Blood sugar is tied to many aspects of health. Because multiple hormones function together to manage blood sugar, you can have blood sugar readings well within the normal range, but still have symptoms of so-called blood sugar imbalances. That’s because your hormones and neurotransmitters could be trying to compensate in order to keep the blood sugar in normal range. Dysglycemia or blood sugar imbalances can throw off hormone balances and brain functions.
There are many ways to test for how well your body works with blood sugar. One of the most common ways is fasting blood sugar where you go and get your blood drawn after 8-12 hours of not eating or drinking. The reference range is between 70 and 99 mg/dL. This test is 60% sensitive and 90% specific, which means that it is good at ruling out diseases, but not so much telling if there are hidden diseases. In fact, some studies found that people who are at the higher end of this spectrum, with blood sugar more than 90 mg/ml, fare worse than people who are in the middle in terms of diabetes risk: (study and study).
What really matters with blood sugar is how well your body is able to take up and use blood glucose for its normal functions. You know you have perfect blood sugar balance, i.e. no dysglycemia if your blood sugar returns to baseline fasting levels soon after you eat, regardless of what you eat. Also, if you have perfect hormone balance, brain function, and are free of blood sugar imbalance symptoms.
Blood sugar regulation is quite individual. It’s partly genetics, but lifestyle and nutrition has a lot to do with it. Many genetic variations are associated with increased risks of diabetes. However, because genetics load the gun and environment pulls the trigger, your diet, lifestyle and nutrition can override your genetics. Gut bacteria (which is considered as part of your environment) is also involved in regulation of blood sugar. Equally important would be how you eat, how you live, how well you sleep, and your hormones.
Conversely, it is very important to maintain blood sugar for health and hormone balance. This is especially the case if you want to lose weight or if you are approaching menopause.
Here are ten symptoms that show you may have problems with your blood sugar:
- Acne. Another name for acne is “diabetes of the skin.” Many people (me included) clear up their acne after taking on a diet that stabilizes their blood sugar. This is even more clearly demonstrated in Dr. Loren Cordain’s Dietary Cure for Acne. This has been clearly demonstrated both through biochemical mechanisms and in human trials (reference).
- Brain fog, or in general… poor brain functions. The brain likes a steady supply of fuel (glucose or ketones). And Alzheimer’s is called type III diabetes. Research shows that insulin resistance could be linked to risks of age-related dementia (reference).
- Mood swings or anxiety can be a result from low or unstable blood sugar.
- Waking up at 3 – 4 AM with heart racing and sometimes hunger could be caused by too low blood sugar.
- Carb cravings can also be caused by too low blood sugar or insulin resistance.
- Any symptoms relieved by eating.
- Fatigue 2 hours after eating, often around 2 hour post-meal. Another sign of this is needing coffee around 3 PM (this could also have something to do with imperfect digestive functions, so if a dose of digestive enzymes take this problem away, it’s not your blood sugar.)
- You are stressed out. This can cause misregulations of cortisol levels, which often result in misregulation of blood sugar.
- You wake up tired even though you got enough sleep.
- You are sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation immediately leads to insulin resistance.
High blood sugar can cause low blood sugar. That might sound counterintuitive, but someone with dysglycemia will have high blood sugar following a high glycemic impact meal. Then, their pancreas will release a lot of insulin to lower that blood sugar. This process could cause a dip in blood sugar soon after, as we commonly know as “sugar crash.” For some, this could manifest in the form of anxiety, hunger, sleepiness, craving for coffee or high carb foods. When the person reaches for high carb foods like donuts and bread every time they have low blood sugar, it becomes a vicious cycle that could lead to insulin resistance and diabetes.
Some people may have the genetics or lifestyle that allow them to tolerate high carbohydrate diets without developing insulin resistance. This may explain why some groups of people can stay very healthy with a high carb low fat diet, whereas others can’t. Therefore, eating a high carb diet may not necessarily be harmful to everyone. It is however important to get regular tests as well as to listen to your body to determine if that’s the case for you. If you have symptoms or if your lab tests came back suboptimal, then it will be critical for your health to adjust your diet and lifestyle to stabilize your blood sugar.