Any diet which promotes health and well-being also has the goal to regulate one’s blood glucose levels. Chronic high blood glucose levels after meals are dangerous, because they can cause severe damage to one’s body. This includes the vital organs and blood vessels.
This is precisely the reason why chronical hyperglycemia aka diabetes is connected to a higher risk of vision problems. It’s also connected to cardiovascular disease, stroke, nerve damage and kidney disease.
We are all aware that when one consumes carbs, their blood glucose increases. In response to this, one’s pancreas releases insulin, a hormone which facilitates the glucose transport into the body’s cells. It also sends signals to one’s liver to convert the glucose into triglycerides and glycogen for storage.
The hepatocytes (liver cells), through using a large array of enzymes, start by converting any excess glucose into glycogen. Which is then stored short-term into the muscle tissue and liver. When one is in need of it, this glycogen is quickly transformed back into glucose and then released into one’s blood.
This is for maintaining normal blood glucose levels. It’s also for providing the necessary energy for the cells of one’s body between meals. There is a maximum storage capacity of glycogen in one’s liver and muscle tissue. So, any surplus glucose is transformed into triglycerides and stored long-term into fat-storage cells (adipocytes).
Insulin stimulates this process as well. So, basically, when we consume a meal based on carbs, our blood sugar and blood triglycerides increase. The problem is that if those sugar levels are chronically elevated, they stimulate cell adaptation, which makes those cells less sensitive to insulin.
Which causes the pancreas to secrete even more insulin in an effort to lower those heightened blood sugar levels. This is called ‘loss of insulin sensitivity’ or ‘insulin resistance’ – namely, when one needs more insulin than usual to successfully deal with blood sugar.
And once your blood glucose levels cannot be maintained at a normal range any longer (since your pancreas simply fails to keep up with the demand for insulin), you end up developing type II diabetes.
There are plenty of diets out there for regulating those levels by moderating one’s intake of carbs and opting for low glycemic food options. But we need to understand that blood sugar responses are impacted by something more than just carb quantity and quality.
As a matter of fact, more and more proof suggests that certain lifestyle choices have an even larger impact on insulin sensitivity than our daily diets do. Read on to learn why that is.
You’ve probably heard and read about this a million times by now. About how physical activity offers you and your health a wide variety of benefits. This includes things like cardiovascular health and improving the density of your bones, or even metabolic health!
But exercising also helps you bring about an improvement in your insulin sensitivity. It does this through a direct action on your GLUT-4 receptors (glucose transport molecules) in our muscles’ individual cells. It even has an effect on the full hormone range which is related to stored energy access.
On top of all that, it regulates how one uses this energy. This metabolism boost is the reason why doing exercise makes us feel more energetic during our day. You may have also heard that regular exercising is connected to a reduced risk of diabetes to cardiovascular disease.
Quite contrarily, a sedentary lifestyle may actually induce resistance to insulin. In fact, several studies involving healthy adults (obese, overweight and athletic) have proven that even a short period such as three days due to, say, an injury) can induce insulin resistance.
This insulin resistance, induced by inactivity, is combined with increased blood pressure, impaired microvascular function, and dyslipidemia. Knowing all this, is it really a mystery why staying inactive for long periods can significantly increase one’s risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes?
The bottom line here is: physical activity can definitely increase our sensitivity to insulin. But we also need to make sure we avoid long inactivity periods. Sitting at a desk job, for example.
But before you start to despair, know that even short activity-filled breaks during your desk work (or any other thing you do which required prolonged sitting) are enough to improve one’s metabolism of glucose.
One study conducted on overweight and obese men reported that as little as 2 minutes of movement between every 20 minutes of sitting is enough to witness some positive results when it comes to insulin sensitivity.
The psychological stress which most, if not all, of us experience from time to time causes the release of glucocorticoids as well as catecholamines. The combined actions of these two essentially prioritize the most important survival functions.
This includes decision-making, perception, energy for the muscles so one can either fight or run away if needed, and even wound healing preparation. Sounds very useful, true, but here’s the bad news.
It does these things at the cost of impairing what it believes are currently non-vital functions. These can be certain aspects of our immune system. Particularly in one’s skin, kidney function, digestion, collagen formation, reproductive functions, growth, bone formation, protein synthesis, amino acid uptake, etc.
Now, cortisol (the most important stress hormone) is very useful during an acute stress which is caused by an actual survival dilemma. In fact, in such situations, it can be practically life-saving. That’s because such a situation could very well mean ‘a matter of life and death’.
Having said that, when it comes to chronic stress (when we don’t need to survive, but rather, feel anxious due to everyday situations and decisions), it can have a huge impact on the health of our immune system and metabolism.
Chronic stress can also cause insulin resistance, mediated indirectly vie heightened inflammation and directly via cortisol. One of the main features of chronic stress is increased inflammation. Some recent research reports that even acute stress may bring about insulin resistance and hyperglycemia.
In addition, cortisol can suppress the pancreases insulin secretion, as well as the liver’s glucose output. The bottom line? It would appear that both chronic and acute stress can cause insulin resistance, irrelevant of one’s daily diet.
So, if one wishes to properly regulate their blood glucose levels, they need to learn to build their own resilience to stress.
Unfortunately, according to statistics, only about 35% of Americans get the recommended 8 or more hours of sleep every night. And yet the side effects of insufficient sleep are numerous. Not only do they affect every single system in our bodies, but they also increase our risk of practically any chronic disease.
This includes insulin resistance and type II diabetes. As a matter of fact, sleeping less than 6 hours each night increases one’s chances of type II diabetes by as much as 50%, that means it doubles them!
Moreover, inadequate sleep even increased the free fatty acids in one’s blood (by up to 15-30% in men). These are a key contributor in diabetes. They also play a crucial role in the metabolic disease development.
Certain research which was presented at the Obesity Society Annual Meeting reported that, when it comes to glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, one sleepless night was worse than 6 months of a Western diet, which is typically high in fat.
Believe it or not, even half an hour less of what you need during a weeknight is sufficient for impacting one’s insulin sensitivity. And not in a small way, either. So much for the whole plan of ‘catching up’ during the weekend.
The bottom line? Proper and sufficient sleep each night (without exception) is positively vital for both blood glucose regulation and insulin sensitivity!
And since irregular or insufficient sleep also happens to be a factor in chronic stress, that just means a double blow for our immune system and metabolism health! All the more reason to get some decent ‘shut-eye’, wouldn’t you say?
Like we explained, the life choices you make and the lifestyle habits you adopt have an even bigger role to play in regulating and maintaining blood sugar level responses and insulin sensitivity. So, for those of you who struggle with the regulation of these two things, take note.
Implementing more and more drastic dietary changes (like eating less and less carbs or avoiding them altogether) is not the best choice here.
In fact, an insufficient carbohydrate intake can do you more harm than good. You’d be missing out on some of the most essential minerals, vitamins, fiber, phytochemicals, and more.
Instead, you’d do much better to concentrate on your activity (and inactivity) levels, on your sleep patterns and your overall stress levels too. They are far more important than most make them out to be. They have a far bigger role to play than any diet ever does.
However, this doesn’t mean you should binge on whatever comes to mind. Most experts believe a combination of all of these is the perfect way to maintain not just your insulin or blood sugars, but your overall health and well-being too. Stay mindful and healthy, dear readers.