How does stress affect blood sugar?A Radio talk with Sue and Zulaikha November 2019
End year stress is a problem for both scholars and teachers and it can affect our wellbeing in serious ways.
Q : What are the worst things that could happen when we suffer from a stressful period in our lives?
A: Hormonal problems include adrenal burnout, as an extreme example of continuous stress without a period of recovery. Stress itself is not a bad thing and we are well able to cope with a challenge or two. Firstly, when threatened or challenged, we need the fuel to facilitate a fight or flight response:
We all have blood sugar reserves for this purpose.
They are stored as glycogen, in the liver.
Firstly the pituitary gland sets off the stress mechanism by releasing cortisol and this is how blood sugar is raised in the bloodstream even without consuming any sugar!
Q: So we can suffer from high blood sugar without eating any sugar?
A: Yes! Even on a special sugar free diet! The problem is that if the sugar level does not go down automatically, the blood pressure level goes up, due to increased blood volume. This is usually a temporary problem, and when the stressing out is over, no more cortisol is released and the body has time to recover, or adapt.
But the problem is that some of us are put under too much stress for tooÂ long and so the cortisol keeps on stimulation an increase in blood sugar. When we get angry, over excited and stressed we also release adrenalin and other stress hormones that add to the burden on blood sugar. The sugar is used to fuel the cells, but when they are overstimulated and have too much sugar they could get seriously damaged.
Q: So how does the body protect the cells from burning out? Does this have something to do with insulin resistance?
A: Yes, it is the only way to stop excessive glucose from entering the cell and to decrease the sensitivity of the cell receptor to glucose, to keep it out. So what is a seemingly innocent protective mechanism actually results in the cell losing out on glucose and the energy, and the bloodstream gets flooded with glucose.
Q: What happens then?
A: In the early stages, and extra boost of insulin is released and the blood sugar is lowered. But somehow the sugar gets too low, so with the help of all the sugary things we eat, more and more sugar pours in. So up goes the insulin to remove it until eventually, one becomes insulin resistant.
Q: Apart from the high blood sugar, does anything else happen?
A: Up goes the blood pressure and the triglycerides increase. Triglycerides are 3 glucose molecules that get bundled together as a safety measure to mop up the glucose. We call them LDL cholesterol. So if you suffer from high blood sugar, high glucose and high LDL cholesterol you have developed the Metabolic Syndrome.
Q: So all this can happen when we are over stressed? What about the diet. Would it make a difference?
A: Stress is stress, and even if one tries to make healthy choices, stress can get the better of you. It also interferes with your normal sleep cycles and people who are sleep deprived begin to put on weight. When they are stressed, they crave certain comfort foods and are not able to control the flood of blood sugar as a result.
Q: So stress is the most important thing to manage. Where do we start?
Identify the cause of your stress:
- Is it a temporary phase or has stress set in with a vengeance?
- Can you remove the stressor?
- Can you get away and be in a different space?
- Can you take a break from time to time and adapt to stop the continuous cortisol/blood sugar loop?
- Can you take supplements and medications to help you cope?
Q: How about changing the way you eat?
A: Definitely, because stress depletes levels of B vitamins and magnesium especially. So one is unable to relax, and being tense increases the blood pressure and it depletes more and more minerals, especially magnesium and potassium. It is not enough to cut out all sugar, we need to put back all the essential vitamins and minerals.
Q: I have heard of adaptogens. What are they and can they help with stress?
A: Adaptogens are herbs like ginseng and rhodiolia that help the adrenal glands to cope. They are very important, but should be combined with a good vitamin B complex as well as a lot of magnesium.
More about magnesium and blood sugar problems: