Blood Sugar and the Brain
- The brain consumes roughly one-half of all of blood sugar energy in the body.
- Hyperglycemia is commonly caused by diabetes because when glucose levels rise, either the insulin levels in the body are inadequate or the body cannot properly assimilate insulin into the body
- Hypoglycemia can lead to slowed cognitive processing, emotional irritability, brain fog and other symptoms of brain fatigue.
- Measuring HbA1c levels reflects the average concentration of glucose in the blood in the last two to three months. For people with diabetes, higher HbA1c levels are linked to a greater risk of diabetes-related complications
- Alzheimer’s was named “Type 3 Diabietes” after a study conducted in 2005 that showed the pancreas is not the only organ that produces insulin; your brain also produces insulin which is necessary for the survival of brain cells.
- The foods we eat can have a great impact on our health and overall well being, especially when it relates to our blood sugar levels.
Blood Sugar and the Brain
Blood sugar, or commonly referred to as glucose, is the primary sugar found in your blood. When foods that contain glucose (like fruits, vegetables, grains, and sugary foods) are digested, they are absorbed into the bloodstream and transported to all of the cells in your body for energy. Our cells absorb glucose through the use of a hormone called insulin which helps our cells use glucose for energy.
The brain is the main user of glucose in the body as it is so rich with nerve cells. In fact, the brain consumes roughly one-half of all of blood sugar energy in the body. Glucose levels are important because they affect all brain functions like thinking, learning, memory and decision making. However, if glucose levels are not properly managed, it can lead to a myriad of health issues and impaired brain function.
Hyperglycemia is the term used to describe elevated blood sugar levels and is often a sign of type 1 and type 2 diabetes as well as pre-diabetes. Hyperglycemia is commonly caused by diabetes because when glucose levels rise, either the insulin levels in the body are inadequate or the body cannot properly assimilate insulin into the body.
Diabetes is not the only cause of hyperglycemia; other medical conditions can lead to hyperglycemia as well, like:
- Tumors that secrete hormones
- Chronic stress
- Certain medications
Some of the early signs of hyperglycemia may include:
- Increased thirst
- Trouble concentrating
- Blurred vision
- Frequent urination
- Fatigue (weak, tired feeling)
- Weight loss
Prolonged periods of elevated blood sugar levels can lead to severe health complications like kidney damage, organ and tissue damage, neurological damage and impaired vision to name a few. Studies show that prolonged increased glucose levels lead to memory and cognitive deficiencies as well as cause the brain to shrink. It can also lead to small-vessel disease which restricts blood flow to the brain and if severe, can cause vascular dementia.
In contrast to hyperglycemia, hypoglycemia is the term used in reference to low blood sugar levels. Prolonged periods of hypoglycemia can be extremely dangerous for the body and can lead to seizures or loss of consciousness in extreme cases. Hypoglycemia can also lead to slowed cognitive processing, emotional irritability, brain fog and other symptoms of brain fatigue.
A few common symptoms of hypoglycemia are:
- Excess sweating
- Excessive hunger
- Lightheadedness or shakiness
- Loss of cognitive function
Hypoglycemia can be caused by a number of various reasons.
Blood Sugar Regulation
When food is consumed, the body works hard to digest it so that it can absorb the nutrients and use it for fuel. The body digests carbohydrates into glucose in order for it to be absorbed into the bloodstream and carried to the cells to use for energy. The pancreas secretes insulin so that the cells can use the energy, lowering blood sugar levels. If there is an excess of glucose, the body stores it in the form of glycogen to be used for later. The body also creates fat cells, or adipose tissue, from extra glucose.
If at any time any of these steps in the blood sugar regulation process is impaired, it can lead to more serious health issues. For instance, if the body produces too much insulin to the point that the body no longer recognizes the hormone, it can lead to insulin resistance, which typically is caused from a diet high in processed sugars.
The foods we eat can have a great impact on our health and overall well being, especially when it relates to our blood sugar levels. Consuming little amounts of foods for prolonged hours is detrimental to our blood sugar levels. In fact, studies show that insufficient food consumption was the number one most common cause of severe hypoglycemia episodes. In contrast, if we are eating an abundance of processed, refined carbohydrates like breads, noodles and pastries it spikes blood sugar levels at an unhealthy rate causing a negative impact on our health.
Consuming an abundance of sugar is detrimental to glucose as excessive sugar can lead to insulin resistance and increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It may also increase your brain’s craving mechanism which can lead to excessive hunger and increased consumption of additional calories. The sugar consumption in America is increasing at an alarming rate. In fact, the average American consumes 19.5 teaspoons (82 grams) every day which translates to roughly 66 pounds of added sugar consumed each year, per person. It is very important to be mindful of the foods you eat and the sugar content as sugar is commonly added to many foods.
Many medications are prescribed to help regulate insulin levels and treat diabetes. Unfortunately, these medications often times have an adverse affect on blood sugar levels. Studies show that medications for insulin and glucose are associated with a three-fold increase in the risk of hypoglycemia.
A few additional causes of hypoglycemia may include :
- Liver disease
- Kidney disorders
- Endocrine issues
- Enzyme deficiencies
HbA1c refers to glycated hemoglobin that develops when hemoglobin, protein molecule in red blood cells which carries oxygen to the body, combines with glucose in the blood, becoming “glycated.” Measuring HbA1c levels reflects the average concentration of glucose in the blood in the last two to three months. For people with diabetes, higher HbA1c levels are linked to a greater risk of diabetes-related complications.
HbA1c levels are categorized as follows:
- Normal: below 5.7%
- Prediabetes: 5.7%–6.4%
- Diabetes: 6.5% or above
Blood Sugar and Your Brain
Blood sugar levels have a profound effect on brain function as increased levels of HbA1c impair brain function, cognitive thinking and impact memory. This may be due to small artery damage in the brain causing mini-strokes, impairing brain tissue, resulting in a gradual decline in mental function. In addition, high blood sugar levels and insulin resistance disrupt the communication pathways within the brain which can also impair brain function. Lastly, inflammation due to diabetes may lead to the development of amyloid plaques in the brain, which is characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s and “Type 3 Diabetes”
Alzheimer’s was named “Type 3 Diabietes” after a study conducted in 2005 that showed the pancreas is not the only organ that produces insulin; your brain also produces insulin which is necessary for the survival of brain cells. A decline in brain insulin levels may lead to the degeneration of brain cells and studies show people with low brain insulin levels commonly suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.
Research also shows that increased glucose levels may lead to memory and cognitive deficiencies as well as cause the brain to shrink. It can also lead to small-vessel disease which restricts blood flow to the brain and if severe, can cause vascular dementia.
Diet Changes for Blood Sugar Regulation
Roughly 25 percent of the population is pre-diabetic and they don’t know it. One of the primary causes of diabetes is excessive sugar consumption which can easily be altered simply by a change in diet. Below are a few of the best dietary changes you can stark making now to help stabilize blood sugar levels.
Fat is the preferred source of energy for your body, contrary to the popular belief that fat is bad. Processed fats like trans fats, hydrogenated oils and margarine are damaging to the body but healthy fats like grass-fed butter, ghee (clarified butter), coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds are all good quality fats that provide nutrients to your body and help stabilize energy levels. The best way to consume fats is by cooking your proteins in a healthy fat like ghee or butter as well as incorporating healthy fat foods into your diet.
A great way to start your day is by adding butter (yes butter!) into your morning coffee, or more commonly referred to as Bulletproof Coffee. Not only does it taste amazing, but it helps stabilize your energy levels by providing the body with a healthy dose of fats to power through the day.
Avoid processed foods
Processed foods are full of empty carbohydrates and sugars that provide little to no nutrients to the body, like refined flours found in baked goods, breads, noodles, etc. While they may give you a short spike in energy, they will leave you feeling groggy shortly after. Instead, opt for healthier forms of carbohydrates like brown or wild rice, sweet potatoes, sprouted ancient grains, legumes, and beans. Also make sure to include plenty of vegetables, especially those that are high in fiber like leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables. Fresh fruit can also be helpful for those struggling with hypoglycemia; however, be mindful of the amount of sugar intake because some fruits contain higher sugar content than others.
Eating frequent meals helps stabilize blood sugar levels and provide long lasting energy throughout the day. Common crash diets or fad dieting and skipping meals can lead to hypoglycemia which is why it is important to make sure you are providing your body with nourishing foods and snacks to keep energy levels stable. Meals should include a healthy balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates while snacks should be consumed in between meals to maintain energy.
For instance, breakfast should be consumed one to two hours after waking and should be a healthy portion of fats and carbohydrates, like farm fresh eggs cooked in ghee (clarified butter) served with a side of fruit. A couple hours later, feed your body with an energy boosting snack that is full of healthy fats like a handful of almonds or olives. Lunchtime should include a portion of good quality protein like wild caught fish or hormone and antibiotic free chicken as well as some carbohydrates like greens salad dressed with olive oil or avocado oil for healthy fats. One to two hours later, consume another healthy snack balanced with fats and carbohydrates like vegetables dipped in guacamole or an apple with almond butter. Dinner should include another portion of healthy protein like grass-fed beef along with healthy carbohydrates like mixed veggies sautéed in coconut oil for additional healthy fats.
Studies show that abnormal gut flora is directly related to diabetes which is why maintaining gut health is a key component in achieving optimal health. One of the best ways to support gut health is through consuming bone broth. Bone broth is full of gut-healing nutrients like collagen and l.glutamine that also help reduce inflammation. It also is a great source of protein and fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K that are critical for optimal brain health and also help balance blood sugar levels. Consuming broth on a daily basis is an excellent way to nourish the body, heal the gut, and boost the immune system.
Unfortunately the diabetes epidemic is increasing at an alarming rate. The good news is that you can make lifestyle changes and become more mindful of your eating habits and lifestyle choices which can help reverse, reduce and even may eliminate symptoms of blood sugar imbalance all together.