In honor of World Diabetes Day, which was on November 14th, I wanted to talk about the role of chronic stress and blood sugar regulation in reducing risk for chronic diseases.
The number of people who have been diagnosed with chronic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and others has increased dramatically over the years. Not just in the United States, but all over the world.
What’s one of the best ways to reduce our risk for chronic diseases or reduce the impact of pre-diabetes/diabetes on our long-term health?
Help our body become resilient to stress, by regulating our blood sugar.
Let’s start with sugar…(this is becoming a theme for my blog posts).
Why is Sugar so Important?
Sugar or glucose is one of the most vital nutrients to support all our health goals. We need it to make energy, known as ATP, which is then is used to run every single reaction in our body. These processes dictate how we see, breathe, walk, talk, sit, think, and more.
Because sugar is so important, our body has a number of ways to make sure we have an adequate supply. These are safety mechanisms the body has developed over the course of our evolution as a species. They ensure we stay alive for generations to come.
Before I discuss these safety mechanisms, we need to understand stress.
What is Stress?
We often think about stress as something that’s external–our finances, family, or social life. But stress from the body’s perspective is as simple as too much demand and not enough resources.
Stress experienced by the body on rare occasions can actually be healthy. An example of this is exercise. During exercise, we push beyond our comfort zone to life more weight, run in less time, etc. In the right amounts, exercise can be a stress our body is able to manage properly.
However, many individuals in this country are chronically stressed–every day of every week of every month.
Did you wake up this morning unrested? This is a stressor. Did you skip breakfast and run out the door? Stressor. Did you sit through frustrating traffic, while chugging down a cup of coffee? Stressor. Deal with a rude customer, patient, or client? Stressor. Skipped lunch because you had too much work to get done? Stressor.
Do you see where I’m going with this? We all deal with stress on a consistent basis. Now, before you get stressed about your stress, know that there are ways to reduce the harm of stress on your body. There’s no way we can avoid all the stress, so we have to support our body’s ability to handle it. Resiliency is key.
The body is designed to withstand short, rare episodes of stress. Not chronic. This is why it can store sugar as long chains, called glycogen. Glycogen is stored in our liver and muscles. When our demands for energy go up–like during short stressful situations–our pancreas releases a hormone called glucagon. Glucagon goes to our liver and stimulates the breakdown of glycogen into sugar. The sugar then gets released into the bloodstream so other cells can access it.
The problem occurs when our glycogen stores run out, which is very common in people who are chronically stressed. This combined with long periods without a meal leads to dips in blood sugar that have to be remedied by stress hormones. Low blood sugar is one of the biggest stressors the body faces. This is where adrenaline and cortisol come into the picture.
Adrenaline & Cortisol
Most people associate adrenaline with roller coaster rides and haunted houses. Adrenaline is a stress hormone that breaks down glycogen into glucose and releases fat so that it can be converted to sugar. Cortisol is also released by our adrenal glands. It’s another stress hormone designed to prevent blood sugar dips. Cortisol breaks down our muscle and organ tissues into amino acids, which then get converted to sugar. Again, this sugar is released into the bloodstream to maintain our blood sugar.
If our bodies rely on adrenaline and cortisol to regulate blood sugar for long periods of time, we become chronically stressed. In other words: constant exposure to adrenaline = chronic stress. Chronic stress increases our risk for a number of health problems and diseases.
On top of this, exposure to excess levels of stress hormones makes it hard for individuals to store glycogen in their liver. This is because the body does not want the liver to be able to make glycogen when its demand for glucose is high. It doesn’t make sense for our body to try to store the very resource it needs to use immediately. This exacerbates blood sugar problems for individuals who are chronically stressed and further increases their risk for chronic diseases.
So what can you do to prevent your body from relying on stress hormones? Regulate your blood sugar by changing your eating habits!
Three Ways to Regulate your Blood Sugar for Improved Resiliency to Stress
- Eat breakfast.When you wake up from a long, overnight fast, your cortisol levels are already high. Breaking your fast by eating a meal in the morning calms the stress hormones. And no, coffee is not breakfast, no matter how much milk, creamer, or sugar you put in it!
- Stop skipping meals. I get it. Work, family, and housework are all demanding your time and are important. But you matter too! Make the choice to put your health first. Remember, you can’t continue to give from an empty cup. You’re the only person who can prioritize you. So what are you waiting for?
- Eat balanced meals. A protein, carbohydrate, and fat at each meal will keep your blood sugar stable. Balanced meals with all three of the macronutrients allows the carbohydrates in your meal to absorb more slowly and steadily. This means no spikes or subsequent dips in your blood sugar or energy.
Often, people think blood sugar regulation is only for individuals who have pre-diabetes or diabetes. This is a myth. These diagnoses (not including type 1 diabetes) are a direct result of poor blood sugar regulation over the course of many years. You shouldn’t start regulating your blood sugars once your body is exhausted from using a stress response to sustain itself. You should regulate it on a daily basis, so you don’t have to receive a chronic disease diagnosis.
At Hayat Nutrition & Wellness, I teach clients how to regulate their blood sugar for building greater resiliency to stress. If you feel stressed, lack energy, and/or want to decrease your risk for chronic diseases, schedule a FREE consultation with me today. No commitments required. Let’s talk about your health goals and how I can help!