Did you ever say or hear the phrase “I have a drop in blood sugar”? How many really knows what it means?
Blood glucose is the concentration of glucose in the blood: we are talking about a drop in blood sugar when this concentration falls below a certain level of tolerance, causing some symptoms.
Blood glucose is normal when its fasting values are included in a given interval, established by the guidelines of the Society of Diabetology (SID) between 60 and 100 milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood (mg / dl), the same fixed also from the American Diabetes Association in its “Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes” of 2019.
Taking a blood test, it is possible to find the blood sugar expressed in millimoles per liter of blood (mmol / L), the official unit of measurement used by the International System which represents the reference standard: it is used by the World Health Organization, which takes into account normal values if lower than 6.1 mmol / L (or 110 mg / dl).
When fasting blood sugar drops below 60 mg / dl we speak of hypoglycemia, while for values above 100-110 mg / dl we generally speak of hyperglycemia.
During the day and after meals, it is normal to have higher blood sugar levels, reaching up to 140 mg / dl. When this value is exceeded, we speak of post-prandial hyperglycemia.
What role glucose plays?
Glucose is the main source of energy present in nature, used by the animal world (including human beings) as a fuel for cellular respiration and produced by the plant world with photosynthesis.
At the level of chemical structure it is a monosaccharide, or a sugar with a single molecule, as are also fructose and galactose.
How do we get glucose? We do this with nutrition, through the intake of …
- Simple carbohydrates, for example by consuming fruit, which also contains fructose, or milk (which also contains galactose);
- Complex carbohydrates, in which glucose is the basis of more structured compounds, such as the starch we find in cereals and potatoes.
The difference between the two types of carbohydrates lies in the speed of digestion and absorption: simple carbohydrates are metabolized much faster than complex carbohydrates, which on the contrary need more time to be “disassembled” in individual units.
These times also influence the speed of production by the pancreas of insulin, the hormone that promotes the passage of glucose from the bloodstream to the cells and its use as an energy substrate.
Our body can also store limited amounts of glucose in the muscles and liver in the form of glycogen, to have it available in times of need.
When glycogen stores are complete, excess glucose will be stored as fat deposits.
Instead, if the body is unable to obtain glucose with immediate food introduction and it also ends up with glycogen stores, it can be obtained through another metabolic process called gluconeogenesis, starting from proteins and fats.
Why it is important to keep normal blood glucose levels?
Usually the mechanism that regulates the absorption of glucose and the consequent production of insulin controls any hypo and hyperglycaemia episodes well in the day, always bringing the balance back thanks to activation or shutdown of the production of those hormones that communicate feelings of hunger to the brain and satiety.
The ideal would be that the process of nutrient intake >> increase in blood sugar >> insulin production is as much as possible modulated over time, without causing excessive peaks that are difficult to manage.
This is possible when our meals are balanced in the composition of nutrients, for example with a prevalence of complex carbohydrates compared to simple ones, or with adequate food quality: introducing many vegetables or whole grains will further modulate the rate of glucose absorption, making it slower due to the fiber inside them.
When blood glucose levels are very low, a series of signals are triggered that induce the feeling of hunger.
Depending on how long we wait to introduce food and what type of food we choose, the reactions may be different. Let’s take two examples …
It’s lunch time and we have a certain hunger.
We prepared a meal of lemon spinach, brown rice and curry chicken, seasoned with extra virgin olive oil: we followed the directions of the main dish, which in this way is complete with abundant vegetables, a portion of whole grains and a lean protein source.
The nutrients we have taken will be absorbed over a few hours, the insulin released slowly and we will have neither glycemic peaks nor hunger attacks.
Instead, let’s say we haven’t been able to plan our meal well.
The same situation arises but we have no way to make a full meal and “feed” the hunger with some cookies.
After half an hour, however, the hunger returns and we take a snack from the vending machine. We can still go on for a while, but at the next hunger attack, we voraciously eat a packet of crackers.
What did this second behavior bring about?
Every time we ate we basically introduced sugars (biscuits and snacks) or refined carbohydrates (non-whole grain crackers), which caused a rapid rise in blood sugar.
The insulin was set in motion as quickly by absorbing the glucose and the cycle started all over again, causing glycemic peaks and classic hunger attacks.
Arriving for dinner with a lot of hunger, we will probably gorge ourselves, eating too much.
In the end, this kind of behavior will push us more and more to eat the wrong foods, causing weight gain, increased visceral fat (the belly one!) and insulin resistance: the insulin produced by our pancreas will become less and less effective.
The vicious circle will feed, also due to a possible low physical activity, up to determine an altered fasting glycaemia or even diabetes.
The complications of diabetes
As explained in the previous example, one way of life right if repeated over time can create imbalances in the metabolism of glucose and increases the risk of development of diseases such as diabetes, of which there are several forms.
- The type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin – resistant: the cells become gradually less and less efficient use of insulin, resulting in hyperglycemia. The production of insulin however does not stop, continuously stimulated by the presence of glucose in the blood and over time the functionality of the pancreas is affected, leading to a series of negative consequences.
- The gestational diabetes is diagnosed during pregnancy, generally in the second or third trimester, and after childbirth may regress or be transformed into a form of diabetes similar to that of type 2.
There are other forms of diabetes, not linked to lifestyle, such as diabetes induced by endocrine diseases or drug or transplantation therapies.
The diabetes type 1 is a disease based autoimmune and due to causes not the all clear: the immune system destroys the beta cells of the pancreas, which are delegated to the production of insulin.
It is usually diagnosed in childhood or even in adulthood but usually within the age of 30.
It is also called insulin-dependent diabetes, as it leads to a lack of absolute insulin and forces those affected to adopt a mandatory replacement insulin therapy.
When diabetes is decompensated, or when it is not treated adequately, it exposes to the risk of serious complications even to the eyes, the kidneys, the central and peripheral nervous system , the heart and the vessels, especially to the lower limbs, causes the onset of diabetic ulcers and increases the risk of amputations.
How to keep blood glucose levels normal in a natural way
A correction of lifestyles can help us to maintain normal blood glucose levels and even to prevent pathological situations.
What to do?
Periodic blood tests
Monitoring your situation periodically, for example with blood tests every year, is the best way to check that there are no changes in our blood sugar levels.
Weight and waist control
Overweight and obesity are risk factors for the development of metabolic diseases such as diabetes: it is good practice to check that your weight is not subject to excessive variations and that the size of the waist (indicating any presence of visceral fat) falls within the parameters of normality (less than 94 cm for men and less than 80 cm for women).
Stress causes the activation of cortisol, the hormone responsible for increasing blood glucose and anti-insulin action.
Improve the quality of sleep
According to some studies, there is a correlation between quality of sleep and control of glucose metabolism: a good management of rest is also part of the concept of living fully.
Regular exercise and balanced nutrition
Performing physical activity in a programmed manner and adopting a diet that is as balanced as possible both in the distribution of nutrients and in the quality of food remains the most powerful means of having control over one’s life.
Even better if we pay attention to consume meals with a low total glycemic load as much as possible, adding whole grains, fruits and vegetables in abundance every day, without forgetting aromatic herbs and spices (such as cinnamon), for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties .
As in all other cases, the control of one’s nutrition is bound to have interesting repercussions on your whole life.