How Does Your Blood Sugar Work?

by lydia on July 30, 2012

What on earth is blood sugar and why does it matter? I realize some people may not even understand what their bodies blood sugar does or why it matters. Perhaps you only think someone who is diabetic needs to worry about their blood sugar, but that’s not actually true. We all need to have balanced blood sugar levels or we could potentially end up diabetic as well. Our blood sugar is a key foundation of our overall health, so many functions in the body depend on healthy blood sugar.

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Blood sugar balance (or blood glucose level) is one of the 2 most tightly regulated systems in the body, with the other being blood pH. Having a normal healthy functioning blood sugar is key to optimal health, regulating so many functions within the body. Normal blood sugar range is between 80 to 100 mg/dL with 89.9 mg/dL as a good baseline, some suggest even lower levels are optimal such as 70-85.

‘The lower you can maintain your blood glucose levels in a healthy and functional way, without experiencing low-blood-sugar symptoms, the better off you are. Those people who are optimally healthy should maintain a range between 70 and 85 mg/dL or lower; this is equivalent to no more than 1 teaspoon of sugar, or about 5 g or 20 kcal, total. Keep in mind that the body is adamant about maintaining the minimal necessary levels of glucose at any given time because glucose is inherently damaging to vessels, organs and tissues in the body. The less glucose that is absolutely necessary the better.’ ~ Nora Gedgaudas,’Primal Body, Primal Mind

When we eat a meal, the nutrients in that meal (proteins, fats, carbohydrates) are broken down by the digestive system. The starches from carbohydrates convert to glucose. The bloodstream can only handle about 5 grams of glucose at any one time, which is equal to 1 teaspoon (1). How much our glucose levels go up, depends on how much glucose/carbs/sugars we eat in that meal. The excess glucose in the bloodstream causes the beta cells of the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin’s actual main biological function is to store away excess nutrients in case of a famine. It also regulates the coordination of energy stores with life span and reproduction (2). Lowering glucose is simply a side effect of insulin, one it was never intended to be used over and over in the emergency way it is today. Our ancient ancestors certainly never had this emergency need to lower blood sugar due to excess sugar/starch consumption repeatedly, day in and day out. Insulin is released as needed to keep the blood sugar in normal range, and help to get glucose into the cells. We need the insulin to transport the nutrients, but we do not need very much. Glucose is a source of fuel, however too much is toxic to the body. The body actually works very hard to get it out of the bloodstream quickly because of this very fact.

So, in between meals the blood sugar may start to dip down a little bit, then the alpha cells of the pancreas will release glucagon to bring it back up to baseline. Glucose has to be transported into the cells with insulin, it transports fuel into the cells for energy. Cells have receptor sites that the insulin ‘unlocks’ to carry the glucose into the mitochondria, and then a whole chain of metabolic events take off and they require certain nutrients to take place. Chromium is needed, along with B vitamins and magnesium. All of which are responsible for generating usable energy through the formation of ATP. Keep in mind, that the majority of glucose we are getting today is a simple sugar that is formed by the breakdown of all carbohydrates in the intestines and stomach. Our bodies can actually manufacture glucose without dietary carbohydrates being broken down into glucose.

When you have excess glucose in the blood stream (more than 5 grams), by consuming more carbohydrates (think starchy carbs or sugars) than what is immediately needed, insulin is produced and one of 3 things happen; either the glucose is used immediately. Or, if there is too much to use up right away, the liver will be stimulated to convert glucose to glycogen and store it.

Lastly, muscle fibers can convert glucose to glycogen and store it. When we exercise we can use up our glucose stores. If the liver and muscle fibers stores are full, the liver converts the remaining glucose to triglycerides and cholesterol for storage or body fat. (Believe it not, high triglycerides are due to excess sugar/starch consumption). It does not take much to fill up the body’s glucose storage bank. If one is to consume excess carbohydrates (starches/sugars) on a regular basis and is not active they are likely to gain weight. When carbohydrate consumption is reduced along with increased activity levels the fat reserves are converted back to fatty acids for fuel and this can produce weight loss. If your body is storing fat, this could mean that the glucagon is not being released into the blood as it should be. It can also mean you are not able to utilize all the ‘energy’ you are supplying to your body through your diet.

(*Note -There can be causes other than diet that increase blood sugar levels, such as the stress hormones, lack of sleep or inadequate sleep, infections and trauma.)

When blood sugar is low, glucagon comes into play. Glucagon is the opposite hormone of insulin, it is the body’s messenger to metabolize or use fat. In the presence of low blood sugar, glucagon, released from the alpha cells of the pancreas, stimulates the liver to convert glycogen back to glucose to be released into the bloodstream (a process called, glycogenolysis). Muscles free up glucose for their own use when blood sugar is low. Triglycerides and cholesterol can be converted back to glucose and released into the bloodstream.

Insulin Resistance

Dictionary Series - Health: diabetes

How Your Body Progresses Into Various Stages of Blood Sugar Dysregulation

  • Reactive Hypoglycemia is when you have low blood glucose levels due to an over-reactive attempt of the body to control increasing blood sugar levels. This is due to a diet high in refined carbohydrates or a high glycemic diet. If this is not remedied through dietary changes it can lead to;
  • Insulin Resistance or Prediabetes (Syndrome X) -A condition where insulin becomes less effective at lowering blood sugar. Chronically high insulin levels lead to insulin resistance as the cell receptor sites for insulin become blocked. If this is not remedied by dietary changes it can lead to;
  • Hyperglycemia is when consistently elevated blood glucose levels circulate in the blood plasma, due to the inability of cells to properly utilize insulin. Someone with a consistent BGL range between 100-126 mg/dL (according to the American Diabetes Guidelines) is considered hyperglycemic (3). If this is not remedied through dietary changes it can lead to;
  • Type II Diabetes – this is due to continued insulin resistance that causes the beta cells of the pancreas to continue pumping out insulin, and eventually they become completely exhausted to the point where they no longer can produce insulin. Chronic hyperglycemia is the medical marker for Type 2 diabetes.

Any time your cell is exposed to this excess of insulin, it becomes more insulin resistant. It’s that simple. Why? When the excess glucose won’t be taken by the cells, the liver or the muscles or fats cells because they are full, that means it has nowhere to go, so it’s left circulating in the blood stream. Which means that the pancreas will now trigger even more insulin to get it to go somewhere, as this is it’s job. Eventually, the glucose will have to get out of the bloodstream and get stored. But you can see the endless spiral towards insulin resistance. Eating more sugar causes one to crave more sugar, but then becomes a very nasty vicious debilitating cycle.

Let’s take a look at a typical scenario. For example, you have someone that eats a high carbohydrate diet. At breakfast your glucose levels begin to soar so the pancreas pumps out insulin to lower the blood sugar, because again, too much sugar in the blood is toxic and it can’t stay there. So it has to either be used or stored. Insulin attempts to take the glucose into the cell, but if the cell is full, it won’t take it. Less than 1 percent of the pancreas is devoted to insulin production. Eventually the pancreas will wear out and not be able to keep producing insulin. So now, after the breakfast, once the high blood sugar gets lowered by insulin, the blood sugars will then plummet and now glucagon needs to bring it back up again. The adrenals also release cortisol when blood sugar gets too low to help bring it back up again. Repeat this scenario over the course of a day, then over a week or even 24/7 for most Americans and you are on your way to insulin resistance and Type II diabetes. (remember the blood stream can only handle 5 grams of glucose at a time before it needs to be lowered, that is 1 teaspoon, most of us eat well above that amount in a given meal – more glucose equals more insulin needed).

Want To Learn More?

Are you concerned about the possibility of diabetes in your future? Do you know someone affected by hypoglycemia?

Learn more about your own unique metabolic health via a hair tissue mineral analysis today!

 

[Sources: (1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_sugar   (2)   Rosedale, R. August 1999. “Insulin and It’s Metabolic Effects.”, Notes from my coursework through NTA, The Definitive Guide to Insulin, Blood Sugar & Type 2 Diabetes, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_glucose_regulation]
 

 

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{ 3 comments }

Kristina July 31, 2012 at 8:31 am

I assume under “hyperglycemia” you mean a FASTING BGL not post meal?

lydia August 2, 2012 at 7:00 am

Kristina,

No, it’s a number based on the average of a a daily range of blood glucose tests using a monitor.

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/a1c-test/MY00142/

LJ February 20, 2016 at 10:19 pm

Thanks for this, I know it’s several years old, but this explanation has been the best thus far for me to understand how blood sugar actually works. I’m learning now to reduce my Glucose numbers. Ive reduced my A1C from 12.2 to 6.8 and with this new information, I believe I can lower it even more.

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