When I say “blood sugar,” that might make you think of pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes.
Those are metabolic conditions that a LOT of Americans are dealing with, and they have everything to do with blood sugar.
(Spoiler alert: they’re also VERY preventable AND reversible!)
In fact, more than 1/3 of US adults—a whopping 38%—are pre-diabetic, and up to 80% don’t even know it!
But listen: it’s NOT just about pre-diabetes or diabetes!
Because your blood sugar is having a very BIG impact on your health well before you reach the point of pre-diabetes or diabetes!
(And it’s affecting your health even if you NEVER get diagnosed with those conditions!)
I’m talking about your ability to maintain a healthy weight or lose excess weight, your energy levels, that quality of your sleep, what your blood pressure and cholesterol are doing, how inflamed you are, your mood, how well your brain works, your hormones…
(Yep, that’s right—blood sugar regulation impacts a LOT of other areas of your health, including your hormones. Read more about that hormone connection here.)
The Skinny on Blood Sugar
When you eat food, your body breaks it down into smaller components. When carbohydrates are present in the food you’re eating, you’ll end up with glucose.
If sucrose is present (it occurs naturally in most fruits + vegetables and in higher amounts as added sugar), or if the product is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (beware—it hides under many names!), you’ll also get fructose.
Glucose is a fuel source for your cells. So when you eat and your body breaks that food down into glucose and releases it into your bloodstream, your pancreas will secrete insulin to shuttle some of that glucose into your cells so they can utilize it to function.
That’s a good thing!
This is why not eating enough or having low blood sugar can be dangerous—because you HAVE to have fuel to run your body! Being a human is very energy intensive!
Any excess glucose will be stored away as glycogen in the muscles and as lipids (fats).
When you end up with a lot of fructose after digestion—which WILL be the case anytime you consume added sugar or high fructose corn syrup—some of that fructose will be converted into glucose in the gut.
Excess fructose will head straight to the liver, where it can be converted into glucose (if needed) or the more common outcome—where it’s stored as fat.
This means that over time, a surplus of fructose can do damage that includes non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (the most common cause of liver disease in the US and a condition that affects 24% of US adults).
Foods that Spike Blood Sugar
When you’re eating foods or drinking beverages that have a high glucose load—meaning they have a higher carbohydrate, starch, or sugar content—that will spike your blood sugar.
The foods and beverages that have the biggest effect on your blood sugar are anything with added sugar.
Sweets and desserts are pretty obvious sources, but added sugar actually shows up in a LOT of things you’re eating and drinking: sodas, flavored beverages, teas, fruit juice, energy drinks, yogurt, condiments, energy and protein bars, and most other packaged products.
In addition to added sugar, refined grains also have a huge impact on your blood sugar.
Refined grains are found in anything made with grain flours, even if the label says “whole grain” or “whole wheat” (that’s just tricky marketing). Breads, pastas, cookies, crackers, pizza crusts, cereals, pancakes, biscuits, desserts, and other baked goods.
To your body, these refined grains = sugar.
(Yes—there are other foods that can spike your blood sugar. But items with added sugar or refined grains are the most common source. They’re also going to do the MOST damage because the amount of glucose + fructose you’re being exposed to is SO MUCH HIGHER than what you would get from whole foods.)
Blood Sugar Spikes = Insulin Surges
There’s nothing wrong with consuming carbohydrates. Remember—they supply you with glucose, and that’s an important fuel source for your cells!
But the problem with eating foods day in and day out that have a high carbohydrate or high sugar content is that you consistently have blood sugar spikes.
And your body ends up being exposed to waaaaay more glucose (and fructose) than you need, so your pancreas responds by pumping out a lot of insulin.
Insulin ushers some of that glucose into your cells and then it stores the extra glucose + fructose as fat to use later—like between meals, when you’re fasting during sleep, when you’re physically active, or when food might be more scarce.
And these blood sugar spikes, and—more importantly—the insulin surges that they cause, are really damaging to your health over time.
What’s Wrong with Insulin Surges?
When you’re consistently eating foods that spike your blood sugar, this results in BIG surges of insulin, and two main things happen.
The first is that your body keeps getting the message to store fat, so you’ll experience weight gain. And there’s a particular area of your body where this weight will show up: your belly.
And the second is that your cells start to become used to a bunch of insulin floating around, so they become more desensitized to it.
It’s kind of like all that insulin is screaming at your cells so they start plugging their ears and ignoring it—they become resistant to the message.
This means that over time, it can take more and more insulin before your cells will pay attention and open up the gates to let glucose in.
This is what insulin resistance is, and it’s the hallmark of pre-diabetes and diabetes. BUT it doesn’t just lead to those conditions! Insulin resistance actually impacts SO MANY areas of your health!
How Does Insulin Resistance Affect Health?
Um, where do I start?!
Insulin resistance leads to increased blood pressure and elevated cholesterol and triglycerides.
It can cause women to make more testosterone and men to make more estrogen, which means it can cause or worsen hormonal imbalances and contribute to infertility.
Insulin resistance causes inflammation, which can impact gut health, how well you detox, and how your immune system functions (think allergies and autoimmunity or getting sick frequently).
That inflammation can also lead to migraines, osteoporosis, arthritis, and depression.
And unfortunately, the inflammation caused by insulin resistance can actually worsen insulin resistance, so it becomes a vicious cycle.
Insulin resistance can also block your sex hormone and thyroid hormone receptors—which is how your hormones talk to your cells. This can lead to symptoms of low hormones even if your body is making enough.
Insulin and blood sugar issues can also lead to adrenal dysfunction, which can impact your energy, your sleep, and how well you deal with stress.
Proper insulin regulation is necessary for the production of serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that have a huge impact on your mental-emotional wellbeing and lots of other areas of your health.
The high levels of blood sugar that lead to insulin resistance also damage hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is what carries oxygen to your cells and tissues, so this results in nerve damage, blood vessel damage, and kidney disease. We see these issues in later stages of diabetes.
Insulin Regulation Is a Really Big Deal
I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that blood sugar and insulin regulation is a REALLY BIG DEAL.
And SO MUCH of the chronic symptoms and conditions that people are suffering with (including hormone imbalances!) are being caused or worsened by insulin resistance.
Which means that optimizing insulin regulation can have a HUGE impact on your health!
So check out my article How to Know if You Have Blood Sugar + Insulin Issues, and check out my free guide: 4 Steps to Skyrocket Your Energy, where I teach you one of the BEST ways to improve your insulin response.
Want personalized guidance? Learn how my approach can help you optimize insulin regulation and overall health here.