How Blood Sugar Affects The Adrenals & Endocrine System

by lydia on August 14, 2012

Let’s discuss why correcting blood sugar imbalances first is critical to successfully managing any adrenal or endocrine issues. There seem to be a lot of women that have not yet understood how important getting their blood sugar regulated is to their overall hormonal health. Obviously, other factors come into play such as digestion/microbial balance, environment/toxins, heredity and so on. However, addressing blood sugar can be a first and foremost hurdle to overcome in order to begin to set the endocrine system up for recovery and balance.

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The adrenal glands play a role in blood sugar regulation via the glucocorticoids. Glucocorticoids are hormones released by the adrenal glands used in glucose metabolism. For the adrenals to take part in blood sugar it’s because of an emergency. In the presence of stress, your adrenal glands will release cortisol. Cortisol stimulates several processes that all work together to increase and maintain normal blood sugar levels, to meet your body’s demands for energy. When the adrenals trigger due to stress, this is when the  catecholamines kick in. Such as, adrenaline (epinephrine) which stimulates the liver to convert glycogen back to glucose for release into the bloodstream. Nordrenalin (norepinephrine) shuttles blood away from the deep organs and to the muscles and heart for action. When you have fatigued adrenal glands, cortisol levels drop and make it difficult to maintain normal blood sugar levels. People with adrenal fatigue tend to have low blood sugar. Low blood sugar is another stressful situation that can further tax your adrenal glands.

The common scenario of eating excess sugars/starches, even if they are healthier options, is that the blood sugar will spike high and insulin will come in to quickly deal with the excess of glucose in the bloodstream, since that is a toxic situation. Then in turn the blood sugar will drop or crash after such an insulin spike. Now the adrenals have to respond to bring the blood sugar back up. Do this again and again, day in and day out like most Americans do and you are killing your adrenal function. Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia leads to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance increases cortisol levels. If the cells are resisting insulin, that means the are resisting the glucose or energy. The hypothalamus will then produce more cortico releasing hormone (CRH), which then produces more cortisol and more glucose in the blood, and more insulin to resist. Insulin resistance doesn’t allow the energy to get into the cell. Knowing this, the hypothalamus then produces more CRH, which then produces more glucose, more insulin and increased cortisol. You can see how it is a vicious cycle. This cycle will catabolize the body to death. This does not benefit the rest of the endocrine system, as this process steals nutrients affecting all the anabolic sex hormones. Excess insulin in the bloodstream also causes the ovaries to produce excess testosterone, thereby affecting the overall sex hormone balance.

Remove this situation/stressor by greatly reducing sugar/starch consumption and you can take that burden off of the adrenals and give them a chance to recover. You reduce and remove insulin resistance by diet primarily, it’s what started the vicious cycle in the first place.

Keep in mind, when the adrenals are shot, over time, the thyroid takes a hit as well, along with the rest of the endocrine system? Healthy thyroid function is dependent on healthy adrenal function. Constant blood sugar swings stress the adrenal glands, which in turn drag down function of the pituitary gland, ultimately affecting thyroid health. Hypothyroidism/low thyroid function can slow the response of insulin to elevated blood sugar. This makes it so that glucose is slow to get into the cells, if you add that to insulin resistance it’s a double whammy. Since low thyroid function does this, it may not show up on a blood test as dysregulation, even though one may experience symptoms of hypoglycemia. The hypothalamus sees this as hypoglycemia and signals the adrenals to raise the blood sugar. This pattern will squelch that feedback loop of communication between the pituitary and the adrenals.

In summary, it is therefore absolutely critical to learn how to manage one’s blood sugar before it’s too late, and plethora of dysbiosis and dysfunction sets in. If you need help/guidance in getting your blood sugar managed check out my ‘Revitalize Your Health‘ online course. Much more than just any weight loss program, it’s like learning a whole new lifestyle, this course will equip you with the tools to get on the path to overall health! (Learn more, click on the banner below).

[Sources: Notes from my coursework through NTA;  'Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? When My Lab Tests Are Normal', Datis Kharrazian.]

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Haley August 15, 2012 at 9:25 pm

I read this article probably three times, the endocrine system is so complex! I am still confused as to why you treat low blood sugar and high blood sugar the same. I am also wondering if low blood sugar could be caused by a restricted diet…maybe not eating enough during the day? or if being so restricted on any amounts of fructose in fruits or grains (completely knocking out any source of sugar) can cause low blood sugar? I probably sound silly in my questions, I am just in the midst of a high-DHEA research!

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lydia August 16, 2012 at 6:11 am

Haley,

Low blood sugar happens after the blood sugar soaring up too high from eating too many starches/sugars. Over time, this becomes insulin resistance and the blood sugar remains too high all the time. Low blood sugar drops or hypoglycemia sets the stage for eventual chronic high blood sugar. Check out this post where I explain how the blood sugar works;

http://divinehealthfromtheinsideout.com/2012/07/how-does-your-blood-sugar-work/

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Audrey August 24, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Most people don’t realize that carrying extra weight around their waist is a sign of insulin resistance and a predictor of diabetes. I just read a great book that helped me realize I needed to really understand what effect my food was having on my blood sugar levels (It’s called, Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution–I did a blog post about it.) I knew I better start figuring out what my blood sugar was up to because I fit the description of insulin resistance (I have excess weight around my waist). After reading this book I decided to buy a blood monitor at Walmart for $8 and take my blood sugar readings five times a day. Upon waking, when I go to sleep, before I eat and 2 hours after I eat. I discovered that just a few peach slices throws my insulin out of whack and put me in fat storage mode. From testing my blood sugar I realized I have insulin resistance and have to be really careful with carbohydrates and change my diet.

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Anne October 7, 2013 at 3:25 pm

I have insulin resistance. How does checking your blood sugar daily help you? Mine is always at a normal reading.

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Audrey October 7, 2013 at 5:46 pm

I would be interested to find out what you consider “normal” for your blood sugar reading. According to Dr. Bernstein’s book normal blood sugar is 83 mg/dl. Most doctors will tell diabetics that higher readings up to 120 mg/dl are okay. If you read Dr. Bernstein’s book you will understand why this kind of thinking is dangerous. You are doing damage to your body when you don’t keep your blood sugar at normal levels.

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Harmony September 21, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Hi there! I stumbled on your blog after googling blood sugar and adrenal fatigue. You mention hypoglycemia, but what I have is hyperglycemia. Do you have any info on that? Thank u!

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Lilia December 29, 2013 at 10:43 am

I am type II diabetic and I do maintain healthy levels (most of the time). However during the holidays I notice when I am being bad my sugars soar and then plummet. After reading this article I understand it a bit better somewhat, but sometimes my sugars plummet even though I am not eating anything that would cause my levels to spike so radically. I’ve told my doctor about it and am told to simply monitor my sugars after each meal to see when it occurs. This isn’t a solution to me so I’m wondering if anyone else experiences similar situations?

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Sherry Smith May 1, 2014 at 11:54 am

Hi Lilia, I am a type 2 as well. I just find that my body is super sensitive to some foods, like noodles or foods that are more processed than whole grains like brown rice or quinoa. I cannot compare myself to others, what they can eat, or what is the considered healthy, I have had to figure out what my body needs or cannot handle. I have done best on a paleo type diet with very little grains and sugars. I use stevia almost exclusively for sweetening, even in baking. I also find eating lots of proteins helps my blood sugars stay more even. I find I cannot cheat on my diet or it only hurts me! I am trying a new way of eating with Trim Healhty Mama. You might look into it. Good luck!

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lydia May 1, 2014 at 11:55 am

Hi Sherry! It’s great that you are finding what works for you, and it sounds like you are on the right track! Funny you should mention, I just joined the Trim Healthy Mama group to see what it’s all about. Thanks for stopping by!

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Sherry Smith May 1, 2014 at 12:04 pm

I am still learning (there is a lot to learn in THM) but it seems they are on the right track, essentially not eating sugar and very low carb keeps your blood sugar even. They have other methods to loose weight as in not mixing fats and carbs. There are a few things I don’t agree with like using truvia or other fake ingredients, but for the most part I like their mentality. The book is full of info!

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lydia May 1, 2014 at 2:04 pm

I hope it works well for you Sherry! Good luck!

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Jen Springer December 29, 2013 at 11:25 am

Wow, couldn’t have written this better! This is absolutely 100% true. If a woman has ANY hormone imbalance, blood sugar balance is the best place to start. The adrenals cannot recover without control of what goes on the fork!

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Vicky December 29, 2013 at 6:24 pm

Just to confuse you, my son has congenital hyperinsulinism as a result of a genetic mutation of the glucokinase … So he lives with lows… Any suggestions on diets would be welcome (he is tube fed)

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