According to The National Diabetes Statistics Report led by the Centre for Disease Control in 2020, more than 1 in 10 Americans currently have diabetes. Perhaps even more shocking are the numbers for prediabetes, a serious high blood sugar condition which they estimate affects 1 in 3… but over 80% are not aware they have it. Given that Prediabetes puts you at a high risk of developing Diabetes (as well as Heart Disease and Stroke) this all adds up to what is being called “the Diabetes Epidemic”.
Thankfully, lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise play a big role in helping to bring balance back to your blood sugar levels. Prevention is key, and living a preventive lifestyle is perhaps the single most important action we can all take to help reduce the risk of future chronic disease.
Diabetes Types 1 and 2 – What is The Difference?
Type 1 Diabetes
Previously known as insulin-dependent or juvenile diabetes, Type 1 Diabetes is an auto-immune condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the pancreas, preventing it from producing enough insulin. The resulting high blood sugar can damage the blood vessels and lead to serious health problems. Close monitoring and lifelong insulin therapy are necessary.
Type 2 Diabetes
Considered a lifestyle disease, type 2 – aka adult onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes – can develop after several years of imbalanced blood sugar levels cause the body to develop a resistance to insulin. When the cells stop responding to insulin they can’t easily take up glucose from your blood. As a result, the pancreas produces more insulin to force the cells to take up the glucose, until it eventually can’t keep up.
Type 2 diabetes becomes more common as we get older, and is particularly prevalent after 45 years of age. Sadly, we are now seeing type 2 diabetes in younger people than ever before. Lifestyle factors have a great impact on the severity of type 2 diabetes symptoms, and insulin is not always needed if patients are able to keep their levels under control.
The Blood Sugar Roller Coaster
Blood glucose highs and lows aren’t only for people with diabetes. In fact, our glucose levels fluctuate throughout the day as we eat. Our body takes care of blood sugar levels by storing the glucose in our cells to be used as energy.
When we eat a healthy, whole foods diet that is low in sugar and contains plenty of fibre, it is relatively easy to stay satiated and resist temptation. But once we start to rely on sugar and coffee as a way to make it through the afternoon, we quickly run into problems.
If you are someone who gets “hangry”, the following description of Reactive Hypoglycemia won’t come as a surprise:
- A high sugar snack is eaten (candy bar, pastry, sweet cereal)
- Blood sugar levels rise fast, causing the pancreas to send out an emergency flood of insulin to move that glucose out of the blood and into the muscles.
- Blood glucose drops fast due to the flood of insulin, making you feel hungry again, with a particular craving for a sweet treat .
- You reach for another high sugar snack to feed the craving, inadvertently starting the roller coaster ride all over again.
The Role of Coffee
Coffee can work in a similar way to a sugary snack in that caffeine intake increases the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol floods the body, the pancreas is triggered to produce insulin which quickly brings your blood sugar down, triggering snack cravings.
In studies caffeine has been shown to increase insulin levels and reduce insulin sensitivity, making that afternoon coffee, even without the accompanying sweet treat, ill advised if you are watching your insulin.
Tell-Tale Signs of a Blood Sugar imbalance
Some common symptoms that are often blamed on stress or aging may in fact be due to long term issues with high blood sugar. These include:
- Mood Swings
Do you regularly “crash” after a carb-heavy meal or sweet snack? Do you feel shaky, irritable and “hangry” when you haven’t eaten in a while? Mood swings, including bursts of energy followed by rapidly depleted energy, are often in response to wide fluctuations in blood sugar.
- Carb Cravings
Another frustrating irony is that high blood sugar leads to cravings for more carb-heavy and sugary foods, further adding to the cycle of insulin.
- An “Abdominal Apron” of belly fat
When your body senses high glucose levels, it secretes more insulin in an attempt to trigger your cells to absorb the excess glucose. However, insulin also encourages fat storage, especially around the belly.
- Hormone Imbalance
Healthy female hormones and blood sugar are intricately interconnected. Excess insulin causes the body to produce increased amounts of testosterone, and belly fat tissue converts this excess testosterone into estrogen. This scenario can lead to an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone that can bring on symptoms such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, fertility issues, and more.
Lifestyle Factors to Help Support Your Blood Sugar Levels
As mentioned, blood sugar highs and lows and the risk of type 2 diabetes are very much related to lifestyle, and certain lifestyle choices can greatly impact how well your body manages blood glucose. Here are our/my top tips for taming your blood sugar:
Eat to Improve Insulin Sensitivity
With its many health benefits for the gut and digestion, fiber intake has been linked to increased insulin sensitivity. Including foods with a high fiber content in all meals can help to reduce how high blood sugar spikes. Soluble fiber, which is found in foods like oats, beans and many berries, is the most effective.
Spinach, kale, broccoli and cauliflower have been researched for their role in helping reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, likely because of their fiber and high concentrations of minerals as well as antioxidant polyphenols and vitamin C.
Low Glycemic Foods
The glycemic index (GI) was developed to measure a food’s impact on blood sugar. The higher the food is found on the index the faster it spikes blood sugar, while the foods found on the lower end of the glycemic index are more slowly digested and absorbed. Note that the glycemic index only applies to foods that contain carbohydrates. A number of studies have found that following a low glycemic diet can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Following a low glycemic diet doesn’t have to be difficult, and lists are readily found on Google. Try swapping high-GI white bread for a lower-GI choice like 100% rye bread. When it comes to fruit, stick to apples, cherries and grapefruit over tropical fruits like mangoes and bananas.
Remember that Drinks Have a Big Impact
Sweet beverages can contain a surprising amount of sugar, and one study found that people who drank at least one sweet drink a day had a 26 percent higher chance of developing diabetes!
Fruits are naturally high in sugar, and by juicing them you may find yourself knocking back multiple servings in one go, guaranteeing a sugar spike (that’s even the case when it comes to unsweetened fruit juice). If you are looking to add a healthy juice to your diet, focus on those exclusively from vegetables such as carrots, beets, celery and kale.
Blending fruit into a smoothie means you keep the fiber which is good, however it is easy to overdo the sugar content. Try reducing the sweet ingredients (ie limit yourself to ½ a banana) and give alternatives such as avocado and nut butters a try. These higher fat ingredients help to increase satiety so a smaller smoothie is often enough.
Tea & Coffee
We have discussed the impact coffee can have on blood sugar and insulin levels. It is a good idea to keep coffee to a minimum, instead choosing a herbal tea such as rooibos or peppermint, or a coffee replacement with dandelion or chicory in the afternoon.
When it comes to managing blood sugar, let’s not forget about the importance of fresh, filtered water. It helps you to stay hydrated, keeps your digestion moving and your cells healthy, and is vital for intercellular communication. Not to mention that water has been labelled as “the biggest catalyst for weight loss”.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
High blood glucose levels can seriously impair your ability to get a good night’s sleep, but that sleep is in itself a vital component when it comes to managing your blood sugar. In fact, sleep deprivation has often been tagged as a risk factor for pre-diabetes. Practice good sleep hygiene, including turning off all devices an hour before bed, sleeping in a cool, dark room and limiting drinks of any kind before bedtime.
Become Purposeful About Exercise
Exercise helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels by increasing insulin sensitivity and making your muscles more efficient at glucose absorption. Studies suggest high-intensity interval training is the most effective at burning sugar, but any form of cardio that you can maintain over the long haul, along with some resistance training, is an excellent and sustainable approach. Yoga and Pilates have a good mix of strength, cardio and relaxation and have been researched for their positive impact on stabilizing blood sugar in diabetes patients.
Taking a walk around the block after dinner each night is an excellent habit which allows your body to burn off some glucose so that you sleep better – and as controversial as it may be in some families, being the one who does the dishes and tidies up before bed can be just as effective.
Supplements To Help Support Healthy Blood Glucose Levels
It is important to always work with a healthcare practitioner when considering supplements, since many factors must be considered to determine what is right for you. The following supplements have been researched for their help with blood glucose levels:
This supplement derived from a group of berries is emerging as a metabolic disease and weight loss superstar. It is being researched for its action on several main drivers of chronic disease:
- Lowering blood sugar and bad cholesterol (LDL) as effectively as commonly prescribed medications.
- Reducing blood fats (triglycerides) and blood pressure.
- Reducing insulin resistance and inflammation.
- Balancing metabolic hormones and the microbiome.
- Supporting a healthy metabolism by stimulating a major metabolic regulator (AMPK)
- Promoting weight loss, lowering BMI and waist size
- Check with your health practitioner before taking Berberine as it can cause digestive upset.
Often seen as just a culinary spice, cinnamon has been researched for its ability to improve cellular response to insulin, helping test subjects with diabetes and insulin resistance reduce their fasting blood glucose levels by approximately 10%. The most effective form to take is an extract of Ceylon cinnamon.
Talk to your health practitioner about the appropriate dosage for you.
A deficiency in vitamin D is very common, and problematic. The body makes vitamin D when we go outside in the sun, however even the sunshine states post an alarming 40% rate of vitamin D deficiency.
Not only is this fat-soluble vitamin crucial for supporting the immune system, it has also been shown to improve the function of pancreatic cells that make insulin and increase your body’s responsiveness to insulin.
Talk to our practitioner about testing your vitamin D level so that you have a better idea of how much your body needs.
The complications that arise when we don’t properly manage our blood glucose over time are serious. They can include heart, blood vessel and nerve damage, kidney disease, and eye damage. However, taking charge of the necessary lifestyle factors can give great results in a short amount of time.
If you are ready to understand your blood sugar levels better, give us a call and let us support you as you take charge of your future health.
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