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 chronic 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.
Getting Into the Details
We are all aware that when one consumes carbs, their blood glucose increases. In response to this, one’s pancreas releases insulin, a hormone that facilitates glucose transport into the body’s cells. It also sends signals to one’s liver to convert 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 in 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 in 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 our blood glucose levels cannot be maintained at a normal range any longer (since our pancreas simply fails to keep up with the demand for insulin), we 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.
People probably heard and read about this a million times by now. How physical activity offers us and our health a wide variety of benefits. This includes things like cardiovascular health and improving the density of our bones, or even metabolic health!
But exercising also helps us bring about an improvement in our insulin sensitivity. It does this through a direct action on our 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. People 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: that 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.
Even a Little is Enough
But before we start to despair, we need to know that even short activity-filled breaks during our desk work (or any other thing we 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 that 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 acute stress which is caused by an actual survival dilemma. In fact, in such situations, it can be practically life-saving.
But Here’s The Catch
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), can have a huge impact on the health of our immune system and metabolism.
Chronic stress can also cause insulin resistance, mediated indirectly via 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 pancreas’ 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, one needs 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. As a matter of fact, sleeping less than 6 hours each night increases one’s chances of type II by as much as 50%, which 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 key contributors to the condition. They also play a crucial role in 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 we 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’.
As we explained, the life choices we make and the lifestyle habits we adopt have an even bigger role to play in regulating and maintaining blood sugar level responses and insulin sensitivity. So, for those who struggle with the regulation of these two things, take note.
Implementing more and more drastic dietary changes (like eating less and fewer carbs or avoiding them altogether) is not the best choice here.
In fact, insufficient carbohydrate intake can do more harm than good. We’d be missing out on some of the most essential minerals, vitamins, fiber, phytochemicals, and more.
Instead, we’d do much better to concentrate on our activity (and inactivity) levels, our sleep patterns, and our 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 we should binge on whatever comes to mind. Most experts believe a combination of all of these is the perfect way to maintain not just our insulin or blood sugars, but our overall health and well-being too. Stay mindful and healthy, dear readers.