As we continue with part 2 of this series, we will look at the importance of blood sugar, and how it impacts all metabolic functions. The chart below provides a visual snapshot of all the systems that contribute to metabolic function. I believe many people in our culture today are caught in a negative feedback loop, with blood sugar imbalance being a top contributor of their metabolic chaos®
What is Metabolism?
A simple definition of metabolism: a host of complex chemical processes that takes place in all living species to sustain life. Enzymes & hormones are required for most metabolic processes, which involves all bodily systems. There are 3 main functions or purposes of metabolism:
- Create energy for the body by converting food to fuel (Carbohydrates are main source of fuel)
- Convert food for protein synthesis & fatty acids
- Excretion of nitrogen wastes from protein (uric acid, urea, ammonia, creatine) via kidneys
Most health issues begin with metabolic dysfunction, and if balance is not restored, the risk for Metabolic Syndrome will exponentially increase. Metabolic Syndrome is diagnosed when at least 3 of the following 5 factors are present: high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), hypertension (high blood pressure), excess fat in the waist, elevated triglycerides, elevated LDL (low density lipoproteins or “bad” cholesterol).
Blood Sugar Balance: Most Critical Piece of the Puzzle
When I hear the word “balance”, I envision performers walking on a tightrope high above ground level, knowing the danger that exists if they lose their balance and fall. This is analogous to balancing blood sugar; this balance is critical to good health. In fact, many functional medicine doctors believe it’s the most critical metabolic function because sugar (glucose) is absolutely vital for proper brain and nerve function and is the only “fuel” that red blood cells use. Glucose is the main source of energy and is needed by every organ in the body to function optimally.
Insulin is the main hormone responsible for balancing and maintaining blood sugar (and metabolism); its main role is to transport sugar from the blood into the cells to provide energy. Proper levels of insulin are critical to ensure glucose does not build up in the blood, as this causes hyperglycemia and risk for insulin resistance, which can lead to Type 2 Diabetes, among a host of other problems.
Serious health problems can occur if blood sugar imbalance is left untreated; if the levels are too high (hyperglycemia), over time, this leads to an increased risk for damaged blood vessels, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, and possible stroke. If blood sugar is too low (hypoglycemia), this poses increased risk for dementia, loss of consciousness, seizures, muscle & movement dysfunction, vision problems, and possibly even death if the levels drop dangerously low.
Hormone Function & Blood Sugar
Every cell in the body has insulin receptors, and it’s critical that glucose is moved into the cells to provide energy needed. If energy levels are met because there’s sufficient glucose in the cells, insulin will convert the excess glucose into glycogen (this process in known as glycogenesis). The excess glucose is stored in the liver and muscle cells for future energy demands. When blood sugar is low, the hormone glucagon is activated and signals the stored energy in the liver (glycogen) to be released and converted back to its usable form, glucose, for energy. It’s important to note that glucagon is primarily released during sleep. As mentioned in part 1 of this series , it’s important to note here that it is during the deeper phases of sleep (stage 3 NREM & stage 4 REM), the body clears excess blood sugar. This is yet another clear example of why sleep is the 1st pillar of good health.
Insulin levels also have a major effect on the sex hormones, particularly estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Prolonged elevated insulin levels lead to insulin resistance, which causes a host of problems associated with changes in the sex hormones. Insulin resistance raises estrogen levels for both women and men. Increased estrogen can result in heavy, painful menstrual periods, fibroid production & growth, and increased density and pain in the breasts for women. For men, elevated insulin can trigger testosterone conversion to estrogen, which causes enlarged breasts, mid-section weight gain, lower sperm count, irritability, and reduction in muscle mass. Insulin resistance lowers progesterone levels, which further exacerbates estrogen dominance and lower testosterone levels in both sexes. The entire endocrine system is directly impacted by blood sugar and insulin function.
Stress Response & Blood Sugar
Stress can be defined as an internal or external factor that causes malfunction. Keep in mind that stress is classified in 3 main categories:
- Mental/Emotional/Spiritual includes anxiety, anger, fear, relationships, negative thoughts, finding purpose in life
- Physical includes trauma, injuries (fractures, sprains), nerve damage, poor posture, prolonged & intensive exercise
- Chemical/Biochemical includes inflammatory foods, heavy metals, prescription & illegal drugs, radiation/EMFs, pathogens (viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi), sleep deprivation, allergic reactions, lack of exercise
Steroidal hormones, especially cortisol, are also very impacted by blood sugar levels. In addition to functioning as a stress response hormone, cortisol also plays a role in regulating blood sugar. Most people don’t realize that when they awaken in the middle of the night and have a hard time falling back to sleep, it’s often due to cortisol levels rising to help stabilize blood sugar (this is why we experience the “wired and tired” feeling). People with a normal circadian rhythm have the lowest cortisol levels at night before bedtime (this is when melatonin levels peak) and highest levels early morning (usually upon sunrise), which is when cortisol signals the body to rise and start the day.
The body’s stress response sets off a “cascade” of events in which all metabolic functions of the body are impacted, including digestion, the endocrine system (pituitary and thyroid glands/pancreas/blood sugar regulation), neural function (sleep/circadian rhythm, mood, memory, brain function), the musculoskeletal system (bone and muscle integrity), immune system regulation/inflammatory response, and detoxification (liver, kidneys and skin). As the chart below indicates, all functions are explicitly interconnected.
Nutrition & Exercise: Keys to Blood Sugar Balance
Balancing blood sugar is a critical 1st step in preventing metabolic chaos. Here’s a list of lifestyle practices that will help stabilize blood sugar levels:
- Get adequate sleep each night (minimum 7 hours for adults, 10 hours for children)
- Eliminate intake of simple carbohydrates (bread, pasta, cereals, snack foods, candy, cake)
- Eat majority of carbohydrates in the form of vegetables; can include small portion daily of starchy foods like gluten-free oats, quinoa, rice or sweet potatoes; this will help provide some fiber
- Choose lower glycemic fruits (all kinds of berries, apples, grapefruit, lemon, lime)
- Balance all meals & snacks to include protein, fat, & carbs
- Eat smaller meals more frequently (every 2-3 hours) to avoid spikes and dips in blood sugar
- Exercise regularly (HIIT workouts tailored to fitness level are the best option to get cardiovascular benefits that can utilize both carbs & fats for energy consumption)
- Hydration is a very key factor in blood sugar regulation, as it assists the kidneys excrete excess sugar through urine; drink a minimum of 64 ounces of pure, toxin-free water daily
- Practice stress reduction techniques via prayer, meditation, simple quietude
- Add herbs & supplements to support blood sugar regulation: cinnamon, aloe vera, magnesium, chromium, green tea
In addition to lifestyle practices, I highly recommend that you identify the hidden stressors in your body by testing for mineral imbalances and food sensitivities. The vast majority of people have mineral imbalances and/or food sensitivities and are unaware of this. If these hidden stressors are present, you will not be successful in controlling blood sugar by just incorporating the lifestyle changes above. So don’t guess—get tested and begin your journey to healing your body holistically and effectively!
Schedule a FREE consult with me to learn how testing can help bring you back into balance!
Physiological Impacts of Stress Response on Metabolic Function Chart–©2008 Functional Diagnostic Nutrition (updated by Deeper Health, Inc. 2020)