Understanding the Blood Sugar Connection
What comes to mind when you hear phrases like blood sugar and insulin levels? Diabetes? Many primarily healthy individuals scarcely give their blood sugar a thought. But blood sugar levels affect the entire body in some surprising ways, and even small fluctuations can have a noticeable effect. Stable blood glucose levels are essential for normal brain function because at least 50% of the brain’s fuel comes from glucose. A healthy diet is the most effective way to stabilize blood sugar levels in a normal, nondiabetic individual. In some cases, variations in blood sugar levels may indicate another problem. While it’s well known that unstable blood sugar is characteristic of diabetes, studies also show a distinct link between blood sugar levels and heart disease.
Unstable blood glucose levels may point to a hormone imbalance. Signs of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) may include trembling, palpitations, increased perspiration, foggy thinking, or headache. Symptoms of mild to moderate hypoglycemia may indicate an adrenal insufficiency which is characterized by low energy, sleep disturbances, and difficulty managing stress.
Symptoms of elevated blood sugar (hyperglycemia) may include increased hunger and/or thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, blurred vision, and dry mouth. Frequent symptoms of hyperglycemia could be caused by insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that enables cells to convert food into energy. When cells lose their ability to respond to insulin the pancreas produces more of the hormones which leads to increased blood glucose levels. If you experience these symptoms regularly, consider having your hormones evaluated.
Stable blood sugar levels can be maintained with a healthy diet. Diet plans that focus on glycemic index are among the healthiest ways to lose weight and maintain healthy blood glucose levels. The glycemic index is a ranking system for carbohydrates based on their effect on blood glucose levels. Foods with a high glycemic index break down rapidly during digestion. Foods with a low glycemic index break down slowly, releasing glucose into the bloodstream at a controlled rate. Low glycemic diets allow patients to lose weight while increasing muscle mass. Popular examples of diets that focus on a healthy glycemic index include South Beach and NutriSystem.
Dr. Stacy Gee is an Edmond pharmacist who is certified in FirstLine Therapy education, a Therapeutic Lifestyle program that includes an eating plan centered on maintaining healthy blood glucose levels. “I’ve seen this program significantly improve symptoms of hyperglycemia, as well as lower cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and body fat,” Gee said. “Blood sugar levels really do affect us in more ways than we realize.” She recommends a healthy balance of protein and good carbohydrates and eating several small meals a day to keep sugar levels steady. “Patients can usually see results and feel the difference within a week.”
While the connection is somewhat unclear, studies have shown that lowering blood sugar levels may decrease the risk of coronary heart disease for everyone—with or without diabetes. Research conducted at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health found that eating a low glycemic index diet reduced the risk of developing heart disease among nearly 16,000 participants. Typically these diets lead to weight loss, which is a major factor in improving heart health. Blood glucose levels play a major role in nearly every body system and can impact our daily lives in a positive or negative way. A healthy diet of low glycemic index foods can increase energy and help us maintain a healthy weight and a healthy heart and reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases. Consider making the change today!
Shannon Fields is a freelance writer and a Certified Pharmacy Technician at Innovative Pharmacy Solutions. She holds a BA in Psychology with a minor in English from the University of Central Oklahoma. Shannon lives in Edmond with her husband and two daughters.