Insulin is made in the pancreas, and people who suffer from diabetes cannot produce enough insulin. In the case of diabetes type I this is the result of auto-immune disease, where the immune system attacks the body’s own cells, in this case beta-cells on the pancreas, where insulin is manufactured. In the case of diabetes type II, the body’s cells have become resistant to insulin and do not respond anymore. The pancreas produces more and more insulin to remedy the situation and may eventually wear out, then unable to function anymore. Diabetes II is a combination of insulin resistance and a lack of insulin secretion to varying degrees.
Insulin is required to remove sugar – or glucose, to be precise – from the blood stream. First, it will ensure that the body’s cells get enough glucose to produce energy. If there is still glucose left in the blood, it will encourage the storage in the form of starch (glucagon) in the liver and muscles. These are the emergency carbohydrate stores: The liver stores can be activated by glycogen – another pancreatic hormone, which is triggered when blood sugar is low – and the muscle stores are tapped into by cortisol, a stress hormone. Any further sugar remaining in the blood will be turned into body fat and stored in the abdominal area for use during times of starvation. This is belly fat and can also become visceral fat, as it settles around the organs. It is the toxic kind of body fat that has been linked to heart disease and other chronic illnesses.
Our blood glucose level must always remain within a narrow range. As soon as it goes above or below the required level, the body will intervene as otherwise we would get into trouble: If blood glucose is too high, insulin is released to lower it. If it is too low, glycogen and cortisol trigger the release of carbohydrate from the stores to bring levels back up again. Constant ups and downs can have serious consequences for the body in the long run. Frequent and/or prolonged sugar highs mean that insulin is constantly around. This can lead to insulin resistance and ultimately diabetes. It is also pro-inflammatory, enables fat storage, and blocks fat burning.
Frequent sugar lows triggers the release of stress hormones every time. Most of us are already stressed enough, our adrenal glands are working hard, and this extra demand makes it harder for us to manage stress and stay healthy. Prolonged exposure to cortisol, too, has many adverse effects and has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, hormonal imbalances in both men and women, digestive problems and subfertility. Both insulin and cortisol are indispensable, but too much exposure can cause serious health issues, and both have knock-on-effects on other hormones. We can, however, manipulate this by knowing when and what to eat (and what not to eat).
Every time we eat, blood sugar levels rise. This can happen slowly or fast, and they can rise a little or a lot, depending on how sugary our meal was, the amount and quality of carbohydrates we had, and whether or not the meal included protein. Ideally, we should eat before blood sugar drops too low, and in a way that will prevent them from rising too high.
If you would like to learn how to balance your blood sugar levels and get in control of sugar cravings, manage stress better, achieve better hormone balance and even shed a few pounds, why not join my new online course - the 30-Day Blood Sugar Challenge - starting on 1 February 2017?