One of the most common complaints naturopathic and functional medicine doctors hear from new patients in their office is that they are suffering from fatigue. Digging deeper, it is their goal to uncover WHY you may be feeling fatigued so that they can address the root cause. They will likely ask many questions to try get a clearer picture of where your imbalances may lie. Often, blood sugar imbalances are one of those causes and are commonly overlooked.
Symptoms of Blood Sugar Imbalances. Is this you?
Reactive hypoglycemia symptoms (low blood sugar spikes)
- Increased energy after meals
- Cravings for sweets between meals
- Irritability if meals are missed
- Dependency on coffee and sugar for energy
- Becoming light headed if meals are missed
- Eating to relieve fatigue
- Feeling shaky, jittery or tremulous
- Feeling agitated and nervous
- Become upset easily
- Poor memory, forgetfulness
- Blurred vision
- Waking in the middle of the night to urinate
Insulin resistance symptoms (high blood sugar spikes)
- Fatigue after meals
- General fatigue
- Constant hunger
- Cravings for sweets not relieved by eating them
- Must have sweets after meals
- Waist girth equal to or larger than hip girth
- Frequent urination
- Increased appetite and thirst
- Difficulty losing weight
- Migrating aches and pain
It is not uncommon to suffer from both reactive hypoglycemia and insulin resistance simultaneously and can be a signal that your body has lost the ability to keep blood sugar stable, a condition called dysglycemia. A stepping stone to diabetes, dysglycemia is rampant in our society due to the over-consumption of highly processed foods like breakfast cereals, breads, and pastas and sugary drinks.
Reactive hypoglycemia occurs when our blood glucose drops too low in response to the over-consumption of high carbohydrate food and drinks or going to long between meals. It’s common in people who skip meals, eat high sugar foods, depend on caffeine and energy drinks, crave salt and sweet throughout the day, and have difficulty waking up in the morning or sleeping through the night. The term “reactive” refers to a drop in blood sugar 2 to 5 hours after eating after the body has overshot its insulin requirements, meaning it has pumped out too much insulin in relation to the amount of sugar in the bloods stream leading to “hypoglycemia”. It can also be a precursor to insulin resistance, which is a more advanced form of dysglycemia that can manifest as Type II Adult Onset Diabetes.
Insulin resistance, often termed metabolic syndrome, refers to the inability of cells to respond to insuln signalling and as a result cannot escort glucose from the blood stream into the cell where it is needed to produce energy. Prolonged elevations in blood glucose can lead to damage to the arterial walls and brain, leading to conditions like hypertension, elevated triglycerides, atherosclerosis, and Alzheimers. This person often carries body fat centrally around the abdomen and complains of insomnia. It also promotes the conversion of estrogen to testosterone in women, leading to masculinization with hair growth in unwanted places, like our chins, and even hair loss in places we do want it, like our heads! It’s also related to a condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) which causes infertility due to ovarian changes resulting from elevated insulin levels. In men, excess insulin leads to the conversion of testosterone to estrogen, which results in feminization (think man boobs and crying during episodes of Friends). A sign that you may have an advanced case of insulin resistance is feeling tired after eating a meal low in carbohydrates (say, a salad of vegetables and protein) and should seek the attention of a naturopathic or functional medicine doctor.
And blood sugar imbalances don’t just affect your energy levels. It also effects how quickly your brain is aging and degenerating. Since glucose is the brain’s primary fuel source, keeping our blood sugar stable throughout the day is imperative for brain function and mood. Did you know that the effect of blood sugar imbalance on the brain is so profound that researchers are now referring to Alzheimer’s Disease as Type 3 diabetes? See, healthy blood sugar management really is a big deal and its important to listen to your bodies early warning signs, like fatigue, difficulty concentrating, depression or anxiety, and other mood changes.
What can I do about this?
1. Eat a breakfast of high quality protein and fat (such as grass fed beef with macadamia nuts). Even if you are not hungry, try to have a few bites as starting the day off with balanced blood sugar sets you up for a productive, energy-filled day. Your body will thank you!
2. Eat every 2 – 3 hours if you tend towards hypoglycaemia. Just a few bites will do the trick but consistency is key. Good choices include nuts, seeds, boiled eggs, meat, cheese (if you tolerate dairy), or a lower carbohydrate protein shake. You will know your on the right track if you find yourself able to go longer between meal/snacks as this is indicating your blood sugar metabolism is repairing.
3. Eat the right amount of carbohydrates, not too much and not too little. Eat enough carbohydrates to maintain your mood and energy, but not so many that you feel tired or crave sugar. Feeling sleepy or craving sugar is a sign that you ate too many carbohydrates with your last meal, so adjust accordingly.
4. Avoid foods you may be intolerant too. Unidentified food intolerances can rob you of your energy and make you a cookie-craving monster. Common foods that may be the culprit include: gluten, dairy, grains (especially corn), soy, caffeine, chocolate, eggs, and yeast. Try avoiding these foods for 30 days and see how you feel!
5. Always eat carbohydrate foods with some fiber, fat and protein and try choosing unrefined carbohydrates like fruit, sweet potatoes, and squash.
6. Avoid eating sweets and starches before bed. This can lead to blood sugar crashes during the night, which causes the release of stress hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine, as the body seeks to regain balance.
7. Avoid fruit juices as they are much too high in sugar and can lead to you riding the blood sugar roller coaster for the rest of the day.
8. Avoid of limit caffeine as the stimulation to the adrenal glands promotes further blood sugar imbalances.
9. Eat a whole foods based diet that includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, quality protein and fats. This type of diet is very therapeutic and can help to restore balance.
10. Skip fads like juice cleanses/fasts and intermittent fasting. These type of practices can exacerbate a hypoglycemic condition which can lead to brain degreneration, impaired gastrointestinal function and damage the adrenals. Fasts may be appropriate for folks with insulin resistance, however, they should be supervised by a qualified medical practitioner.
We’ve already discussed how impairments in glucose metabolism (ie. blood sugar) can lead to fatigue and brain degeneration. In the next few posts, I’ll discuss the other factors that are key to brain health.
Fortunately, naturopathic and functional medicine doctors are well versed in the numerous biochemical and physiological imbalances that can lead a person to feel fatigued, including blood sugar imbalances. Proper testing is very important and may include specialty labs such as a comprehensive blood panel, an adrenal profile, food sensitivity testing, and organic acids testing. If you have been suffering from fatigue, taking a look at your blood sugar regulation may be the key!