Do you pay enough attention to your blood sugar? Perhaps you've discussed it briefly at your doctor's office but beyond that, you might not be entirely sure why it matters.
Spectrum Health's Karl Nadolsky, DO, Fellow of American College of Endocrinology and Diplomate of American Board of Obesity Medicine, explains how our blood sugar levels have such a powerful impact on our overall health and wellness, and offers insight into when an imbalance becomes a concern.
"Our blood sugar levels are regulated by a complex interaction of many organs and hormones of our body influenced by innumerous variable factors to have enough fuel for bodily functions without having excess, which results in complications," Dr. Nadolsky explained. "If blood sugars start to rise consistently above normal, there becomes an increased risk of long-term complications such as kidney, eye, nerve and cardiovascular disease. This regulation system is also strongly influenced by genetics and lifestyle, or behavioral factors such as nutrition, physical activity and exercise, sleep and stress."
There's also a potential of developing diabetes mellitus (DM), which Dr. Nadolsky explains is diagnosed when fasting blood sugar, average blood sugar, or post-sugar ingestion climb above certain thresholds.
So, how do you know if your blood sugar levels might be off?
"High blood sugars can lead to feeling vaguely unwell but very high sugars can cause increased urination, thirst, weight loss and blurred vision," said Dr. Nadolsky. "Low sugars can cause you to feel light-headed, sweaty, and experience heart racing. People with insulin resistance or those who've had intestinal surgeries, like gastric bypass, can suffer 'reactive hypoglycemia' which occurs after eating sugary or refined starchy carbohydrates that digest quickly, increasing blood sugar but then dropping quickly and causing symptoms of hypoglycemia."
Dr. Nadolsky suggests those who have a family history of type 2 diabetes or who are struggling with their weight to work with a dietitian to personalize a dietary strategy. This approach could include reducing "empty" sources of sugar, carbohydrates and fat, while increasing nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, legumes, fruit and high fiber grains, healthy fats and relatively low-fat sources of protein (ex. plants, fish, poultry, eggs, pork, and lean beef).
"It's very important to avoid sugary beverages such as pop, juice, sweet tea and high-calorie coffee drinks," he said, adding, however, that dietary efforts must be personalized.
BLOOD SUGAR: FACT OR FICTION
MYTH: You must adhere to a very low carbohydrate diet or different versions of intermittent fasting to keep sugars balanced.
FACT: "While cutting sugars and starches can certainly help, it's not the only way nor absolutely necessary," Dr. Nadolsky explained. "Cutting fat intake and sticking to better dietary patterns helps in their own right. Incorporating different methods of fasting can help different people reduce their energy intake to lose weight and improve the abnormal sugar metabolism of those who are prediabetic or have type 2 diabetes, but again is not necessary and may cause some people to feel like their sugars are 'unbalanced' or low."
MYTH: "Diet" beverages or artificial sweeteners are worse than sugar-sweetened beverages.
FACT: "This is busted by all the interventional trial data we have but the myth continues to be perpetuated by some physicians, dietitians and sometimes the media. Head to head, 'diet' beverages are absolutely better than sugar beverages but again must be personalized, especially for those who have intolerances to specific sweeteners."
If you have concerns about your blood sugar levels, Dr. Nadolsky emphasizes it's vital to speak with your physician, especially if risk factors are present.
For additional insight related to health and nutrition, listen to Dr. Karl Nadolsky, along with brother, Dr. Spencer Nadolsky, on their podcast Docs Who Lift, available at anchor.fm/docswholift.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.
This article originally appeared in the Oct/Nov '22 issue of West Michigan Woman.