Blood sugar regulation is no joke.
The other night I was staying strong on my NO SUGAR promise and I found myself gazing at delicious looking popcorn. My sister and her husband gifted it to my Dad for Christmas. It was a Chicago Mix - cheese and caramel - I was staring at two pieces and picturing the delight of eating them.
I was making an internal deal. TWO PEICES! NO ONE WOULD KNOW. I just wanted to experience caramel and cheese popcorn... just two...
But then I thought about the fact that I haven't had ANY refined sugar in about 3.5 months. The popcorn WOULD have an impact.
ONE - I'd be going against rules that I set for myself. There is something super satisfying about accomplishing what you commit yourself (to yourself) to.
TWO - It WOULD spike my blood sugar and that is what I have been looking to avoid. SPIKE.
So let's talk about this. What is a blood sugar spike? What happens in the body? Why is it a bad thing?
It likes things to exist within certain perimeters.
Like your thermostat. You set the temp to 70 degrees. It heats up to get there - stops - heat drops - it heats up again. It just keeps on keeping on trying to maintain that 70 degrees.
So let's talk about this in relation to blood sugar.
Blood sugar is the amount of sugar in the blood.
We are always meant to have some sugar in the blood, but we are not meant to continually spike that amount. If you think about it... like really think about it... we humans haven't had sugar in our diet for a very long period of time.
In 1821 the average amount of sugar was 10 pounds per person per year.
In 1970 it was 120 pounds per person per year.
In 2004 it was 141 pounds per person per year.
And now it is estimated to be 170 pounds of sugar per year.
Let that sink in that is an additional 160 pounds per person in about in what is really a short amount of time.
The thing that makes me the saddest is that this type of overconsumption is normalized in our society. Treat yourself! You deserve it! Etc. Etc. It makes me angry and it takes a lot to make me angry.
So, like our thermostat being set at 70 our blood sugar has a particular place it is comfortable. If it goes HIGHER the body regulates, if it goes LOWER the body regulates.
Most people are aware of the hormone that lowers blood sugar aka insulin, but do you know that insulin's primary job is actually to get energy into the cell?
So insulin is now used more frequently to mitigate the damage of too much sugar in the blood which is tiring for the body.
There are 3 primary organs that are involved in this process - the Liver, the Pancreas, and the Adrenal glands.
Here is a basic (basic) explanation of what happens when blood sugar is spiked.
So let's say I was seduced by the caramel/cheese popcorn.
I grab a handful and crunch in delight. My brain is happy as quick energy surges into my body, dopamine pathways light up and I am all heck yea!
It does not take long for the popcorn to break down and make it into the blood stream. My blood sugar soars and the body takes action. It is like OH NO YOU DIDN'T! TROOPS LET'S GET THIS REGULATED!
And the pancreas springs into action.
It releases the hormone insulin (hormones are messengers) insulin is now telling the cells HEY WE HAVE A LOT OF SUGAR HERE I NEED YOU TO LET IT INTO YOUR CELL WALL. This message needs to be received by insulin receptor sites for the sugar (aka glucose) to go into the cell and be converted into glycogen (stored energy) in the liver. The muscles can also take in some glucose and convert it to glycogen to be stored (which is great for intense workouts or sprinting).
But, there is only so much room. Eventually everyone is full up on their need for stored energy and the rest of the glucose gets converted into triglycerides and cholesterol for storage. So that weight you carry around that is stored energy. Fun.
So this is the basic process.
Blood sugar goes up, insulin is released, it tells the liver and muscles to let the glucose in by connecting with the receptor sites, glucose gets in and gets converted into glycogen aka stored energy.
And remember carbs are also sugar because they get broken down INTO glucose so you might think... huh... I don't eat much sugar... but do you drink OJ? Do you eat bread? Enjoy pasta? All these things become glucose and RAISE the blood sugar.
Over time the system goes out of whack.
Insulin is being pumped out like crazy to normalize blood sugar and the receptor sites begin to need more to respond correctly. Also too much sugar in the blood leads to AGEs (advance glycation end products) which are basically proteins or lipids (fats) that become glycated. Which means they are STICKY.
You now have sticky proteins floating around. These sticky proteins can STICK TO RECEPTOR SITES!
And from all of this you start to become insulin resistant.
Which means the receptor sites are not getting the message.
That means your pancreas is doing it's part, but the message is not being heard so it keeps on pushing out insulin (yes this is tiring for the pancreas).
So now, finally, after a boatload of inuslin, blood sugar drops - but - in this non normal world it drops WAY low.
And the body is like CRAP! WE NEED TO GET THIS REGULATED (once again).
The pancreas leaps into action and releases glucagon which is the opposite of insulin. Glucagon is a hormone (messenger) and it tells the liver to release the stored energy (glycogen) and convert it back into glucose (raising blood sugar).
But it isn't enough.
And that is where the adrenals come into play. Now cortisol AND epinephrine are released as well to try to spike the blood sugar back up. Cortisol and epinephrine are both hormones that they are part of the flight or fight response. You might notice your heart-rate go up because you are in a stress response.
So now we have your pancreas, liver, and adrenal glands working OVERTIME trying to regulate blood sugar - and those organs have a whole host of other things they need to be doing as well - but here we are working them to bone.
Riding a sugar roller coaster. Eventually something is going to give.
The pancreas wears out.
The adrenals become exhausted.
The liver goes caput (potentially leading to fatty liver disease).
And it is bad news bears for everyone.
Which is why blood sugar regulation disrupts ALL aspects of human physiology. It hits your energy, the integrity of your tissues, the balance of your hormones, AND your brain health.
It is one of THE most important systems to get back in line to begin to tackle other pieces of health.
If you want to drop weight you need to get this under control, it is THE sustainable way to get weight off and keep it off.
If blood sugar regulation is not working properly then health CANNOT be achieved.
Which is why in the end I did not eat the popcorn.
Getting this system in line is a huge undertaking and a huge priority.
The instant gratification of crunch, crunch, is not worth sacrificing the long term benefits of having a system that works properly.
The more I feel good.
The more I want to feel good.