The top 8 factors that affect your blood sugar level
Have you gotten a dose of hearty carbohydrates in your body yet today? I sure hope so! If you’re surprised by my question and even more so by my answer, it’s safe to assume you haven’t checked out my first Balancing Blood Sugar post!
Your food and beverage choices play a HUGE role in blood sugar management, but several aspects of your lifestyle do as well! You can eat well-balanced meals and never over-do the carbohydrates, yet still battle high blood sugar because:
DIET + LIFESTYLE manage your blood sugar level!
It is NOT JUST WHAT YOU EAT! Other aspects of your life could be adversely affecting your blood sugar fluctuations throughout the day, ultimately raising your baseline blood sugar level. Whether you have Diabetes, higher than normal blood sugar levels, or no issues with blood sugar that you know of, your sleep habits, stress, changes in hormones, weight changes, physical activity level, allergy medication, smoking, and even environmental factors can all affect blood sugar fluctuations to varying degrees and either help or hurt your body’s ability to continue balancing your blood sugar perfectly on its own as you age.
By “hurting your body’s ability to continue managing your blood sugar on its own,” I mean the potential for you to develop Type 2 Diabetes if you don’t keep an eye on your blood sugar level. Your baseline blood sugar level can creep up over time as you experience hormonal changes, as your eating habits change, as your lifestyle changes, and as you and your blood sugar regulation mechanisms naturally age.
There are several things in life we can’t control and aging is one of them, but WE CAN age gracefully – inside and out! Although our inside processes that naturally balance our blood sugar get worn down and lose efficiency as we age, there are still actions we can take every day to help our pancreas continue meeting our insulin needs and help our cells continue responding well to circulating insulin so we can utilize enough glucose in our blood to keep a balanced blood sugar for life and avoid developing Type 2 Diabetes.
If you do not know much about Type 2 Diabetes, it is a manageable disease! … But it’s something you don’t “bounce back” from. Once your fasting blood sugar and A1c numbers elevate to a Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis, you may require frequent blood sugar checks and medication to manage blood sugar fluctuations throughout the day in order to better control your baseline blood sugar level.
Not only can it be an exhausting struggle to control your blood sugar, but it can be worrisome too, as the chronic condition also puts you at risk of developing other diseases and medical conditions like kidney disease, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, nerve damage, high blood pressure, and can slow your wound healing process. Fortunately, there is GOOD NEWS about how Diabetes develops! It does not happen overnight and you can make a difference starting RIGHT NOW through positive diet and lifestyle changes to minimize drastic blood sugar fluctuations throughout the day, promote a normal baseline blood sugar level, and essentially improve your overall health!
Before you start reading through the top 8 factors that affect your blood sugar level, it’s important to understand that every lifestyle aspect can affect each person’s blood sugar differently. There may be a norm for what raises and lowers blood sugar, but the severity of how high or how low it will go can differ quite a bit from one person to the next because the body is a finicky thing! If you currently track your blood sugar level and/or take medication for management, make sure to discuss any desired lifestyle changes with your doctor first so you’re prepared for how your blood sugar level may change.
1. Inadequate sleep = ↑ blood sugar
Sleep regulates hormones like insulin, ghrelin, and leptin.
Sleep, in particular deep sleep, affects glucose metabolism. Entering that slow wave/deep sleep lowers glucose needs throughout your body, decreasing your blood sugar level. Getting adequate sleep also helps your cells respond more efficiently to circulating insulin throughout the day, promoting a balanced blood sugar level!
Ghrelin is your appetite stimulating hormone and leptin is your appetite inhibiting hormone. Inadequate sleep has been found to decrease leptin and alter the ability of ghrelin and leptin to accurately manage your calorie needs. Reduced leptin can lead to an increase in appetite and unhealthy food/beverage choices resulting in not only weight gain, but higher blood sugar levels throughout the day.
2. Any type of stress – not just the bad stress, ↑ blood sugar!
Whether it be from anxiety, tension, thrill, fear, anger, or excitement, many types of emotions trigger our natural stress response. When our stress response is activated, the main “stress hormone” cortisol is secreted along with adrenaline/epinephrine. Two of the many roles of cortisol in the midst of a stress response are increasing glucose in the body to provide a surge of energy and further inhibiting insulin to favor the immediate use of that glucose, resulting in a blood sugar spike.
Once the stressor is addressed/resolved, our hormone levels and blood sugar are supposed to return to normal. Our natural stress response is meant to be infrequently triggered and short-lived, but our fast-paced lifestyles create DAILY stressors we are not keeping in check, so they build up and unintentionally kick our natural stress response into overdrive, resulting in chronic stress. Chronic stress can lead to an elevated baseline blood sugar level if left unmanaged!
3. Changes in Reproductive Hormones = ↑ or ↓ blood sugar
Estrogen and progesterone significantly affect your blood sugar! Adequate estrogen improves your cells’ ability to respond to insulin and uptake glucose from the bloodstream to normalize your blood sugar level like mentioned in this study. Estrogen also helps to regulate gluconeogenesis in the liver, so your liver does not produce and release more glucose into the bloodstream than needed, further stabilizing your blood sugar. Progesterone, on the other hand, typically promotes insulin resistance and a higher blood sugar level, but for a good reason! During pregnancy, progesterone ensures the baby gets the glucose it needs and helps your body prepare for birth and lactation.
The rise and fall of our reproductive hormone levels can drastically affect our blood sugar level, especially leading up to a period, during pregnancy, the rocky road leading up to menopause, during menopause, as well as post-menopause. In post-menopause, baseline estrogen and progesterone levels typically drop, but can still fluctuate. In general, the overall drop naturally promotes a higher blood sugar level. Interestingly, a lower level of progesterone may also lead to increased cravings for unhealthy food choices high in carbohydrates – further affecting blood sugar. Simply being aware of and understanding changes in your estrogen and progesterone levels as you age can be a big help with blood sugar management!
4. Weight Changes = ↑ or ↓ blood sugar
You know your body best! You know your weight history and where you feel most comfortable and healthy – you don’t need a chart to tell you that! Being at a healthy weight promotes good blood sugar management. Just being overweight makes you 3x more likely to have a higher baseline blood sugar level and predisposes you to developing Diabetes. The excess fat makes it more difficult for cells to respond to insulin in order to uptake glucose, promoting a higher than normal baseline blood sugar level around the clock.
Weight loss is beneficial whether you have Diabetes or not! Weight loss of 5-10% of your body weight will improve your blood sugar level because your cells will be more sensitive to insulin, improving your body’s ability to utilize glucose in the blood and lower blood sugar. If you do not have Diabetes, but your blood sugar level is progressing toward it, you can cut your risk of developing Diabetes by almost 60% with adequate weight loss!
5. Physical Activity = ↓ blood sugar
As we all know very well, there’s a laundry list of benefits to daily physical activity and on that list is lowering blood sugar! Routine physical activity minimally promotes weight maintenance at a healthy weight and efficient production and use of insulin, resulting in a balanced blood sugar level.
6. Seasonal Allergies = ↑ blood sugar
There doesn’t seem to be an apparent connection between simply having seasonal allergies and noticing a raise in blood sugar, but a little bump up would not be surprising since any type of allergic reaction causes some degree of inflammation in the body. However, your go-to OTC allergy medications and prescriptions may significantly raise your blood sugar. Many OTC medications and prescriptions that contain decongestants and steroids commonly raise blood sugar. Antihistamines on the other hand, do not appear to have much of an effect on your blood sugar level!
7. Smoking = ↑ blood sugar
We all know smoking is bad for you, but did you know it raises blood sugar as well? According to the CDC, nicotine content within a single cigarette reduces your cells’ ability to effectively respond to insulin, not allowing your cells to uptake as much glucose as they otherwise could. The chemicals in cigarettes in general also induce inflammation in your body, further reducing your cells’ ability to respond well to insulin. All in all, if you truly can’t quit, even reducing the amount you smoke daily will make a difference for your blood sugar and overall health!
8. Environmental Factors = ↑ or ↓ blood sugar
The sunshine and heat can positively or negatively affect your blood sugar, as it all depends! The warm sunny outdoors tend to be much more inviting than the cold winter months to keep us active, promoting a healthy weight and good blood sugar management. PS – you’re just plain lucky compared to northerners if you live down south, so take advantage of your nicer year-round weather!
Now, surprisingly there are downfalls to the heat and being physically active outdoors:
- High risk for dehydration
- Increased potential for sunburn
Dehydration through physical activity, sweat loss, urination, and/or not enough water/electrolyte replenishment can actually lead to a rise in blood sugar! Dehydration means less water in your body and a higher concentration of sugar in your blood, so keep an eye on your water intake and loss.
Sunburn also raises your blood sugar due to the stress it brings on your body to heal. So, whether it be in the dead of winter or peak of summer, slapping on some sunscreen before you spend a lengthy amount of time outdoors can prevent sunburn and a spiked blood sugar!
Ultimately, life itself can create some wild blood sugar fluctuations! Whether you have Diabetes, high blood sugar, or no blood sugar issues, awareness is key.
Knowing your baseline blood sugar level and understanding both diet and lifestyle factors can cause significant blood sugar fluctuations will either help you to better control your blood sugar moving forward (for those with existing blood sugar issues) or help your body continue balancing your blood sugar all on its own as you age (for those without blood sugar issues).
Try balancing your blood sugar level the natural way by making some positive changes in your food choices and how you live life! Sometimes making diet and lifestyle changes is enough, but sometimes it’s not – reach out to health professionals if you’re struggling because good blood sugar management promotes a healthy and prosperous life, even if you need medication for some extra help.
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