Blood sugar imbalances:
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and high blood sugar (insulin resistance)
One of the most common causes we see in functional medicine for chronic health disorders is unstable blood sugar, whether it is low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), high blood sugar (insulin resistance), or a combination of both.
The good news is this is also one of the easiest factors to address.
Why blood sugar imbalances are so common
Of course, the average person eats considerably more than this in the way of desserts, pastries, chips, pasta, potatoes, rice, sugary coffee drinks, and other foods that raise the blood sugar too high. Consistently spiking blood sugar requires the pancreas to secrete larger and larger amounts of insulin to lower blood sugar to safe levels.
However, these blasts of insulin cause blood sugar to drop too low, creating symptoms of low blood sugar. As a result, you crave sugar or starchy foods to reboot your blood sugar, creating a vicious cycle.
This merry-go-round of blood sugar highs and lows is a normal day for many people today. Sadly, this leads to hormonal issues, autoimmunity, fatigue, depression, anxiety, insomnia, poor brain function, pain, and other chronic health issues.
Eventually, these extreme highs and lows of blood sugar exhaust the body’s cells. In order to protect themselves, they shut down the ability to accept insulin, which carries glucose into the cells. This means neither insulin nor glucose can get into the cells. As a result, sugar levels in the bloodstream climb too high, which is extremely inflammatory to the body and brain. This is called insulin resistance, or pre-diabetes.
The excess glucose in the bloodstream is eventually converted to fat for storage.
On the other hand, some people go too long without eating, under eat, skip meals, or only eat fruit smoothies, yogurt, and other light but sugary snacks. They may be more subject to chronically low blood sugar, or reactive hypoglycemia.
Both high and low blood sugar profoundly impact brain function, raise inflammation, hinder sleep, and set into motion a cascade of health disorders.
What is normal blood sugar?
To know where you stand, test your fasting blood sugar with a store-bought glucometer. This means testing after you have gone at least 12 hours without eating or drinking anything other than water.
The conventional lab range for fasting blood glucose levels is usually 70 to 105 mg/dL. However, in functional medicine we look for a healthier range of between 85 and 99 and consider anything over 100 to be insulin resistance.
(The American Diabetic Association says 106 to 126 is insulin-resistant and anything above 127 is diabetes.)
Symptoms of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
- Craving for sweets
- Irritability if meals are missed
- Dependency on coffee for energy
- Becoming lightheaded if meals are missed
- Eating to relieve fatigue
- Feeling shaky, jittery, or tremulous
- Feeling agitated or nervous
- Become upset easily
- Poor memory, forgetfulness
- Blurred vision
- Insulin Resistance
If your blood sugar is below 85, you may need to eat a few bites every two to three hours and before to keep blood sugar stable. You don’t have to eat a whole meal, just a few bites of a low-carb, sugar-free snack.
It’s common for people with low blood sugar to wake up feeling anxious around 3 or 4 a.m. If this happens, work on stabilizing your blood sugar during the day and keep a snack on your nightstand. A few bites may help you fall right back to asleep.
Symptoms of high blood sugar (insulin resistance)
- Fatigue after meals
- General fatigue
- Constant hunger
- Craving for sweets that is not relieved by eating them
- Must have sweets after meals
- Waist girth equal to or larger than hip girth
- Frequent urination
- Increased appetite and thirst
- Difficulty losing weight
- Migrating aches and pains
If your blood sugar is 100 or higher you may have insulin resistance, or pre-diabetes. You need to lower your carbohydrate intake so you don’t feel sleepy after meals, avoid overeating, and refrain from snacking between meals. It’s also important to exercise regularly as this will help the cells become more sensitive to insulin. If your blood sugar is over 126 you should be screened for diabetes.
The low and high blood sugar combination
It’s very common to have symptoms of both low and high blood sugar. This is because the system has become dysregulated. In these cases, you use trial and error to find an eating plan that works for you. But either way, lowering carbohydrate consumption is often the most important step.
Consequences of blood sugar imbalances
As I mentioned, unstable blood sugar underlies almost every chronic health disorder because of how inflammatory and hormonally destabilizing it is.
Here are some of the disorders associated with unstable blood sugar:
- Adrenal fatigue (feeling constantly tired)
- Low blood pressure
- Insomnia and sleep disorders
- Hormonal deficiencies in midlife
- Chronic pain
- Chronic inflammation
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s
- Brain fog
- Memory loss
- Low libido
- Lack of focus and concentration
- Poor motivation
Ask my office about how I can help you to relieve symptoms, manage chronic health disorders, and improve memory and brain function through balancing your blood sugar.