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Blood Sugar


Most of the food we eat is broken down into glucose, the form of sugar in the blood. Glucose is the main source of fuel for the body. After digestion, glucose passes into the bloodstream, where it is used by cells for growth and energy. For glucose to get into cells, insulin must be present. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, a large gland behind the stomach. Insulin is necessary to change glucose, which is the body's energy source, into energy. Glucose, a form of sugar, is made when the body digests food. When insulin is not available, glucose stays in the bloodstream and cannot be used as energy. 

When we eat, the pancreas is supposed to automatically produce the right amount of insulin to move glucose from blood into our cells. Most blood sugar problems are directly related to the pancreas. General symptoms that may indicate pancreatic malfunction include headaches, cold extremities, increased sweating, pain on the whole left side of the body, sluggishness. About 1 in 8 inherit sugar sensitivity of some type that makes them more susceptible to problems related to blood sugar. Headaches, fatigue, mood swings and depression, obesity, alcoholism, diabetes are associated with blood sugar problems. 

  • Symptoms of high blood glucose levels (Hyperglycemia) include having to urinate often, being very thirsty, and losing weight. 
  • Symptoms of low blood glucose levels (Hypoglycemia) include feeling anxious or confused, feeling numb in the arms and hands, and shaking or feeling dizzy, cranky, tired, sweaty, hungry, confused, and shaky. Glucose supplies the body's cells with energy, and a low level of glucose seriously affects the brain cells. If  the blood sugar levels drop too low, a person can lose consciousness or may experience a seizure. Hypoglycemia is usually be treated with medications and/or attention to diet. 
With a lack of insulin, the liver will start breaking down glycogen and forming new glucose (gluconeogenesis). Fats will also be released into the blood in the form of free fatty acids. Amino acids will be released into the blood and very little protein synthesis will take place. Over time with a lack of insulin, acetone and ketone bodies will occur (due to largely burning fats instead of carbohydrates)-this can lead to a state of acidosis. Also "protein wasting" occurs and can lead to extreme weakness, weight loss, and organ dysfunction.

If a diet high in sugar (especially refined sugars, molasses, syrup, honey, and fruit juice) is eaten, the blood glucose level increases rapidly. Insulin secretion is increased by 1000% the first five minutes, then it somewhat decreases for about ten minutes, then rises again after 2-3 hours. A diet consistently high in sugar and other refined sweets will first lead to hypertrophy of the beta cells ( to increase insulin production) and eventual burnout, with diabetes being a possible result.

In people with low blood sugar, however, the pancreas either produces little or no insulin, or the cells do not respond appropriately to the insulin that is produced. Glucose builds up in the blood, overflows into the urine, and passes out of the body. Thus, the body loses its main source of fuel even though the blood contains large amounts of glucose. 

Diabetes

Diabetes is a disorder of metabolism--the way our bodies use digested food for growth and energy. In 1985, there were an estimated 30 million people with diabetes worldwide. Today, there are at least 151 million people with diabetes, a fivefold increase in just over 15 years. If nothing is done to slow down the epidemic, within 25 years the number will reach 300 million. The causes of diabetes mellitus are unclear, however, there seem to be both hereditary (genetic factors passed on in families), and environmental factors involved. 

The main types of diabetes are Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes. 

Type 1 diabetes is an auto immune disease. An auto immune disease results when the body's system for fighting infection (the immune system) turns against a part of the body. In diabetes, the immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas and destroys them. The pancreas then produces little or no insulin. Someone with type 1 diabetes needs to take insulin daily to live. 

At present, scientists do not know exactly what causes the body's immune system to attack the beta cells, but they believe that auto immune, genetic, and environmental factors, possibly viruses, are involved. Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 5 to 10 percent of diagnosed diabetes in the United States. 

Type 1 diabetes develops most often in children and young adults, but the disorder can appear at any age. Symptoms of type 1 diabetes usually develop over a short period, although beta cell destruction can begin years earlier. Symptoms include increased thirst and urination, constant hunger, weight loss, blurred vision, and extreme fatigue. If not diagnosed and treated with insulin, a person can lapse into a life-threatening diabetic coma, also known as diabetic ketoacidosis. Ketones are chemicals that your body produces as a by product of combusting fat.  You can buy "ketostix" which, when passed through urine, can tell you whether or not you are in ketosis.  Ketosis happens during fasting, low carbohydrate diets, pregnancy and it can be caused by diabetes. 

The most common form of diabetes is type 2 diabetes. About 90 to 95 percent of people with diabetes have type 2. This form of diabetes usually develops in adults age 40 and older and is most common in adults over age 55. About 80 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight. Obesity triggers insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is often part of a metabolic syndrome that includes obesity, elevated blood pressure, and high levels of blood lipids. Unfortunately, as more children and adolescents become overweight, type 2 diabetes is becoming more common in young people. 

When type 2 diabetes is diagnosed, the pancreas is usually producing enough insulin, but, for unknown reasons, the body cannot use the insulin effectively, a condition called insulin resistance. After several years, insulin production decreases. The result is the same as for type 1 diabetes--glucose builds up in the blood and the body cannot make efficient use of its main source of fuel. 

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes develop gradually. They are not as sudden in onset as in type 1 diabetes. Some people have no symptoms. Symptoms may include fatigue or nausea, frequent urination, unusual thirst, weight loss, blurred vision, frequent infections, and slow healing of wounds or sores. 

Diabetes is a condition that causes high blood glucose (sugar) levels. It is a chronic disease that can be managed but not cured. Three possible reasons people develop diabetes are: 1) their bodies cannot make any insulin, 2) their bodies cannot make enough insulin, 3) their bodies cannot use insulin properly.  The best way for people who have diabetes to avoid hypoglycemia is to make sure of their blood sugar levels. 

If diabetes is left untreated, blood glucose levels remain high and can damage blood vessels. This damage can lead to serious nerve, heart, eye or kidney problems. With proper treatment and education, however, people with diabetes can live long, healthy lives. People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin because their bodies do not make insulin. People with type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes may use different combinations of food plans, activity plans, insulin or diabetes pills because their bodies do not make enough insulin or cannot use insulin properly. 

Diabetic medications virtually guarantee that all diabetics will remain diabetic. Insulin and diabetic pills (sulfonylureas) increase the amount of insulin in the diabetic's body, causing the body to store more fat in the fat cells. Other medications (rosiglitazone) reduce insulin resistance and cause weight gain. Any of these medications may also lower the sugar levels below the kidney's threshold for dumping excess calories. 

Eating carbohydrate foods did not cause diabetes, so eliminating them will not make diabetes go away. However, people with diabetes can lower their blood glucose levels by decreasing their carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrate foods are essential for providing the body with energy. A healthy, well-balanced diet is the best kind for everyone. Just because a recipe calls for a specific ingredient doesn't mean you must use that ingredient. Your favorite recipes can be modified to make them more nutritious or lower in fat, salt and sugar by reducing or substituting ingredients that are more acceptable. 

Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia means pathologically low (hypo) blood (emia) sugar (glyc). Blood sugar is our major fuel source. It consists entirely of glucose, the most basic carbohydrate in most of the sugars and starches (complex carbohydrates) we eat. Reactive hypoglycemia typically happens like this: After eating or drinking something that sharply raises blood sugar—refined sugar or starch, alcohol, or caffeine (these pull stored sugar from the liver)—the body overreacts. The pancreas secretes so much insulin (the hormone that lowers high blood sugar by helping it get into the cells) that, within a few hours, the blood sugar is too low for comfort. 

The brain, especially, feels the pinch, for it depends exclusively on a steady supply of blood sugar for its extraordinary energy needs. Mental confusion, faintness, fatigue, dizziness, headache, spasms, yawning, blurred vision, cold spells, and other symptoms can occur. To compensate, the adrenal glands may pour sugar-mobilizing stress hormones into the blood to release more glucose from the liver. But that can mean trouble of its own, for these hormones can trigger nervousness, trembling, palpitations, and other symptoms—especially hunger. Ironically, that hunger can drive the sufferer right back to the cookie jar. 

Sweets and starches that rapidly raise blood sugar—are a problem for some people. Studies show that depressed people and, women with PMS eat more carbohydrates than normal, healthy people. But the sweet fix's rewards are fleeting. It perpetuates in the long run what it medicates for the moment. These carbohydrate fixes are benign "self-medication"—an instinctive attempt to raise depressingly low brain levels of serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical that helps maintain a sense of comfortable well being and seems to help keep our moods under control by helping with sleep, calming anxiety, and relieving depression. 

The bottom line is that a carbohydrate-craving habit promotes obesity, tooth decay, heart disease, malnutrition, and other health problems, including depression. Eliminating excessive sugar and caffeine from your diet will not only help you control your depression in the short term, but also that these beneficial effects will last over time. Psychology Today (May/June 1996) has reported that folic acid, a B vitamin, is thought to have a serotonin-elevating effect.

One of those effects could be a normalization of serotonin metabolism and tryptophan (serotonin's precursor) to the brain. Bad eating habits may provoke an unstable, feast-and-famine serotonin situation above the neck. Richard Podell reports: "About 40 percent of my patients whose history suggests a sugar-related problem improve after adopting an antihypoglycemia diet. Most continue to benefit for months or years. 

'Hypoglycemia' is a word often used to denote a disease when it is actually only a symptom. The term means "low blood sugar" but often symptoms occur without a particularly low value. This syndrome is better defined as carbohydrate intolerance resulting in symptoms due mainly to an overzealous neuro-endocrine response. 

When one eats sugar or complex carbohydrates blood sugar rises and triggers insulin release from the pancreas. This hormone facilitates entry of some carbohydrates into various parts of the body for utilization or storage. The liver converts the excess to fatty acids and insulin drives deposits into fat cells as triglycerides, our fuel reserve. In hypoglycemics, insulin cut-off is inadequate, or hormonal release excessive or inappropriate for the situation. This creates a system-wide stress which results in the endocrine 'fatigue' syndrome we call "hypoglycemia". 

Acute symptoms occur at certain lower blood sugar levels. These include hand tremors or an inner shakiness which accompany hunger. Often these are accompanied by sweating anywhere on the body, sometimes most intensely during the night. Frequent is heart pounding or 'palpitations' and acute anxiety in the pit of the stomach. Nightmares are common. This combination disturbs sleep and causes more fatigue. More frightening however is the accentuation of these symptoms into full-blown "panic attacks". These acute events last fifteen to thirty minutes and are induced by the sudden release of larger amounts of adrenaline. 

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are derived mainly from plants, including foods such as fruits, vegetables, pasta, rice, legumes (beans), and other grains fall in this category.   Carbohydrates are very important to the body since they are the primary source of energy.  Some body tissues, such as red blood cells and most parts of the brain, can only use carbohydrate (glucose) for energy.  Normally carbohydrates comprise 55-65% of  foods consumed. 

Carbohydrates are broken down by the body into glucose, which is a form of sugar that is carried in the blood and transferred to cells for energy.  Some carbohydrates, such as pasta and bread, can be fattening. When a person consumes too many calories, the excess will be stored as body fat, whether the foods were carbohydrates, proteins, or fats.  Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram (protein = 4 cal/gram, fat = 9 cal/gram). 

When you eat carbohydrates your body produces insulin which carries the sugar (carbs) out of your blood stream into your cells. People respond to sugar and carbohydrates differently. A person who has a hyper response produces too much insulin has this action to the extreme.  They will be left with too little sugar in the blood stream and too much stored in cells (i.e. fat). 

The reasons that the popular high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet doesn't work for some people is because of this response.  Every time you eat carbohydrates your body produces more insulin.  Also, your body produces insulin based on the carbohydrates you have had in the recent past. So you may be producing insulin without even eating carbohydrates. 

Much of what people blame on their lack of will-power is simply their bodies physical reaction to the types of foods they eat.  When you eat a diet high in carbohydrates your body prompts you to continue eating that way. Often dietitians and doctors prescribe frequent high-carb meals. For a hyperinsulimic person this is terrible since the continual insulin releases just make the cycle worse and causes weight-gain.  Eventually it may lead to very serious medical conditions. Hyperinsulinism is not a new disease.  It was identified more than 30 years ago but has been largely ignored by the medical community. 

Diet

A good diet will often control hypoglycemia by replacing  most sugar with complex carbohydrates.

  • Aim for six or more servings a day of starch such as bread, cereal, and starchy vegetables.  For example, have cold cereal with nonfat milk or a bagel with a teaspoon of jelly for breakfast. Another starch-adding strategy is to add cooked black beans, corn or garbanzo beans to salads or casseroles. 
  • Eat five fruits and vegetables every day. Have a piece of fruit or two as a snack, or add vegetables to chili, stir-fried dishes or stews. You can also pack raw vegetables for lunch or snacks. 
  • Eat sugars and sweets in moderation. Include your favorite sweets in your diet once or twice a week at most. Split a dessert to satisfy your sweet tooth while reducing the sugar, fat and calories.
Carbohydrates come in two basic forms: complex and simple. Simple carbs are one, two, or at most three units of sugar linked together in single molecules. Complex carbs are hundreds or thousands of sugar units linked together in single molecules. Simple sugars are easily identified by their taste: sweet. Complex carbs, such as potatoes, are pleasant to the taste buds, but not sweet. The intestine breaks them down slowly into simple sugars which can be absorbed. The most healthy form of sugar is the complex carbohydrates present in high-fiber vegetables. 

White rice and white flour have had most of the nutrients, fiber and B vitamins removed, (except carbohydrates). "In general, less-refined foods like intact whole grains and legumes are less-rapidly digested, so they enter the system more slowly," says Thomas Wolever, a University of Toronto fiber expert. "That dampens down insulin secretion and puts less stress on the system." Less insulin means a lower glycemic load. Substituting whole-grain foods for refined-grain products may lower your risk of Type 2 diabetes by 50 percent, according to Harvard Medical School researchers. 

Eat your fruits, do not juice them and drink them. Sugary drinks causes the pancreas to produce large amounts of insulin, and if this happens for many years in a genetically predisposed person, the insulin receptors throughout the body become resistant to insulin. Sugar, corn syrup, honey, sucrose, glucose, dextrose or maltose, and caffeine intensify the action of insulin and should be avoided. Improvement usually begins in about seven to ten days on this restricted diet. During the first ten days of the diet one might experience headaches from caffeine withdrawal or fatigue induced by changing the body's basic source of fuel. Some carbohydrates are permitted but the intake is limited. For example, only one slice of such bread or one piece of fruit can be eaten in a four-hour period. 

Consider the entire dietary process as if one were building a checking account. First, deposits must be made to achieve surplus funds. Only at this point should one begin writing checks knowing that the account is variably lowered with each check written. Similarly the hypoglycemia diet builds energy reserves until the patient is well. Only then can experimentation with a forbidden carbohydrate begin. Each such 'cheat' draws on the account and one cannot over-spend without developing symptoms anew. Thus, over time, this experimenting will define the best diet to follow. 

Having entered the cheating phase one will slip occasionally by overindulging in carbohydrates. Close observation should detect the first symptom which develops after such excessive intakes. Often this will be merely fatigue, but in other cases it will be frontal, pressure headaches. Gradually most hypoglycemics learn exactly what they can allow themselves. They find they must resume a perfect diet with added emotional or physical stresses since these place greater demands on their energy banks. At such times it becomes more difficult to maintain an adequate account. Since no physician or dietitian can adequately predict the final, habitual diet only the patient can make this judgment. 

Carbonated drinks are the single biggest source of refined sugars in the American diet. On average, American teenage boys consume 34 teaspoons of sugar a day! And they get 44% of this from soft drinks. Teenage girls get 40% of their 24 teaspoons of sugar from soft drinks. Because some people drink little soda pop, the percentage of sugar provided by pop is higher among actual drinkers. As teens have doubled or tripled their consumption of soft drinks in recent decades, they cut their consumption of more healthy alternatives. Most Americans consume ever greater quantities of junk food and meager quantities of healthful foods, increasing the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease and causes severe social and psychological problems. 

High-sugar diets may contribute to heart disease in people who are "insulin resistant." Those people, an estimated one-fourth of adults, frequently have high levels of triglycerides and low levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol in their blood. When they eat a diet high in carbohydrates, their triglyceride and insulin levels rise. Sugar has a greater effect than other carbohydrates. The high triglyceride levels are associated with a higher risk of heart disease. It would make sense for insulin-resistant people, in particular, to consume low levels of regular soft drinks and other sugary foods. 

What you eat is largely determined by what comes home from the grocery store. Think ahead and study meal plans and diabetic recipes for related items and make an effort to have on hand healthy food that can be easily prepared or eaten as a quick snack. Many internet sites and fad diet ads just want your money, so use good judgment. For example, there is some controversy about synthetic sugar replacements, but you won't learn this from those who are selling it. 

Alternative treatments

Since diabetes can be life-threatening if not properly managed, patients should not attempt to treat this condition without medical supervision. A variety of alternative therapies can be helpful in managing the symptoms of diabetes and supporting patients with the disease. Acupuncture can help relieve the pain associated with diabetic neuropathy by stimulation of certain points. A qualified practitioner should be consulted. Vitamins and herbal remedies may also be helpful in managing diabetes. Deep relaxation and meditation techniques may be helpful in reducing stress related symptoms. 

Depression can be one of the most common and dangerous complications of diabetes. The rate of depression in diabetics is much higher than in the general population. Depression can be caused by an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain. These chemicals are natural substances that allow brain cells to communicate with one another. Depression can also be triggered by stress, medication, or other medical illnesses. 

 Vitamins are organic substances required to regulate the functioning of cells.  They are essential to life.  They take part in myriad biological processes, among them promoting good vision, forming normal blood cells, creating strong bones and teeth, and ensuring the proper function of the heart and nervous system.  While vitamins supply no energy, they do aid in the conversion of foods into energy.  The 13 vitamins fall into two categories: fat-soluble (A and its precursor beta carotene,  D, E, and K) and water-soluble (the B vitamins and C). 

B Vitamins have a variety of functions but work together and are often referred to as B complex. In general, they aid in the process of converting blood sugar into energy. B Vitamins are especially necessary for those who expend high amounts of energy throughout the day. Vitamins B, D and K are produced in the body. The B vitamins also play a major role from the normal functioning of the brain to the formation of the blood. Lesser known B vitamins such as folic acid, biotin and vitamin B 5 or pantothenic acid are often grouped together according to food sources and functions in the body. B-6, B-12, and folic acid are also crucial in methione metabolism. Deficiencies can promote depression

The B-complex vitamins are essential to mental and emotional well- being. They cannot be stored in our bodies, so we depend entirely on our daily diet to supply them. B vitamins are destroyed by alcohol, refined sugars, nicotine, and caffeine. They are all present in whole grain products, bananas, dairy products and leafy greens, and are critical for the synthesis of DNA, the metabolism of protein, fat and carbohydrates. There may likely be more types of B vitamins than you will find in common multi-vitamin tablets, so a balanced diet is essential.

Until recently not much information was available to consumers about Vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid. It is known an "the anti-stress vitamin, since it plays a role in the production of the adrenal hormones which produce the "fight or flight' response. Pantothenic acid is involved in the functioning of neurotransmitters which affect the nerves, and is also a stamina enhancer. 

Vitamin B6 or pyroxidine has more uses in the body than almost any other single nutrient, and affects both physical and mental health. Because it is a vital part of all of the chemical reactions involving proteins and amino acids, it is especially important for those who follow high protein diets. 

Vitamin B12 is needed to prevent anemia by utilizing the bodily stores of iron, and aiding folic acid in forming red blood cells. B12 is necessary for the proper digestion and absorption of foods, and for assisting the nervous system, memory and learning. 

A study, published in the February 2002 Annals of Internal Medicine, of 51,529 male health professionals found those whose diets are rich in red meat, high-fat dairy products, and baked goods are 60% more likely to develop diabetes than are those who eat a more prudent diet of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean meats. 

Almost 90 percent of Americans have diets that need improvement. A diet high in fat, sugar, animal products and salt and low in fiber, vitamins and minerals is linked with disease. Some foods are just plain bad for you and should be virtually ELIMINATED from your diet! A Big Mac contains 28 grams of fat, 12.6 of which are saturated, and 22 more grams in an order of French fries. 52 additives being used in its various food products. 

Hydrogenated oil products has risen to make up 10% of North American caloric intake. It has been estimated that globally, over 200 million have died prematurely because of the trans-fatty acids in refined oils. They are a major cause of cancer, heart disease, immune system breakdown, depression, fatigue, and other disorders. 


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* Note    These pages are editoral in nature-- no medical advice is given or implied.

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