Most people understand that blood sugar balance is important for sustained energy, preventing diabetes and overall health. But blood sugar and insulin are part of a complex process in the body that is highly influenced by our diet and lifestyle choices. Here are the basics of how our bodies regulate blood sugar.
What is blood sugar?
Sugar, or glucose, comes from the carbohydrates (i.e. sugars and starches) in our diet. Glucose serves as a primary source of energy for the body’s cells and brain, and our metabolism is constantly working to maintain a healthy balance between sugar in the blood and its uptake into fat, muscles and the liver, either for energy use or storage. The pancreas is key to this balance, as it produces the hormones necessary to move glucose in and out of cells.
Blood sugar imbalances
Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, happens when blood sugar falls below the normal range. When this drop happens—either as a result of food deprivation or exercise—the body responds by releasing glucagon, a hormone made by the pancreas that frees stored glucose in order to raise blood sugar to a normal level. A severe drop in blood sugar (or elevated stress) can even prompt the release of adrenaline and cortisol, which provide quicker breakdown of glucose for energy.
On the other end of the spectrum are blood sugar spikes, which the body responds to by releasing insulin (also a hormone made by the pancreas). The function of insulin is to remove sugar from the blood and direct it to the cells of muscle, fat and liver to be stored or used as energy; proper insulin function, therefore, is key to regulating blood sugar. If insulin is insufficient or cells aren‘t receptive—a condition also known as insulin resistance—the glucose remains in the bloodstream and creates high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia. Chronic high blood sugar is associated with obesity, pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Next we’ll talk about how excessive intake of refined carbohydrates can cause an unhealthy cycle of blood sugar imbalances, and, ultimately, insulin resistance.