Welcome to the first episode of this functional series about the fundaments of health.
I aim to shine some light on the importance of these three roots - sugar, poop and dreams (meaning blood sugar balance, digestion, and sleep), as well as give you some action steps to introduce in your life right away - so that you can start transforming your wellbeing, and reaching your full potential to have the live that you deserve.
What I want to embrace today is SUGAR - like I said, meaning blood sugar balance.
Hands up, who thought managing blood sugar is only for people suffering from diabetes, and old people?
I certainly didn't give blood sugar a second thought, when thinking about my health. Gee, just how wrong was I! Through a few short stories, in this text I aim to bring a bit closer the importance of managing basic rules of the Blood Sugar Game, why you should even care? We will look into the physiology of carbohydrate digestion, how it relates to hormones, inflammation and the brain. Stay till the end, as I will give you some practical tips on how to collect game points in this fun, bloody game!
Ready? Let's go!
At the moment of writing this I know the sugar fluctuations in blood affect so many aspects of health and functioning - our mood, weight management and hunger, hormonal balance, digestive system and immune activity. The fluctuations are the hot topic, and a reason why we wanna look closer at the blood sugar (I am going to say those words a lot). When the sugar spikes and then drops dramatically, that is directly causing changes in how we feel. Managing blood sugar lies at the base of addressing any presenting symptom in the body (alongside with quality sleep and digestion) and especially if you struggle with any chronic condition.
Blood sugar matters: we need this sugar (glucose) for our cells, muscles, and brain to function and generate energy. Let me take you on a short ride to explain what happens along the way.
The story of an Avocado Egg Sandwich
Let’s say you eat a wholegrain bread sandwich with avocado and egg. From the macro nutrient perspective, the bread is mainly carbohydrates, but also protein and fiber, and the avocado represents mainly fats and fiber. We also have some egg - that's protein and fat. Sounds yum!
Glucose is a part of any carbohydrate - in the process of digestion (which for the carbs begins in the mouth), carbs are being reduced to glucose, and absorbed into the blood in the small intestine (mainly). With a complex carbohydrate, our body needs to work more to get to that glucose, and it takes longer - and that's a good thing. The simpler - the easier the job, and a lot of glucose is being released at one time. We will get there in a second.
The blood with absorbed nutrients from the small intestine is being brought to, and filtered by the liver, so that’s our next stop. She really is a Queen. It is her that decides whether the glucose molecules get to be distributed to feed the cells, the muscles, or they stay in storage.
Liver’s storing capacity is limited - but it is great at converting items to fat! (She does it with the toxins she’s unable to process as well). That means if there is too much glucose in the blood at one time (so blood sugar spikes) as it is in the case of consuming simple carbohydrates (the body doesn't have to work a lot to get to that yummy glucose), it will get converted to fat, so that the liver can handle the conversion and distribution of glucose within her scope. She’s the queen, she decides who waits and for how long.
Here it is: too much sugar directly equals fat! Luckily, the more complex the carbohydrate, the slower the conversion and release of glucose to the blood stream. Fat and proteins are digested at different stages in the digestive tract, so that is also slowing it down. So, in a case of our Avocado Egg Sandwich, we are not overwhelming Queen Liver at one time, our body needs to work hard to get energy (glucose) from food, and there is no need to back-up store the energy as fat capsules.
The above image comes from the Glucose Goddess. Click on the image to be directed to her instagram account! You will find many many many more helpful tips on managing those glucose spikes :)
The story of a Dancing Contest and the Butterfly Cascade
In order for blood glucose to get into the cell (which is normally locked shut) it needs the key in the form of insulin, so that the glucose can get in and be converted to energy (those ATPs). And so, the rise of glucose in the blood triggers the insulin release, so that they cain pair up and go in!
I imagine it as a dancing contest, where you can only enter as a pair - a lady appears, and an available gentleman grabs her hand and they join the dancing circle (the cell). But the sweet ladies (glucose) keep coming. The contest managers (your pancreas) quickly muster up some more gentlemen (insulin), so that they can all have a pair, but quickly there is no space for anyone else in the circle.
In very simple language, that’s when insulin resistance develops. The sole presence of insulin is no longer enough to open the gates to join the circle, and so they just hoover around causing ruckus, stimulating other mechanisms of the body, disrupting the normal flow of action. And not without consequences.
Hormones work in feedback loops - the presence or absence of one affects the release or inhibition of another, and then release of that one influences another, and so on, and so on. So you can just imagine how unbalanced blood sugar (meaning super high spikes and lows) and the consequent insulin releases will affect ALL HORMONES in this cascade? (Did you see the movie Butterfly Effect? It's a little bit like that).
Curiously, the fluctuations of glucose affect not only the release of insulin (although it’s oh so important), but also the adrenalin is released from the adrenal medulla when the sugar drops. Low sugar = danger, no energy to run from a threat, so our body handles that by a quick spurt of stress hormones to quickly elevate that sugar. Which starts off another cascade… Also, did you know that fat itself releases hormones? So the increased fat from blood sugar swings will also chip in to the whole Butterfly Cascade.
You can imagine, that when a person consumes a lot of simple carbohydrates, which quickly turn into glucose (quick rise = quick drop), their stress hormones are also on the rise! And we’ve probably all heard what chronic stress does? All bodily things are super connected. We cannot address one issue without looking at the whole picture.
Bottom line: if we want to balance ANY hormonal issue (think menstrual cycle & fertility, hair falling out, acne, insomnia, mood swings, adrenal fatigue, chronic stress) balancing blood sugar first is an ABSOLUTE MUST. Everything in our body is super connected, like a delicate orchestra of different instruments, that when one is out of tune, they all sound off.
The Story of a Sugar Bomb
Next, to inflammation. We now know inflammation is at the root of basically all diseases and symptoms presenting in the body (and mind). From diabetes and Alzheimer, to body pains and indigestion, to advanced ageing and skin outbreaks, and anything in between!
You might also have heard that sugar immobilises the action of immune system (which takes care of inflammation and any foreign invaders). Just 1 teaspoon of sugar depresses the immune system for 5 hours!
Just how does it happen, and how it's connected? Sugar rises the blood sugar. A rise in your blood sugar releases a bomb - a burst of inflammatory chemicals (like histamine, prostaglandins and interleukins). This is when inflammation happens.
That means, sugar is a pro-inflammatory food. I will repeat what I said above, just so it lands well. Chronic, low level inflammation = advanced ageing! So, eating sugar directly contributes to body ageing.
Stress is another link to inflammation, (and also insulin resistance) and we've established stress hormones are affected by the blood sugar fluctuations, as well as they further affect the glucose release itself. Elevated blood sugar also causes the release of free radicals.
Basically - its an inflammatory mess each time you eat refined sugar. Did I mention sugar robs you from nutrients too? That's a topic for another story though. :) Those inflammatory chemicals further cause a cascade of other responses, which your immune system cells need to constantly clean up (they are like the garbage collectors of our body) - and when they are busy with that, there might not be enough immune fighters to take care of those viruses, bacterias and fungi, that are present everywhere around us, and cause a serie of other unfortunate events.
The story on the Brainergy
Our brains need constant glucose, which needs to be transported by the blood through the blood brain barier. With the spikes and drops of unbalanced blood sugar, our brain alternates between the states of plenty of glucose (and the 'feel good' just after eating something sweet), followed by a sugar drop (and feeling miserable, searching for the next 'hit'). That's when cravings occur. Our brain is sending us messages that we need to take care of energy delivery ASAP, and oh, can we have that chocolate bar? (or whatever is available within hand reach) YES, OH SO GOOD.... And a drop. And again.
In those fluctuations we can experience anxiousness, irritability, generally low moods, foggy thinking, and neurotransmitter imbalances (like that ‘feel good’ serotonin). In fact, balancing blood sugar is also one of the first steps of addressing depression! With a balanced blood sugar we can experience balanced sense of self.
If we decide to get out of that vicious circle, stop being the slave of the High and Low, we need to go through the heal phase. Calm the situation within, without disrespecting the effect on the brain (and how it is going to control us).
What it will mean exactly depends on... you! and your unique physiological composition. However, there are some general Game Action Steps, which will give you bonus points in that Glucose Game!
Glucose Game Points:
* stick to whole grains in their unprocessed form (avoid anything white! Except white veggies of course :> )
* after eating carbs, move and use your muscles for 10 minutes (glucose will go directly to the muscles)
* make sure to consume fat, fiber and protein at every meal or snack
* avoid refined sugar (read the labels!) and alcohol
* reduce caffeine intake, and have it after food (between 9-11 is ideal)
* eat breakfast within 1 hour of waking and before 10 am
* avoid gluten and dairy (next to sugar, pro-inflammatory foods!)
* when in the ‘heal’ phase, have small snacks to avoid blood sugar dips (every 2 hours)
* have a small amount of protein at bedtime (when in the ‘healing’ phase)
* diet rich in natural sources of key nutrients (magnesium, zinc, vitamin E, C)
* anti-inflammatory techniques (elimination diet and inclusion of supportive whole foods, herbs and spices)
These are just some general guidelines & hacks - though, they work! If you want to get a deeper understanding about how what you eat is affecting you specifically, it can be super helpful to measure your blood sugar levels with a glucometer device so that you get familiar with how your own body reacts to certain foods and meal times. Also, blood sugar is just one of the puzzles of health, and don’t forget each one of us is unique and reacts differently! Pairing up with a dedicated health practitioner can be of absolute value on your journey to wellbeing and uncovering those specific puzzles.
Ok, that's it for now! That was Episode number 1, let me know - did it cause your sugar to spike or drop? :)