Over the last century, how we eat has changed drastically. Back in the early 1900’s factory processed foods were just starting to be introduced to the market, and so most people were eating a diet that was rich in whole foods. The convenience of factory foods completely changed US diets. It increased the amount of sugar and highly refined carbohydrates we consume considerably. And the increase continues. So is it any wonder that there has been a corresponding increase in blood sugar imbalances seen throughout the western world?
Back in 1917 the average American consumed approximately 60 pounds of sugar a year. Today, that number is significantly higher at approximately 130 pounds of sugar consumed annually. Around the same time, mass production began on baked goods and goods made with refined white flour, instead of being baked at home. Consumption of these products increased as well.
With stores full of highly processed foods just a short drive away, it is getting increasingly difficult to avoid refined sugar and carbohydrates. To make matters even worse, both are often hidden in common products, many times without people knowing it. But consuming these foods regularly have a strong impact on blood sugar levels and ultimately can lead to blood sugar imbalances.
Sugary foods, highly refined carbohydrates and alcohol are broken down in the body into a sugar known as glucose, which is used as an energy source in the body. The level of glucose in the body is controlled by the hormone insulin. After eating, the blood sugar rises and insulin is released. The insulin then brings the blood sugar back down into normal levels.
When we eat sugar, refined carbohydrates and drink alcohol it can cause the blood sugar to rise too quickly. The result is a release of large amounts of insulin to bring blood sugar levels down. But the body can actually release too much insulin which causes blood sugar levels to go too low or “crash”. This can lead to feelings of fatigue and moodiness and can even make us feel hungry again.
The blood sugar roller coaster has become a common daily occurrence for many. But it is not normal and it is not healthy. Over time, this imbalance in blood sugar levels will lead to pre-diabetes, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and/or diabetes.
Anxiety and depression
When the blood sugar fluctuates wildly, it can have a direct affect on neurotransmitter production. When you eat starchy and sugar filled foods, it increases the production of serotonin, the feel good neurotransmitter. This raise in serotonin is short lived however and before long, blood sugar levels crash and go low. The body’s response to low blood sugar levels is to increase production of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. When this stress response occurs, and these hormones are released, blood sugar levels go up as the body pulls from stores of glucose in the liver to prepare to either fight or run from the source of the stress.
But the stress response to low blood sugar has another negative consequence….it can also cause a flare up of anxiety. And when blood sugar is low and the brain isn’t able to get the energy it needs from a healthy balance of glucose, then it causes and increase in depression as well.
Brain fog and trouble focusing
When many people hit mid afternoon, they find that they suddenly have a difficult time thinking and making decisions. Their brain feels foggy and it’s hard to be productive. This is often the time when people reach for a caffeinated beverage or something sweet or starchy to eat.
The cells of the brain require more glucose than any other cells of the body. When blood sugar levels rise sharply after a meal or snack, and then fall sharply shortly afterward, it leaves the brain without the energy it needs to function. This can cause a lack of focus and feeling of fogginess. Making simple decisions becomes difficult and it can be difficult to concentrate.
As stated before, when blood sugar levels go low, it triggers a stress response and releases cortisol and adrenaline which raise blood sugar levels. These hormones are known to cause sweating, which can be excessive. As blood sugar levels return back to normal, the sweating should stop.
Addiction to caffeine, alcohol or nicotine
Addiction to caffeine, alcohol and nicotine are common. But there is a strong correlation between each of these addictions and blood sugar imbalances. When blood sugar levels are low, the natural reaction of the body is to increase levels as quickly as possible. Caffeine, alcohol and nicotine all raise blood sugar levels in the body. And so, the body will create cravings for these substances to help keep blood sugar levels at a normal level.
When blood sugar levels are high, the body naturally produces insulin. Insulin regulates how the body uses the glucose and is the fat storing hormone. When levels of insulin are high it communicates to the body to store excess glucose as fat. As the body gains weight, it tends to do so around your belly.
Cravings for sugary or starchy foods
After you eat, when blood sugar levels are higher, you won’t feel hungry. But because of the blood sugar roller coaster, when levels come racing down, your hunger will increase and you will be drawn to sugary and starchy foods that can quickly raise blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, the pattern repeats and you end up overeating again and again and the cycle continues. The result is disease….diabetes, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.
If you are dealing with most of these symptoms then you may be facing regular blood sugar imbalances. If so, it is important to start getting your blood sugar levels under control to avoid winding up with chronic health issues that are more difficult to reverse. Working with an FDN practitioner can help you to discover the best balance of foods for your particular body. They can also help you bring blood sugar levels and other system imbalances back into balance so that you can feel better again.