Here’s what happens when our blood sugar is not properly balanced.
When our brains detect glucose in the blood stream, as a result of digesting food, our pancreases secrete insulin to help the transportation of glucose into the cells for metabolism, or for conversion to glycogen or fat. Consequently, this causes a dip in blood-sugar. When our brains detect such a dip, they prompt our bodies to call for food: hence we feel hungry.
The more we can even out the dips in blood-sugar, the more comfortable we are, feeling satisfied or fuller for longer. This is our ideal situation. It is created by eating foods that will deliver a low GL meal, causing the rate of food conversion to provide a steady release of glucose. It means that our food provides a supply of energy at the same rate we need it, until eventually it is used up. Our bodies then invoke their hunger response, prompting us to eat again to maintain the glucose / energy supply.
When we consume high GI foods or high GL meals that generate glucose very quickly, at a pace much faster than our bodies require energy, we secrete insulin in large quantities, and fast! Having too much glucose in our blood streams isn’t a good thing! For now, picture this: we eat a meal rich in refined carbohydrates, our blood is saturated with glucose, we secrete lots of insulin to remove the excess glucose which is converted to glycogen or fat. Our blood-sugar dips again very quickly, and we are hungry again in no time at all.
We easily find ourselves in a cycle of binging and rapid hungering, needing to eat again very quickly. In fact our bodies never seem to be satisfied and because we become accustomed to needing more glucose, it tends to be those very sweet foods that our bodies crave.
So the very best we can hope to experience if we don’t eat to control our blood sugar levels is frequent hunger, food cravings, especially for sweet and sugary foods, and the resultant apple-shape or muffin top!
Sadly, the story doesn’t end at that!
When we have low-blood sugar – either ongoing or as a result of some of the lows experienced as a result of large fluctuations – our bodies will conserve as much glucose as they can for our brains. This means that other parts of our bodies may be deprived until another source of glucose can be found – either from eating, or as a result of our livers releasing some from glycogen or from fat stores. We may experience energy dips, especially mid-morning or mid-afternoon. We may also experience general tiredness, fatigue, confusion and an inability to concentrate, irritability, an inability to communicate well, or even “the shakes”. Many cases of insomnia, particularly characterised by waking in the middle of the night, are due to low blood sugar – causing us to wake. Even though we don’t always recognise the reason or take appropriate action, it is a prompt for us to feed our bodies again.
When we continue to eat sugars and refined carbohydrates or high GI foods, our bodies have to secrete lots and lots of insulin, too much and too often. The healthy process as we have described above, in which insulin helps our cells to absorb the glucose through the cell walls, begins to break down. The cell walls no longer respond to the insulin, and the glucose remains in the blood stream at too high levels. This is called “insulin resistance”, and it is effectively our inability to process glucose properly. This condition has different names, depending on where in the world you live. You may have heard it called “Metabolic Syndrome”? Or “Syndrome X”? Cardiometabolic Syndrome? Reaven’s Syndrome? Or in Australia you may know it as CHAOS, which is a brilliantly descriptive name for its consequences!
Insulin resistance is essentially a combination of medical disorders that, when occurring together, increase the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, strokes and diabetes. It is associated with high levels of triglycerides (a type of fat) in the blood stream, cholesterol problems, and high blood pressure. It is not to be taken at all lightly: in general, someone having insulin resistance is twice as likely to develop heart disease and five times as likely to develop diabetes as someone with normal insulin function.