Tag Archives: blood sugar

Crash in the afternoon but wide awake at 3 or 4 a.m.?

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Are you often wide awake around 3 or 4 a.m., your mind racing with anxiety, but then collapsing into a near coma in the late afternoon? This maddening cycle of waking up and falling asleep at inconvenient hours is often relieved by managing low blood sugar.

Why you’re wide awake at 3 or 4 a.m.

Although sleep is a time for the body to rest, your brain is still busy working on repair and regeneration, transforming the day’s impressions into lasting memories, and keeping you entertained with dreams.

The brain demands more fuel than any other organ, about 20 percent of the body’s total supply. These needs don’t abate during sleep, when your body is fasting.

In the absence of food, the body keeps the brain going by gradually raising the adrenal hormone cortisol, which triggers the production of glucose to feed the brain through the night.

At least in theory.

Chronic low blood sugar breaks this system down because it skews cortisol rhythms and release. When your brain starts to run low on fuel during the night, cortisol may lag in triggering glucose release.

The brain cannot wait until breakfast and perceives this lack of fuel supply as an emergency. As a result, the body releases more urgent “fight-or-flight” adrenal hormones, which raise blood sugar back to safe levels.

Unfortunately, these adrenals hormones are also designed to help you either flee from danger or fight it. This does not bode well for a sound night’s sleep and explains why if you wake up at 3 or 4 a.m., it’s usually with a mind racing with worry.

Meanwhile, 12 hours later when you could really use the energy to finish a work project or deal with after-school duties, you crash and can barely function thanks to blood sugar and cortisol levels bottoming out. Reaching for that shot of caffeine may pull you through, but in the long run it’s only compounding the problem.

How to fall asleep if you wake up at 3 a.m.

If you wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. with a racing mind, eating a little something may feed your brain and calm your mind so you can fall back asleep. But do not eat something sugary, which will spike blood sugar and perpetuate the cycle. Instead, eat some protein and fat.

Examples include nut butter, a little bit of meat, boiled egg, or a coconut snack. Have these prepared ahead of time and even next to your bed so you don’t have to go into the kitchen and turn on bright lights. You will not feel hungry because adrenal hormones are appetite suppressants, but you don’t need to eat much.

How to avoid the afternoon crash

To avoid the afternoon crash without caffeine you need to stabilize blood sugar as a way of life. Eat frequently enough to avoid sending blood sugar into a nose dive, and avoid foods that cause blood sugar to spike and crash: Sugar, caffeine, energy drinks, too many carbohydrates and starchy foods.

How do you know if you have low blood sugar?

Low blood sugar symptoms include:

  • Sugar cravings
  • Irritability, lightheadedness, dizziness, or brain fog if meals are missed
  • Lack of appetite or nausea in the morning (this is caused by stress hormones)
  • The need for caffeine for energy
  • Eating to relieve fatigue

A variety of nutritional compounds can further support your blood sugar handling and stress hormone functions so you sleep better. Ask me for advice.

Stable blood sugar is the key to stable moods

PeaceYou’ve probably heard that depression and other mental health issues are based on a lack of brain chemicals such as serotonin and GABA. Conventional treatment is to give medications that trick the brain into thinking it has enough of these chemicals. But new research shows in many cases mental health issues are related to chronic inflammation, not necessarily a lack of chemicals. And unstable blood sugar is often at the root of inflammation.

How does inflammation cause mood issues?

When the body is chronically inflamed, it sends chemical messengers to the brain, where they activate the brain’s immune cells, called glial cells. Chronic inflammation permanently activates the glial cells, setting off a cascade of problems:
• Reduced production of brain chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine and GABA.
• Brain cells unable to produce vital energy needed to thrive.
• Cells degrade and die, releasing toxins into the brain, causing even more damage.
The result? Depression, anxiety, and even Alzheimer’s disease.

How does blood sugar factor in?

The fix for these issues is managing the destructive inflammatory cascade. At the core of systemic inflammation for many people is blood sugar balance. When we eat too many sugars or carbs, the body over-produces insulin, a hormone that helps escort glucose (sugar) into cells for energy. Too much insulin in the blood exhausts the cells, resulting in them becoming resistant to it (insulin resistance). This leads to excess glucose in the bloodstream, which is severely damaging to tissues in the blood vessels and brain. It is also a precursor to diabetes.

How can I keep my blood sugar balanced?

By keeping blood sugar balanced, we can help reduce the inflammatory cascade that creates brain inflammation. Below are dietary and lifestyle habits that help keep blood sugar stable. By practicing them, you may notice positive shifts in your mood, energy level and mental focus:
• Always eat a protein-strong breakfast within an hour of waking. Include healthy fats, and avoid sweets before lunch.
• Eat every 3–4 hours to avoid low blood sugar.
• Eat protein with every meal and snack; never eat just sweets.
• When you crave sugar, choose protein or foods with healthy fats such as coconut or olive oil.
• Eat a small high-protein snack before bed to keep blood sugar stable throughout the night.
• Don’t use caffeine to boost low energy in that afternoon “crash;” it’s your brain telling you it needs real nutrients, not stimulants. Instead, eat a healthy snack with protein, fat and a few carbs, and hydrate with water.
• Wake and go to bed at the same time every day. Get plenty of sleep and if you’re tired, let yourself nap.
• Exercise regularly to keep blood sugar stable. Also, a 5 to 7-minute burst of high intensity exercise helps reduce inflammatory factors in the brain.
Certain botanicals are highly effective in helping manage blood sugar and reduce brain inflammation. If you have questions about mood and blood sugar stability, please schedule an appointment.

For more in-depth information on the inflammation-mood link, read this outstanding new book by Dr. Kelly Brogan, A Mind of Your Own.

Got brain fog? Here are five possible reasons why

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Do you suffer from brain fog? That muggy feeling your brain is operating in a puddle of mud and life is moving in slow motion. People think brain fog is funny or normal, but it’s not. It’s a red flag your brain is inflamed, functioning poorly, and likely degenerating too quickly.

What causes brain fog and why should you care? Consider these reasons:

1. Brain cells not communicating well with each other

Brain fog happens when brain cells, or neurons, don’t communicate well with each other. This causes brain function to slow down and diminish, giving you symptoms of brain fog.

Many factors cause neurons to fire sluggishly or not all with each other, which I’ll talk about more in this article.

When you have brain fog, you have to ask yourself, “Why are my neurons not able to fire effectively?”

2. Unstable blood sugar and brain fog

Blood sugar that swings too low or too high can cause brain fog. Symptoms of low blood sugar include irritability or lightheadedness between meals, cravings for sweets, waking up at 3 or 4 a.m., dependence on coffee or sugar for energy, becoming upset easily, and forgetfulness.

Symptoms of high blood sugar (insulin resistance) include fatigue after meals, constant hunger, cravings for sweets not relieved by eating them, constant thirst, frequent urination, difficulty falling asleep, and a big belly.

Blood sugar that is too low or too high means neurons are not receiving the energy they need to function, which often causes brain fog.

Unstable blood sugar is commonly caused by eating too many processed carbohydrates and sugary items, skipping meals, or chronic overeating.

Quite often relieving symptoms of brain fog can be as easy as stabilizing your blood sugar. Eat a whole foods diet based around vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats. Avoid sweets and processed foods, and keep carbohydrate consumption to a level that prevents symptoms of low or high blood sugar.

3. An unhealthy gut environment

Communication between the gut and the brain is ongoing and intimate. Bad gut health affects the brain and can cause symptoms of brain fog.

For instance, some people develop brain fog after eating certain foods, such as gluten, that trigger inflammation in the gut. If you have digestive problems, your gut may be playing a role in your brain fog.

Leaky gut is a condition in which the lining of the intestine becomes overly porous, allows undigested food particles, yeast, bacteria, and other harmful compounds to enter the bloodstream.

This triggers chronic inflammation in the gut, body, and brain, along with other health problems, such as food intolerances, pain, autoimmune disorders, skin issues, joint problems, depression, and, of course, brain fog.

4. Poor circulation and brain fog

Are your fingers, toes, and nose are cold to the touch? This may mean your brain is not receiving enough oxygen due to poor circulation. Other symptoms of poor circulation include weak nails, fungal nail infections, low brain endurance, and cramping in the hands and feet.

Low circulation deprives the brain of oxygen and nutrients, thus causing brain fog. Factors that cause low circulation include anemia, chronic stress, hypothyroidism, low blood pressure, smoking, and blood sugar imbalances.

5. Autoimmune disease and brain fog

Autoimmunity is a disorder in which the immune system attacks and destroys body tissue. Examples include Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, Type 1 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.

This chronic inflammation goes on to inflame the brain, which hampers function and can cause brain fog. Brain fog is a common complaint among autoimmune sufferers.

Also, autoimmune attacks in the brain are more common than people realize. This, too, is linked with brain fog.

Don’t assume your brain fog is something to shrug off. It’s best to discover the underlying causes of brain fog and address them. This will not only give you better brain function but also help prevent dementia later in life.

Why high blood sugar can give you deadly diseases

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It’s not easy being a healthy American. We are constantly besieged by the lure of sugary, starchy treats (salted caramel latte and a scone anyone?). Yet behind the innocent disguise of these lures is the threat of chronic disease, the leading cause of death.

Heart diseasestroke  diabetes, arthritis  and Alzheimer’s are among the most common and expensive health problems in the United States. In most cases their origins spiral back around to those small daily decisions — the fries instead of a salad, the syrupy hot drink with whipped cream instead of a simple cup of coffee or tea, or the ice cream or pie for dessert instead of a little fruit (or, gasp, no dessert).

What is it about these seemingly innocuous indulgences that add up to deadly diseases? Sugar and refined carbohydrates. (Although the hydrogenated fats, lack of fiber, industrialized salt, and artificial chemicals play their roles, too.) Continue reading

How to avoid those daily afternoon crashes

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Do your eyelids droop and does your energy flag every afternoon around 3 to 4 p.m? Is your answer to energy crashes a soda, coffee, energy drink, or sweet snack to sustain you until dinner? If so, you’re making a bad situation worse.

Even though it’s fairly common, the “afternoon crash” isn’t normal. Instead it’s a sign of unstable blood sugar  which wreaks havoc on the rest of your body’s systems. The afternoon crash means your blood sugar has dropped too low for your brain and body to function normally, causing you to become drowsy, mentally foggy, tired, and unmotivated.

The first thing most people reach for is a quick fix — caffeine or sugar. These may wake you up for a while, but they send an already imbalanced blood sugar system into another roller coaster ride of peaks and plunges. When this happens on a regular basis (several times a day for most people), it sets you up for chronic blood sugar imbalances including hypoglycemia and insulin resistance, a precursor to adult-onset diabetes.

How to avoid the afternoon crash

Wondering how to survive until dinner without a croissant and tall double mocha?

1. High protein breakfast: Eat a high-protein breakfast with plenty of healthy fats such as olive, avocado or coconut oil; a minimum of carbohydrates; and no added sugars or sweeteners. This provides your body with the necessary nutrients to bring it up to speed after a night of fasting (thus the word “break fast”), and allows your blood sugar to stabilize and get on a steady plane for the day.

Two examples:

  • Turkey sausage with steamed greens and sweet potatoes.
  • Smoked salmon or two eggs with sliced avocado, sauteed vegetables, and half a baked yam.

The idea of a savory breakfast might sound strange if you’re used to cereal or toast, but your body will quickly thank you for it. You’ll also notice a difference at 3 p.m.!

2. Minimize fruit, high-carb foods, and added sugars: Every time you eat fruit, high-carb foods (such as white rice, bread or noodles), and added sugars, you spike your blood glucose and the body has to struggle to bring it back into balance. Do this too often or too dramatically, and you can damage your body’s ability to handle glucose properly, causing hypoglycemia and/or insulin resistance (yes, you can have both at the same time). Blood sugar imbalances also create a hard-to-fight cycle of craving and bingeing. 

TIP: Always eat a bit of protein or fat when you have something sweet to slow down the uptake of glucose and a blood sugar spike.

3. Energy crash? Eat smart: If you find yourself slipping into the afternoon blahs, don’t reach for stimulants or sugar, no matter how much your brain shouts for them. Instead, grab a snack high in protein and healthy fats, with perhaps a bit of healthy carbs included. This powers your brain with useful nutrients and avoids the blood sugar crash that follows a caffeine or sugar binge. And don’t forget — if you have a mid-morning snack, the same rules apply. Two snack examples:

  • A quarter cup of pecans and a handful of plantain chips.
  • A boiled egg with sliced carrots and avocado.

TIP: prep your morning and afternoon snacks each night before bed, so you can bring them to work and avoid the panicked rush to the café or candy machine.

4. Caffeine in moderation: Caffeine is hard on your adrenal glands, the glands that manage how you deal with stress. If you would rather give up your right arm than your daily cuppa, just make sure you drink that coffee early in the day, and make it a single shot. Even better, learn to love a healthy, brain-energizing drink such as kombucha or a veggie smoothie. They make great conversation starters at the water cooler, too!

Follow these guidelines and you’ll find yourself easing out of those afternoon crashes. Your energy will be more consistent throughout the day and you won’t feel the need to resort to snacks that spike and crash your blood sugar, brain function, and energy level. Feeling doubtful? Try it for a week and then decide.

What HbA1c and a glucometer can tell you about disease risk

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High blood sugar is ground zero for chronic disease: diabetes (obviously), heart disease, dementia, autoimmune disease, chronic pain, and hormone imbalances. Testing your HbA1c on a blood panel can tell you whether high blood sugar is setting you up for major health problems.

High blood sugar can:

  • Trigger chronic inflammation, thus setting the stage for autoimmune disease
  • Radically imbalance hormones, causing high testosterone in women, high estrogen in men, PCOS, PMS, hormone deficiency, and imbalances in hormones that regulate satiety so that you’re always hungry
  • Damage the walls of blood vessels
  • Damage brain tissue and accelerate brain aging, increasing the risk for dementia (some researchers call Alzheimer’s type 3 diabetes)

High blood sugar is also associated with eye disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, and stroke.

Getting a handle on your blood sugar can help you better manage or prevent these radical health imbalances. The HbA1c shows you your average blood sugar levels over the last three months and is a simple way to look at the influence of blood sugar on your health.

HbA1c stands for glycated hemoglobin, which refers to a protein in red blood cells that has bonded with glucose. The higher your HbA1c the higher your blood sugar and the greater your risk for disease.

Using standard lab ranges, an HbA1c less than 5.7 is normal; 5.7%–6.4% indicates pre-diabetes; and if it is 6.5 or higher this indicates diabetes.

However, in functional medicine, we shoot for optimal health and like to see an HbA1c in the range of 4.6%–5.3%. One study shows heart disease risk rises considerably when HbA1c is over 5%  and another shows risk is higher when it’s over 4.6%.

Although HbA1c is said to look at your average blood sugar levels over the last three months, not everyone’s blood adheres to a strict schedule  In fact, people with pre-diabetes or diabetes have a higher turnover of blood cells, while those with normal blood sugar have longer lasting red blood cells, so that an HbA1c can reflect the last 5 months.

It’s important to look at HbA1c along with a couple of other blood sugar markers. If you’re working to manage your blood sugar, a glucometer is very useful to measure blood sugar throughout the day.

Checking fasting blood sugar first thing in the morning before you eat or drink (except water) is a popular indicator of blood sugar health, with optimal ranges being in the low 80s. A fasting blood sugar of 100 mg/dL or higher indicates pre-diabetes in functional medicine (126 mg/dL is considered diabetes).

However, people on very low-carb diets or on ketogenic diets can also have fasting blood sugar around 100. If you’re fasting blood sugar is around 100 but your HbA1c and post-prandial (below) blood sugars are healthy, then you know this mechanism is at work.

It’s highly useful to look at your blood sugar two hours after meals. This is called post-prandial blood sugar. Optimal blood sugar two hours after a meal should be under 100 to 120 mg/dL.

Lowering blood sugar levels requires eliminating sugar and sweets, minimizing carbohydrate intake (especially processed carbs such as pasta and bread), eating plenty of fiber, avoiding inflammatory foods, and exercising daily. Certain herbs and nutrients can also help lower your blood sugar. Ask my office for advice.

Blood sugar often at the root of chronic health problems

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Often chronic health problems can be traced back to one thing: unstable blood sugar that comes from eating too many desserts, sweet coffee drinks, processed grains (bread, pasta, etc.), and other starchy foods. Our cultural complacency with high-carbohydrate diets has made us the most obese and chronically sick population in the world.

How blood sugar becomes imbalanced

We only needs about a teaspoon’s worth of sugar in the bloodstream at any one time, a level we can meet just by eating vegetables. Consistently indulging in high-carb foods — dessert, pasta, potatoes, rice, sweet coffee drinks – requires the pancreas to secrete increasingly larger amounts of insulin to lower overly high blood sugar. These insulin surges cause blood sugar to drop too low and create symptoms. As a result, you crave sugar or high-carb foods to reboot your blood sugar, which starts the whole cycle all over again. Although these blood sugar highs and lows constitute a normal day for many Americans, they underpin many chronic health issues, including hormonal issues, autoimmune flare ups, fatigue, depression, anxiety, insomnia, poor brain function, chronic pain, and more.

Eventually, these extremes exhaust the body’s cells. In a move of self-protection they turn off their receptors for insulin so that neither insulin nor glucose can get into the cells. This is called becoming insulin resistant and is a stepping-stone to diabetes. Blood sugar levels remain too high in the bloodstream, damaging the arteries and the brain, while glucose can’t get into the cells to make energy, causing fatigue. The excess glucose in the bloodstream is eventually converted to fat for storage.

What is normal blood sugar

You can test your fasting blood sugar with a store-bought glucometer  Fasting means you have gone at least 12 hours without eating or drinking anything other than water; it’s best to test first thing in the morning.

The lab range for fasting blood glucose levels is usually 70 to 105 mg/dL. In functional medicine we like to see your fasting blood glucose level between 85 and 99 and consider anything over 100 to signify insulin resistance. The American Diabetic Association designates a fasting blood sugar level of 106 to 126 to be insulin-resistant or prediabetes, while anything above 127 is diabetes.

Symptoms of low blood sugar

If your blood sugar is below 85, it is important that you eat every two to three hours to keep blood sugar stable. You don’t have to eat a whole meal, just a few bites of a low-carb, sugar-free snack between meals and a light snack before bed.

  • Craving for sweets
  • Irritability if meals are missed
  • Dependency on coffee for energy
  • Becoming lightheaded if meals are missed
  • Eating to relieve fatigue
  • Feeling shaky, jittery, or tremulous
  • Feeling agitated or nervous
  • Become upset easily
  • Poor memory, forgetfulness
  • Blurred vision
  • Insulin Resistance

Symptoms of high blood sugar

If your blood sugar is over 99 you may have insulin resistance. You need to moderate your carb intake so you don’t feel sleepy after meals and avoid overeating. It’s also important to exercise regularly to help the cells become more sensitive to insulin. If your blood sugar is over 126 you should be screened for diabetes.

  • Fatigue after meals
  • General fatigue
  • Constant hunger
  • Craving for sweets that is 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 pains

Ask my office for more advice on balancing your blood sugar for better health.

How to prevent a stroke

how to prevent strokeStrokes are scary, seemingly leaping out of nowhere. They are the third leading cause of death in the United States and for those who survive, they are the leading cause of disability in adults. But strokes don’t have to be mysterious. In fact, research shows 90 percent of strokes are caused by dietary and lifestyle factors, which means you can lower your risk with a few changes to how you live.

A stoke occurs when an artery that carries blood to the brain either becomes blocked or ruptures. This starves the brain of blood and oxygen, often causing permanent brain damage. A stroke can leave someone with impaired speech, memory, or movement. How this damage affects the person depends on which parts of the brain were damaged and to what degree.

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