are responsible for a whole bunch of other hormone production and release, including those involved in the reproductive system. So hormone imbalance now becomes a secondary symptom of blood sugar dysregulation.
When we continue this blood sugar roller coaster eventually our system starts to breakdown, we might be able to maintain our blood sugar in the top range but the bottom range keeps bottoming out. We generally hear things like “I have low blood sugar” when this starts happening.
The next stage, if the rollercoaster is continued, could be Metabolic Syndrome. This could be characterized as a pre-diabetic stage. Your cells now become resistant to listening to insulin and they stop storing glucose. The cell receptor sites that insulin usually binds to get worn down and stop functioning. So now you have extra extra glucose in your blood and your brain tells your pancreas to send out more insulin to store more glucose, so your pancreas gets worn out as well. The pancreas is also involved in your digestive system, so now you have secondary issues related to digestion. Your cells now aren’t taking in glucose so they are not making ATP’s (or energy), making you feel tired most of the time.
The next stage – Diabetes. Just to clarify I am talking about Type 2 Diabetes in the scenario.
Type 1 Diabetes, or juvenile onset diabetes, is an auto-immune disease where the beta cells of the pancreas stop producing insulin. There is usually a genetic component to this condition and it is diagnosed earlier.
In Type 2 Diabetes your pancreas also stops producing insulin, but only because it is simply worn out and you can never turn it back on again. So now there is no mechanism to tell your cells to absorb glucose for energy.
According to the CDC 90 to 95% of the cases of diagnosed diabetes in adults fall into the Type 2 Diabetes category. The symptoms develop gradually over a number of years and may not even be diagnosed until serious health complications occur. While heredity likely plays some role here, as well as, acute damage to the liver and pancreas, the majority of Type 2 Diabetes is likely caused by diet and lifestyle.
Why is too much glucose in the blood a problem? Well, that extra glucose starts reacting with proteins and sticks them together creating AGE’s (Advanced Glycation End products). These ‘sticky proteins’ start impacting cell structure and communication between the cells in the body. They continue to link together and cause inflammation and premature aging. Now those cells start causing problems with arteries, organ tissue, and joints. What happens when the cells in the muscles of the heart start to harden together?
Or consider, when glycation of the neuron cell membranes happens. Research is now supporting that Alzheimer’s Disease may be a result of the same metabolic imbalances seen in Diabetes, but it is manifesting differently in the brain. This could be do to those AGE’s now affecting the neuron cell membranes. Alzheimer’s Disease is now routinely being characterized as Type 3 Diabetes.
What we consider the normal forgetfulness of older age might very well be early warning that the brain is struggling to fuel itself.
Type 3 Diabetes: Metabolic Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease – Weston A Price Foundation
So WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- Get back to eating a more ancestral diet, reducing the amount of processed carbohydrates and sugar in your diet, eating more nutrient dense whole foods, including more vegetables as your carbohydrate source.
- Include Healthy Fats in your diet, trying to eat more of a 30% Fat, 40% Carbohydrate, 30% Protein ratio at every meal. Fat slows the absorption of sugar into the body.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week. The CDC recommends moderate-intensity physical activity like walking.
If you need more help getting on the right track, send me a note and we can schedule a consultation to see if I can help you put together an individual sugar balancing program that might jump start your journey back to a healthy blood sugar balance.