So, that was a bit of a break! I have to be honest… I was feeling a bit scattered with everything that was going on with the launch of my 30-Day Gut Program, a giveaway, new recipe formulations and week of travel. So, I decided to take my own advice and cool it on the blogging for a minute to let myself recalibrate and come back to that creative process naturally. I find that I can either push myself past my limits and spend a whole lot of time ruminating over what to say orrrr I can listen to my body and mind and rest up so that when the creativity hits, I’m ready for it. As someone who battled out of Stage 3 adrenal fatigue, I’ve realized that it will always be something I need to be aware of. I don’t think I will ever slip all the way down that rabbit hole again, but I have learned to be more in touch with myself so that when those signs of fatigue start popping up, I recognize them and nip them in the bud before they spiral out of control. Hence, the delay in our series. So, without further ado…
In our stress series so far, we’ve covered two out of the four contexts associated with HPA-Axis dysregulation and now we are on to the third! I think it’s important for us to talk about all the ways that stress can physically impact our bodies because it’s so underrated when compared to the popular conception of emotional stress, yet equally important to the overall scheme. In today’s post, we are discussing the topic of blood sugar regulation and why it is often referred to as the Great Imitator.
What do I mean by that? Blood Sugar Dysregulation, whether that means you are experiencing high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) or low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or both (reactive hypoglycemia) means that the system which turns your ‘food to fuel’ is broken and needs some repair. Unfortunately, when this system is in disarray, it is very stressful for your body and it presents many symptoms that are consistent with other conditions like depression, anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, behavioral problems, and sugar addiction. Without food, your body can only live for a short while, so it prioritizes this need pretty high. But, similar to other pathways of stress, blood sugar dysregulation can also be CAUSED by stressors as well, including physical and emotional. So once again, we find ourselves in a cyclical pattern of the chicken or the egg. Some of the ways that our gluco-regulatory system (blood sugar) gets dysfunctional include high carbohydrate diets, insulin resistance, cortisol resistance, high emotional or mental stress and high physical stress. There are plenty more, but for the purposes of this post, we’ll stick to the ones that arise out of chronic stress, which is usually low blood sugar and reactive blood sugar. In a normal functioning system, you eat food which generally raises blood sugar as nutrients are shuttled from your small intestine and into your blood stream. As this occurs, the hormone insulin is stimulated and released from the pancreas to move those nutrients into your cells where they can then be used to make energy to support all your bodily processes. As the sugar in your bloodstream decreases, your body will stimulate glucagon (stored sugar) in your liver to maintain normal levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood without having to eat and you can then go a few hours in between meals until you begin to feel hunger signals like an empty or growling stomach.
So what happens when this system gets thrown off? Well, a quite a few things honestly, but in regards to stress, it comes back to our old friend cortisol. Remember, we are talking about the long term, chronic effects of cortisol here, not the short, acute effects that you feel in an emergency scenario. After repeated releases of cortisol, the cells that respond to its messages begin to become somewhat dampened. Similar to insulin resistance, cortisol may be knocking on the door, but no one is answering cortisol resistance can occur and then, regardless of the cortisol your body is producing, your cells are not able to respond accordingly. One of cortisol’s main jobs is to raise blood sugar by mobilizing stores from your liver and stimulating the process of gluconeogenesis. It may sound like a big word, but it just means that your body has the ability to turn fats and proteins into usable glucose via chemical processes. If this chain is broken because your cells aren’t receiving adequate amounts of cortisol, despite the fact that it is being made by your adrenals, the cue to raise blood sugar isn’t received either and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) results. In very scientific terms, we often call this “h-angry.” *pauses for laugh. One of the other ways that stress can altar blood sugar actually involves insulin resistance and hyperglycemia with symptoms of low blood sugar. Huh? Well, one of the ways that cortisol makes sure you are ready for fight-or-flight is to keep blood glucose high so that you can use it for increases energy needs. It does this by essentially dampening your cells response to insulin so that blood sugar continues to circulate rather than be pushed into cells for storage, which is what insulin does. Cortisol then can make you temporarily insulin resistant, which is fine short term, but when we are in a constant state of worry or bombarding our body with physical stress, cortisol remains higher than normal and we become metabolically similar to a diabetic. That means, regardless of the food we are consuming, we may still feel hungry because insulin is not able to push that energy into our cells where we can use it. If you’ve ever eaten a regular sized meal and still felt hungry after or felt starving every hour or two, you are probably experiencing the effects of long term raised cortisol. Unfortunately, low and high blood sugar are stressful to the body as well and often stimulate the stress-response in your body as well triggering hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. So how do we put a stop to this cycle? Well, there are a few ways to balance out this delicate system, but the two that I find the most effective are to A. Eat every couple of hours (1-2) during the beginning stages of healing to ensure that you are supplying your cells with the energy they need so they aren’t triggering more cortisol to the job done and B. Avoid high carbohydrate meals and stick to high fiber options paired with a health source of fat to avoid erratic spikes and plunges in blood sugar. Good options for carbohydrates as you begin to heal blood sugar dysregulation include: all vegetables including root and starchy, small portions of low glycemic fruits such as berries and apples, sweet, red and yellow potatoes, soaked or sprouted legumes (if tolerated) and raw or fermented dairy.
The biggest player in stabilizing blood sugar levels, aside from avoiding highly processed sugary foods, is going to be getting a handle on whatever it is that is stressing your body out. Whether it’s emotional stress or physical stress, digging into what’s going on and addressing it will help your body to regulate on it’s own while you support it. In our last post on stress, we will be covering emotional and mental stress and I will be giving you my top tips for learning to associate with stress in a different manner. Until then, work on calming down that cortisol and look back to our other posts in this series for tips on minimizing cortisol dysregulation. See you next time!