Are Blood Sugar Spikes Making You Feel Like Crap?
Is it possible to have your blood tests report that your sugar levels are well within the normal range yet still have high blood sugar?
Seems contradictory doesn’t it? How can your lab test say one thing but the reality of your life show something entirely different.
The short answer is that the lab test ordered by your doctor that includes glucose, A1c and insulin sensitivity do not tell the whole story of what is happening throughout your entire day.
In fact, your lab report can show your results within the normal range and yet your blood levels can be in the pre-diabetic to diabetic range for the rest of the day.
Weird, but sadly true. And these elevated glucose levels can show themselves in surprising ways.
But before we look at how this happens and what can be done about it let’s take a look at the basics of what we are talking about.
What is Blood Sugar (Blood Glucose)
The following definition is provided by our good friends at Wikipedia
The blood sugar concentration or blood glucose level is the amount of glucose present in the blood of a human or animal. The body naturally tightly regulates blood glucose levels as a part of metabolic homeostasis.
Glucose is the primary source of energy for the body’s cells, and blood lipids (in the form of fats and oils) are primarily a compact energy store. Glucose is transported from the intestines or liver to body cells via the bloodstream, and is made available for cell absorption via the hormone insulin, produced by the body primarily in the pancreas.
Now that wasn’t so bad. A little “schooling” can’t hurt. Especially if it can help us feel a whole lot better and possibly save our lives.
What are the 3 Main Blood Glucose Tests
So that is the basics of blood glucose and what it is doing in our bodies. Lab tests measure the levels of glucose in our system using three different types of test.
A Fasting Blood Glucose Test is the basic “go to” test that you will get when your doctor orders a full panel lab workup. It is the basic screening test that is generally done to see if anything is out of wack.
The following is a definition from Howstuffworks.com
A fasting blood glucose test — also called a fasting plasma glucose, or FPG test — measures blood glucose levels after you’ve gone without eating for at least eight hours. It’s reliable, and the results aren’t affected by your age or the amount of physical activity you do. Many doctors prefer the fasting plasma glucose test because it’s easy, fast and inexpensive.
To prepare, you must not eat for at least eight hours before the test. The next morning, a healthcare provider takes a single sample of your blood and sends it to a lab for analysis. Fasting blood glucose tests done in the morning, rather than the afternoon, appear to be more accurate in diagnosing diabetes. So be sure to schedule your test for first thing in the morning.
Your doctor will compare your results against the normal levels for fasting glucose. Normal blood glucose levels are less than 100 mg/dL. (Read as “100 milligrams of glucose for each deciliter of blood.” A deciliter is 1/10th of a liter.)
If your blood glucose measures 126 mg/dL or higher, your doctor will order a second test. If a second test done on a different day also measures 126 mg/dL or higher your blood sugar levels fall within the diagnostic range referred to as diabetes.
If your blood glucose measures 100 mg/dL to 125 mg/dL, your doctor will recommend another blood test. You have higher-than-normal blood glucose levels, but the levels are not high enough to be diagnosed as having diabetes. Your doctor will confirm all abnormal tests with a second test before diagnosing diabetes.
The next test to run that will help confirm any higher then normal readings from the fasting glucose is called the A1c. The following definition comes from the Mayo Clinic website.
The A1C test result reflects your average blood sugar level for the past two to three months. Specifically, the A1C test measures what percentage of your hemoglobin — a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen — is coated with sugar (glycated). The higher your A1C level, the poorer your blood sugar control. And if you have previously diagnosed diabetes, the higher the A1C level, the higher your risk of diabetes complications. Your A1C test result reflects your average blood glucose level for all times of day (before and after meals) over the past two to three months, with the more recent weeks influencing the result more than earlier weeks. So if your pre-meal blood glucose average is 130 mg/dl for a given three-month period, and your post-meal average is 240 mg/dl, your A1C will probably reflect an overall average somewhere in the middle of these two numbers.
As you can see the fasting glucose is a test that measure what is going on right now while the A1c gives us a look at how you have averaged over the past two to three months.
The last test to look at is a test for Insulin Sensitivity. The following is provided by diabetes.co.uk.
Insulin sensitivity describes how sensitive the body is to the effects of insulin. Someone said to be insulin sensitive will require smaller amounts of insulin to lower blood glucose levels than someone who has low sensitivity.
Insulin sensitivity varies from person to person and doctors can perform tests to determine how sensitive an individual is to insulin.
How does insulin sensitivity affect people with diabetes?
People with low insulin sensitivity, also referred to as insulin resistance, will require larger amounts of insulin either from their own pancreas or from injections in order to keep blood glucose stable.
Having insulin resistance is a sign that your body is having difficulty metabolizing glucose, and this can indicate wider health problems such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels may also be present.
By contrast, having a particularly high sensitivity to insulin can also cause problems for people with type 1 diabetes, particularly young children.
So Now What
Now that your blood work has come back within normal limits does that mean everything is fine. Sure, your doctor was happy with the results and you get to leave for another year feeling that you have “taken care of business”.
And it is true that things may be just fine. But there is a very good chance that you have not seen the whole picture.
And what is the whole picture, you may be asking.
What is blood sugar spikes and how do they happen?
The following information is from The Life Extension blog –
Simple carbohydrates are digested into individual sugar molecules which are absorbed into your bloodstream.
This flood of sugar into your circulation causes a rapid rise in blood sugar levels. Postprandial hyperglycemia (after meal high blood sugar) is when your after-meal blood sugar reaches about 160 mg/dl. When it rises to around 200, we call it a blood sugar spike.
The problem is this: Spikes are dangerous, especially for your heart. As a group of researchers studying the effects of spikes in diabetics concluded, “Postprandial hyperglycemic spikes [blood sugar spikes] may be relevant to the onset of cardiovascular complications.”
OK, so here is what this all means. Even if your fasting blood sugar levels are within normal limits every time your eat a meal or have a snack your could be pushing your levels into unacceptably high levels.
So think about this. You have blood work in the morning so you have fasted from 10pm the night before. So that accounts for 8 to 10 hours where your blood sugar levels may have been in a normal range.
But now you have breakfast that consists of eggs, toast with jelly, coffee with sweetener. And your blood sugar levels spike to between 160 and 200.
Then every two hours you may have a coffee break with a doughnut, lunch, another break for coffee and a cookie and then dinner. Followed later by ice cream and a piece of pie.
And what do we have? We have that your blood sugar being between 160 to 200 or higher all day long.
Now this has very real health consequences. But the focus of this article is the immediate effect of these glucose spike. And that immediate effect is that they make you feel crappy.
Here is where the rubber hits the road. The following set of symptoms all come from blood sugar levels that are elevated due to after meal (postprandial) spikes.
Disorientation – from Livestrong.com
As your blood sugar levels increase, your sense of orientation may change. You might feel confused often or have difficulty concentrating. Over time, you may experience shortness of breath or lighheadedness which could cause you to feel weak or fatigued. Some patients report blurred vision in advanced cases of hyperglycemia.
Sense of tiredness or lethargy – from Wikipedia
A glucose crash is the term used in American popular culture to refer to a supposed sense of fatigue after consuming a large quantity of carbohydrates, also known as reactive hypoglycemia. It is variously described as a sense of tiredness, lethargy, irritation, or hangover, although the effects can be less if one has undertaken a lot of physical activity within the next few hours after consumption. The alleged mechanism for the feeling of a crash is correlated with an abnormally rapid rise in blood glucose after eating. This normally leads to brisk insulin secretion (known as an insulin spike), which in turn initiates rapid glucose uptake by tissues either accumulating it as glycogen or utilizing it for energy production. The consequent fall in blood glucose is indicated as the reason for the “sugar crash”
Some assorted symptoms of hypoglycemia – from our friends at the US government
Blood sugar spikes causes symptoms such as
dizziness or light-headedness
What all this is saying is that if we eat in a way that causes our blood glucose to spike we will feel the immediate negative effects of this increase. And I am not even mentioning the long term disastrous effects that this will take on your body.
And just to be clear, these are not subtle effects. And they have a dramatic effect on the quality of your life both socially and at work.
So the goal is to keep postprandial spikes (after meal) down. Is that even possible and is life worth living if we do.
Before I go into a few easy ways to control these spike I want to show you the test results from a few meals from someone who decided to make the change.
After meal glucose levels – from Fathead-movie.com
The good news is that most of the meals I now enjoy don’t have much of an impact. I’ve checked my fasting levels a few times in the morning, and it’s consistently in the 85-90 range. A little lower might be better, but that’s where I’m at. So with that as a baseline, here are the one-hour results after some meals:
Chopped ham & three eggs scrambled in butter: 92
Two burger patties with cheese and sautéed onions,mustard, mayonnaise: 101
Homemade stew (beef, onions, carrots, red wine, beef bullion): 105
Chicken and broccoli with pesto sauce: 109
Protein shake with whey protein and heavy cream: 102
Sausage with whipped cauliflower “fauxtatoes” (my low-carb version of bangers ‘n’ mash): 98
I was also pleased to learn that low-carb ice cream doesn’t produce much of a spike. When I first switched to a low-carb diet, I consumed a bowl of Carb Smart ice cream or a couple of their ice cream bars at least a few nights per week.
I just wanted to show you what normal eating would look like when the goal was to keep glucose levels low.
What strategies can be used in the fight?
Think lower GI – from diabetes self management
The glycemic index refers to the speed with which something raises blood glucose level. While all carbohydrates (except for fiber) convert into glucose eventually, some do so much faster than others.
Many starchy foods, including many types of bread, cereals, potatoes, and rice have a high glycemic index; they digest easily and convert into glucose quickly. Some starches, including pasta, beans, and peas, have a lower glycemic index because the starches contained in them do not digest as easily. Similarly, some sweet foods have a high glycemic index while others do not. Table sugar (sucrose), for example, has a moderate glycemic index. Foods that contain fiber or fat tend to have lower glycemic index values than those that do not. Foods in solid form tend to have a lower GI than similar ones in liquid or “sauce” form, and cold foods tend to digest more slowly than hot oness.
Eat a small salad before your meal – from health.com
Eat a salad with your meal, and use a dressing made with 4 teaspoons of vinegar or lemon juice and 8 teaspoons of oil. This has been shown to reduce spiking by as much as 30%.
It takes only a few minutes to make a nice vinegrette dressing with olive oil, vinegar, a little diced onion, and herbs.
Green Tea Lowers the Blood Sugar Level – from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine
Green tea polyphenols and polysaccharides are effective in lowering blood sugar. Another study showed that green tea extract reduced the normal elevation of glucose and insulin when 50 grams of starch were ingested. The polyphenol group of green tea catechins has been shown to lower blood sugars, as well as the polysaccharides in green tea.
In fact, researchers have found that EGCG (also known as epigallocatechin gallete, one of the catechin polyphenols) influences the primary way that glucose is absorbed. EGCG may also help diabetics by mimicking the actions of insulin and inhibiting the liver’s production of glucose, thus lowering blood sugar. The liver produces some glucose, but the most common spikes occur from the food we eat. Recent studies suggest that green tea catechins may reduce the amount of glucose that passes through the intestine and into the bloodstream. This will benefit diabetics by preventing spikes when tea is taken with meals.
Get moving – from diabetes self management
Physical activity after eating can reduce post-meal spikes in a number of ways. If you took insulin before your meal or snack, the enhanced blood flow to the skin surface caused by exercise is likely to make the insulin absorb and act more quickly. Muscle activity also diverts blood flow away from the intestines, resulting in slower absorption of glucose into the bloodstream. In addition, the glucose that does enter the bloodstream is likely to be used by the working muscles, rather than stored for later use.
How much activity is required to experience these benefits? Not much. Ten or 15 minutes (or more) of mild activity will usually get the job done. The key is to avoid sitting for extended periods of time after eating. Instead of reading, watching TV, or working on the computer, go for a walk, shoot some hoops, or do some chores. Try to schedule your active tasks (housework, yard work, shopping, walking pets) for after meals. Also attempt to schedule your exercise sessions for after meals. On “date nights,” resist the urge to sit and talk for hours or to head straight for a movie. Instead, go out dancing, bowling, or skating.
Cinnamon – from menshealth.com
A study at the Human Nutrition Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland, found that if you use ½ teaspoon of cinnamon daily, it can make cells more sensitive to insulin. Therefore, the study says, the cells convert blood sugar to energy.
After 40 days of taking various amount of cinnamon extract, diabetics experienced not only lower blood sugar spikes after eating, but major improvements in signs of heart health. And you can sprinkle cinnamon on just about anything.
Let’s Wrap this Up
What we have seen so far is that our blood glucose levels are in part determined by what we eat. And that what we eat can cause frequent spikes in our blood sugar levels.
Even though the “go to” blood test, fasting glucose, may show that your levels are normal it can be deceiving. It may be that your blood sugar is in dangerously high levels throughout the day which can lead to long term problems and many short term issues.
The focus of this article is to help you feel better on a day to day basis by controlling postprandial spikes.
My personal experience is that there is a marked difference in how I felt and functioned on a day to day basis when my glucose testing showed that I was able to keep by post meal levels under 110.
I hope that this article will be of help in having you be more productive and feel much better on a day to day basis by making the small changes that have been suggested.
Feel free to contact me with any questions or leave a comment below. To be notified of new articles just sign up for my email alerts.
Arnold Brod, Publisher
Photo Credit – pinterest.com/pin/34832597089587974/