Blood sugar, stress and what you can do about it
What are blood glucose levels?
Most of the things that we eat, including carbs and protein, get broken down into glucose. After this glucose goes into our bloodstream, which our body uses for energy. The blood glucose that isn’t used by our bodies and cells can be stored. It can be stored in our tissues and our muscles and it can also be stored as fat.
Interestingly our body uses blood glucose, but our hormones help manage it. Hormones help to manage, balance, and stabilize our blood sugar. Throughout our lives different things that we do can also influence that.
Many believe that a blood sugar problem is only for diabetics and prediabetics. So many people believe that they don’t have to think about their blood sugar, but it’s so much bigger than that.
Do I have blood sugar issues?
One of the main things you realise with blood sugar issues are energy issues. If you have any fatigue at all, your blood sugar could be playing a part, especially after meals. If you feel like you can’t go very long without food for around three to four hours, then you might have some blood sugar issues going on.
Constant cravings for carbs and caffeine is another indicator, as well as getting irritable and angry after not eating food for a while.
Having a hard time falling asleep and sleep interruption can be a symptom too. Your blood sugar might be waking you up in the middle of the night, because your body is trying to bring your blood sugar up to where it’s supposed to be.
Generally blood sugar issues can show up differently for different people. Everyone might have slightly different symptoms. Some might have brain fog, headaches or mood swings.
Continuous glucose monitors can be super helpful. Over time you can start noticing how your body reacts to certain foods. Something you think might make your blood sugar spike can turn out to be totally stable in your body.
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Blood sugar and stress
Blood sugar and stress have a really strong relationship and the two influence each other. It’s crazy, because the foods that you eat can influence your blood sugar less than the stress in your life.
Blood sugar levels can also impact your symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. It influences the hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain and especially brain fog and energy. Again this is because stress and blood sugar have a very close relationship.
You might think, “Oh, I’m not stressed”, but other things in your life can be taking your blood sugar out of balance.
There are also different types of stress. There’s the emotional, the mental and the physiological biochemical stress, for example running or over-exercising.
Physical stress is especially interesting, because we have always been taught that exercise is good for us. So intuitively we think that if it’s good for us the more we do is better, but that’s not necessarily true. That can actually be adding more stress to the body than we need.
Environmental toxins are another big stressor, as well as food sensitivities. If you are eating foods that your body doesn’t like again and again, your body’s chronic responses can add another layer of stress.
A lot of fad diets can lead to nutrient deficiencies and insufficiencies, because people are heavily restricting certain food groups or macronutrients and they’re not getting enough. That can add stress on the body as well, because it’s not getting what it needs to repair and do its job.
That’s when your body gets stressed out, because it doesn’t have what it needs and starts getting it from other places. So your body starts breaking down and maybe using other tissues to get the nutrients that it needs.
Additionally not getting enough calories and exercising too much is a big stressor that we often don’t think about. Every body is going to react differently to that concept, but especially women midlife tend to find that this causes too much stress on the body. Here you have stress that influences your blood sugar and at the same time your hormones are declining since somewhere in your thirties.
“Too much exercise can add stress and influence your blood sugar.”
Everybody is going to experience this differently, yet hormones like estrogen support insulin sensitivity and insulin is the hormone that helps tuck away the blood sugar and helps balance our blood sugar levels.
As we get older our hormones shift. This also means that our nutritional needs shift. It’s not just calories in calories out. If you are eating foods that are challenging your insulin, which is already being challenged, because of your declining estrogen levels, it’s so much harder for insulin to do its job. So what’s much more important than the calories is the question whether it’s nutrient dense and if it spikes your blood sugar, which you don’t want.
How does your body respond to the food? Is it right for you at this stage of your life? It might have worked for you 20 years ago or for your partner or friend who is in a different stage of life, but with different hormones everyone is going to have a different reaction to the same food.
Another really big stressor is inflammation. Inflammation and blood sugar are really closely related as well. If you have chronic inflammation in your body it will influence how well your glucose is getting in the cells, which is where we need it to go to get energy.
Inflammation can create a vicious circle. If your blood sugars are high that can create inflammation. Then your inflammation causes your blood sugar to go even higher.
That comes back to energy issues that are closely related to blood sugar and stem from our cells not getting the energy that we need. Which leads to us having this constant feeling of hunger and feeling like we don’t have energy and need more food.
It might also be an issue of energy actually getting into our cells. We might have created a state of inflammation, due to high blood sugar or something else. So it takes time to figure out and sometimes you need to approach your health from multiple different angles.
We also have a lot of hidden stressors that we might not know about, which are influencing our stressors. They can add to our total stress load and make us less resilient.
What you can do to balance your blood sugar
Try to start with having regular meals and start noticing how you feel between those meals. Do you have enough energy?
You can help with energy between meals by making sure that you get enough protein, fibre and fat. Notice the mention of fibre and not carbs. The carbs that you’re choosing need to have high fibre and you want nutrient density in your meal. Having that balance in your meals is going to help keep your energy stable.
If you’re having more regular meals some women need snacks in between to keep their blood sugar stable. Eventually your body gets used to having a stable blood sugar and you can have a different strategy after that.
If you have energy drops during the day, are craving coffee, sugar and other carbs try eating your breakfast earlier, within an hour of getting up.
Another important thing is sleep. A good night’s sleep is going to influence how well your body can manage glucose the next day. The two have a very close relationship, so if you’re paying attention to getting good quality and consistent sleep, right off the bat you will be able to handle your blood sugar better.
Movement and exercise help as well, because this helps your body to better use blood sugar. So having a walk after a meal can be really nice.
Usually exercising in the morning can be really good for your blood sugar, but it’s also about finding out what’s right for you, because everyone is going to be different here. Working in movement throughout your day, whether it’s exercise or any other movement like walking is great for your blood sugar. That can often make a big difference alone.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, manage, or treat disease or serious conditions. Always check with your doctor before making any changes. It’s important to consult a well-informed health practitioner for personal advice about your situation before relying on general information — we’re all wonderfully unique.
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Laurie Villarreal, FNLP, CHWC, FNS, LMC, CPT, RYT
Hi, I'm Laurie, a functional nutritionist and health coach, athlete, dog-mom, and biohacking adventure-lover. After having struggled for years to find lasting solutions for my own debilitating hormone-related symptoms, I created my online practice to begin helping other active, driven women get the support they need. I now help women around the world elevate their health, energy, business and life by optimizing their hormones with personalized nutrition and lifestyle tweaks. Together, we discover new tools and strategies that keep you showing up at your best so you can play even bigger in your life and work.
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