The Blood Sugar Roller Coaster
What is one of the smallest, simplest changes we can make that has the biggest impact on reducing biological and chemical stress in the body? Balancing your blood sugar! In this episode, I’m going to discuss how food moves through the body, gets converted to energy, and is processed. Also, I’m going to get into how having our blood sugar out of whack can cause stress on the body.
Basically, the food we choose to eat can either increase biological chemical stress on the body or decrease it. When we talk about blood sugar, we are talking about the concentration of glucose in the blood. Glucose is a simple sugar, and it's the body's preferred energy source.
We need to keep blood sugar balanced because when there's too much or too little glucose in the blood, it triggers a significant stress response. When we eat food, it goes through the a process so our body can benefit from all the food's nutrients.
When the body is in need of energy, you feel hungry. The body releases a hormone called "ghrelin" which signals hunger. You eat some food, it goes into your mouth, and this is where the digestive process starts. It starts when you chew your food. Your saliva contains
enzymes to begin breaking down starches and fats.
Once the food is in the stomach, the food is churned by the muscles in the stomach to further break it down, and the food is introduced to stomach acid, which is called hydrochloric acid, and several enzymes-- pepsin and lipase-- to break down the proteins and fat.
Before food leaves the stomach, it's in a liquid state called "chyme." Then it goes to the small intestines and the gallbladder releases bile to help break down fats. Your pancreas then releases additional enzymes to break down starch, fat, and protein, and glucose is absorbed across the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream.
The bloodstream is the delivery system that carries glucose to all of your cells. So the next stop for your food is the large intestines. At this point, any food that couldn't be digested or absorbed moves into the large intestines to be eliminated. Excess water is also absorbed there.
Now, just because you have glucose in your bloodstream doesn't mean that your cells can actually use it. Here is where the challenge comes into play. When we have high blood sugar frequently, or for extended periods of time, it can lead to health challenges, such as damaging nerves, blood vessels, organs, and diabetes.
So, your ability to utilize blood sugar and not have it roaming about is determined, in large part, by the hormone insulin. When sugar levels, or blood glucose, increase, insulin is released, and it acts like a key. It opens the door to the cell, allowing the glucose, the body's preferred energy source, to move into the cell, where it will eventually be converted into energy through a process called "glycolysis."
Now, your body's production of insulin is affected by your carbohydrates consumption. Carbohydrates are a macronutrient and its primary function is to provide energy for the body, especially the brain and the nervous system. There are three kinds of carbohydrates-- simple, complex, and fiber, and they each have a very different effect on the body.
So, let's look at simple carbohydrates first. They're a simple chemical structure so they're digested and absorbed quickly. They provide a quick burst of energy followed by a crash.
Some examples of simple carbohydrates are glucose, as we've mentioned; lactose, a milk sugar; fructose, which is found primarily in honey and fruit; and maltose which is also produced by the breakdown of starches. Fructose and maltose both break down very quickly in the body.
Complex carbohydrates are sugars that take longer to break down, and these are healthy for your body. They are full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber to help manage the release of sugar. So complex carbohydrates are like a slow and steady burn compared to simple carbohydrates, which are like a flash fire.
Some examples of complex carbohydrates are brown rice, millet, quinoa, and vegetables. These are great, because they don't really spike your blood-sugar levels quite so drastically. Now, this doesn't mean you only have to eat complex carbs, and that all simple carbohydrates should be avoided.
There is one simple carbohydrate that does wreak havoc on the system, which is processed sugar. So, let's talk about that. The bad thing is this sugar dominates our food supply. It's in crackers, soda, cakes, bread, ketchup, juice, salad dressing, tomato sauce, gum, even toothpaste. Unfortunately, it's everywhere!
What is the reaction when you put processed sugars in your body? At this point, it has been processed and no longer contains vitamins, minerals, or fiber, so your body has to pull on its own reserves to process this food. Keep in mind complex carbs can also be processed or refined, and they, too, can lose their natural vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
So, if you're consuming all kinds of processed and refined simple carbohydrates more than you're eating nutrient-dense foods, then your reserves are getting depleted, and you're going to end up in a deficit. All this can lead to a lot of health problems but most importantly, it can really throw your body into a roller coaster with your energy and your mood.
When you eat simple carbohydrates, the body breaks them down really fast, they enter the bloodstream in a rush, and they cause a sudden increase in blood sugar, sort of bringing you to the top of a roller-coaster. At the top of the roller-coaster, your glucose levels have risen. Your body's alerted to release insulin to try to help get the blood sugar somewhere into your body and bring you back into balance.
But the pancreas is secreting insulin to bring the blood sugar back down. Sometimes, we've spent a lifetime eating bagels, and crackers, and white bread, and a lot of processed carbohydrates and so your body sends the insulin out, but it may not bring your blood sugar back down to stable. It might send out too much insulin and then your blood sugar drops way down, so now you are going down that roller coaster hill. That's when you experience a blood-sugar crash. That's what makes you feel spacey, shaky, and just all around uncomfortable.
When you're down in that crash, guess what your body craves? The fastest source of energy possible to get back into balance as fast as possible, so it's going to crave more sugar. This can start the roller-coaster all over again - too much insulin is released, and then we crash down. And then it just goes up and down, and up and down, and the cycle continues.
The roller coaster is one of the reasons why we start eating sugar and it's really hard to stop, because your body is trying to get to a point where the blood sugar is balanced. It's trying, but it’s not working.
This roller-coaster effect causes lots of biological and chemical stress on the body because it's constantly initiating and keeping the body in a stress response. Whether you're at the top or at the bottom, your body needs help. It needs a fix. So, the body constantly feels like it's in danger, especially because this happens so quickly. So, the stress response is constantly activated, and that's what destroys good health.
There is a way to tell where you are on that blood-sugar roller-coaster without having to actually test your blood sugar. There are a couple of physical cues that your body gives that can let you know whether you're on the lower or higher end.
One is when you have blood sugar lows-- you may experience brain fog, difficulty concentrating, impatience, nervousness, heart palpitations, sweating, light-headedness, nausea, fatigue, or moodiness. The other is when you are having a blood-sugar high, you may experience a surge of energy, bouncing off the walls. You might get hyper anxious, have increased thirst, or you might have headaches.
This roller coaster effect not only can affect how you feel, but your mood and even sleep. The up and down can really mess with serotonin levels. At the high, you feel great. But at the low, you feel horrible. So no wonder you have uneven moods - it's because the blood sugar's all over the place.
It also affects weight gain because glucose can go into your cells, into your liver, and into your muscle cells. It can also go into your brain. If all those receptors are full, then glucose starts to be stored as excess fat.
We all have a hormone called glucagon that helps burn excess glucose that is stored in fat cells. But if you're constantly producing insulin, you're constantly on the rollercoaster, your body can't produce this hormone. So, the blood-sugar roller-coaster is causing the body a ton of stress, but it's also keeping weight on and keeping you from ever burning the excess off.
If you're eating sugar regularly, deliberately or in hidden foods, you are on a biochemical and emotional roller-coaster that's likely putting your body into a continual stress-response state, where weight gain, low energy, moodiness, and poor health can develop. Honestly, it's really hard sometimes to know how much sugar you're eating because it's in so many processed foods.
And the fact that it tastes good is even more frustrating. I mean, who doesn’t want to have sweets? This is not about never eating sugar again. This is about understanding how you can enjoy food but keep it balanced so that it's not taking our bodies on the crazy roller-coaster ride of stress.
Lastly, balancing blood sugar is one of the most important things you can do to reduce the biological and chemical stress so the body can heal, rebuild, have energy again, and get back to its normal weight. This is going to help solve so many health challenges that you may be experiencing.
So, in our next episode, I’m going to give you 7 ways that you can help keep your blood sugar in balance. Keep tuning in every Tuesday night at 8 pm where we share more great tips. Until then, stay safe and stay healthy! Bye!