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The Sweet Life: How Blood Sugar Affects Well- Being

GLUCOSE IS A FUEL THAT NURSES THE MUSCLES AND SUPPLIES THE BRAIN. When the body is working properly, the hormonal system keeps blood sugar levels nearly constant. And vice versa: with hormonal disruption, the glucose concentration increases or decreases sharply. Why the sugar level jumps and what to do about it, we figure it out together with specialists: the chief physician of the Medskan network of medical centers Dmitry Gornastolev, candidate of medical sciences, sports medicine doctor, an expert nutritionist of the federal network of X-Fit fitness clubs Oleg Iryshkin and a certified trainer FPA by Vladimir Kuksov.

Why “high” sugar is dangerous

Eating any food, not only sweet, increases the concentration of glucose in the blood. Normally, its level is from 3.3 to 5.5 mmol / l (when analyzing blood from a finger) and from 4 to 6.1 mmol / l (if blood is taken from a vein). These numbers change throughout the day: for example, as soon as we eat a high-carbohydrate food – say, a bun – the glucose level can rise to 10 mmol / L in just twenty minutes. There is no danger to health in this: this is the so-called alimentary, or associated with food intake, hyperglycemia – a temporary increase in blood glucose. With proper functioning of the pancreas and liver, the indicators will return to normal after a while.     

If the increase in glucose levels occurs more often and becomes chronic, then type 2 diabetes mellitus may develop . This is a serious disease – it leads to disturbances in the functioning of the heart and blood vessels, kidneys, eyes and other organs. Too high blood sugar levels are very dangerous in early pregnancy – they dramatically increase the risk of congenital heart disease in a baby. Thirst, frequent trips to the toilet “small”, heart problems, cramps in the legs, itching, headache or dizziness, fatigue, blurred vision (“fog” in front of the eyes) – a set of symptoms indicating an excess of glucose in the blood is wide enough.    

On the other hand, sugar is essential. More than half of the glucose is used to meet the body’s energy needs. The rest is used to build various structures – cell membranes, enzymes, components of the immune system – and is stored in the muscles and liver. A blood glucose level below normal is called hypoglycemia – it can manifest as weakness or light-headedness. With mild hypoglycemia, it is enough to drink a cup of sweet tea. In more severe cases, fainting or even hypoglycemic coma may occur, requiring urgent medical attention.

It is not uncommon to experience hypoglycemia during exercise – for example, if a person decides to exercise in the morning when blood sugar is low and has forgotten to have breakfast before. In this case, experts advise to reduce the load, for example, reduce the number of repetitions, or stop training altogether. To avoid these conditions, it is important to eat one and a half to two hours before training. During the lesson, it is important to avoid dehydration, the symptoms of which (dizziness, darkening of the eyes, tinnitus) are often similar to those of hypoglycemia.

Why does sugar jump

Vegetable fiber (for example from vegetables, herbs, whole grains) is a special type of carbohydrate that does not dissolve in water, is not absorbed by the body, and does not affect blood sugar levels at all. Fats and proteins also generally do not increase sugar concentration; although individual protein components can be converted to glucose, this happens very slowly. It turns out that only carbohydrates can affect the level in the blood , with the exception of the already mentioned fiber. The glycemic index (GI) of each food is a measure of how quickly food is absorbed and how much blood sugar levels rise. For example, baked potatoes, beer, and most white wheat flour products hold the record for the fastest increase in glucose levels.  

According to nutritionist Oleg Iryshkin, because of such products, after a rapid increase in blood sugar levels, there is a sharp release of insulin, a pancreatic hormone that delivers glucose to muscle, liver and adipose tissue cells. At the same time, after thirty to forty minutes, the feeling of hunger reappears . The easiest way to freeze a worm is with what is at hand: chocolate, cookies, cupcake, and the insulin release is repeated. As a result, you snack all day, sugar jumps, and the produced insulin distributes new portions of glucose. This leads to an alternation of vigor and loss of strength, and also contributes to the accumulation of subcutaneous fat.

The opposite effect is given by unrefined cereals (quinoa, buckwheat, oats, spelled) and legumes (lentils, beans, chickpeas): the starch contained in these products is gradually broken down to glucose. They have a low glycemic index, and they raise blood sugar levels slowly, ensuring satiety for longer – up to three to four hours. Therefore, a balanced diet containing proteins, fats and carbohydrates with enough fiber (about 25 g per day is about a bowl of unrefined whole grains for breakfast and a large portion of salad for lunch), allows you to maintain normal blood glucose, avoiding sharp insulin release. If the three main meals are not enough, you can increase them to five or six, eating more often, but in small portions – this scheme helps not to overeat during breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Why is it so hard

Glucose is essential for the brain to work and the body to move. But it is important that it enters the bloodstream gradually. When the body gets a high dose of sugar (for example, after eating a slice of cake), glucose levels rise instantly. In the first half hour, it seems that the strength has increased, but then insulin begins to be actively produced. It binds glucose – and its blood level becomes lower than it was before meals. The result is the same – a feeling of hunger and fatigue. In addition, sudden changes in glucose levels are stressful, provoking anxiety and irritability. 

Is it possible to “get hooked” on sugar

A large amount of fast carbohydrates, such as sweets, in your daily diet can become a bad habit. This is due to the fact that when sugar hits the tongue (when the taste buds are irritated) and a jump in blood glucose, the level of dopamine, a hormone that affects the pleasure center in the brain, rises. As a result, after consuming sweets , a pleasant feeling arises – it was not for nothing that it was called pleasure. Doctor Dmitry Gornastolev notes that the human brain perceives addiction to sugar in much the same way as drug addiction. But the good news is that everyone can cut or quit sugar.    

How sugar substitutes work

Sweeteners allow you to add a sweet taste to food by eliminating sugar as such – although not all of them are good for your health. Oleg Iryshkin advises making a choice in favor of stevia – a natural product with a sweetish taste that does not contain carbohydrates, which means it does not affect blood glucose levels. Stevia can be added to a variety of foods and drinks. Another option is to replace sugar with maple, date, or Jerusalem artichoke syrup. They contain carbohydrates, but have a lower GI compared to sucrose, that is, they are absorbed more slowly. Of course, you don’t need to drink syrups – you can just sweeten your food or coffee a little. In the case of prediabetes and already developed diabetes mellitus, sugar substitutes containing carbohydrates should be abandoned. 

How to control glucose

A balanced diet is the main, but not the only way to control blood sugar levels. If you move a lot, your cells become more sensitive to insulin. Muscles consume a lot of glucose, and the stronger they are, the more glucose they need – which means that the body will not be able to store sugar in reserve. Personal trainer Vladimir Kuksov notes that physical activity is very important in diabetes mellitus too. It helps create a calorie deficit and improves insulin sensitivity. For people with a confirmed diagnosis, moderate intensity exercise is recommended, at least three times a week, for half an hour or an hour.   

Adequate sleep for at least eight hours a day is another prerequisite for maintaining normal blood glucose levels. Sleep deprivation decreases insulin sensitivity – and scientists cannot yet explain why. This is probably due to circadian (diurnal) rhythms: when they are disturbed, the body has problems with sugar metabolism. A sharp jump in blood glucose can also cause strong feelings: in a stressful situation, you need to act quickly – and the body prepares glucose for decisive action. True, in the modern world, the resulting stress usually does not require physically active actions such as fighting the aggressor or trying to escape – and the blood sugar level remains high. This is another argument in favor of regular exercise for those who are stressed a lot at work.

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