Have you ever said or heard the phrase “I have a low sugar”? How many really know what this means?
Glycemia is the concentration of glucose in the blood : we speak of a drop in 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 certain range, established by the guidelines of the Italian Society of Diabetology (SID) between 60 and 100 milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood (mg / dl), the same ones also set by the American Diabetes Association in its “Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes” of 2019.
By taking a blood test it is possible to find the glycaemia 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 Organization of Health, which takes into account normal values if lower than 6.1 mmol / L (i.e. 110 mg / dl).
When fasting blood glucose falls 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 values, reaching up to 140 mg / dl. When this value is also exceeded, we speak of postprandial hyperglycemia.
What role does glucose play
Glucose is the main source of energy present in nature, used by the animal world (including humans) as a fuel for cellular respiration and produced by the plant world with photosynthesis.
In terms of chemical structure it is a monosaccharide, which is a sugar with only one molecule, as are fructose and galactose.
How do we get glucose? We do it with nutrition, by taking:
- 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 starch found 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 the individual units.
These timing also affect the speed of production by the pancreas of insulin, the hormone that promotes the passage of glucose from the bloodstream to 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 the stocks of glycogen are full, excess glucose will be stored in the form of fat deposits.
On the other hand, in the event that the body is unable to obtain glucose with the immediate food introduction and also runs out of glycogen stores, it can obtain it through another metabolic process called gluconeogenesis, starting from proteins and fats. / p>
Why it is important to keep blood glucose levels normal
Usually the mechanism that regulates the absorption of glucose and the consequent production of insulin controls well any episodes of hypo and hyperglycemia during the day, always restoring the balance thanks to the activation or deactivation of the production of those hormones that communicate feelings of hunger and satiety to the brain.
Ideally, the nutrient intake process >> increase blood sugar >> insulin production is as modulated as possible in 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: introduce a lot of vegetables or Whole grains will further modulate the rate of glucose absorption, making it slower due to the fiber present in them.
When blood glucose levels are very low, a series of signals are activated that induce the sensation 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 lunchtime and we’re pretty hungry.
We have prepared a meal based on spinach with lemon, brown rice and chicken curry, seasoned with extra virgin olive oil: we followed the directions for 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 within a few hours, the insulin released slowly and we will have neither glycemic peaks nor hunger pangs.
Let’s say we were unable to plan our meal well .
The same situation arises but we have no way to make a full meal and we “stop” hunger with some cookies.
After half an hour, however, hunger returns and we grab a snack from the vending machine. We manage to go on for a while, but the next hunger attack we eat a packet of crackers voraciously.
What did this second behavior cause?
Every time we ate we basically introduced sugars (cookies and snacks) or refined carbohydrates (the non-wholemeal crackers), which caused a rapid rise in blood sugar.
The insulin started up just as quickly, absorbing the glucose and the cycle started all over again, causing glycemic peaks and classic hunger attacks each time.
Arriving for dinner very hungry we will probably gorge ourselves, eating too much.
In the long run such behavior will push us more and more to eat the wrong foods , causing weight gain, increase in visceral fat (that of the belly!) and insulin resistance: the that is, the insulin produced by our pancreas will become less and less effective.
The vicious circle will feed , accomplice also a possible poor activity physical , leading to an altered fasting blood sugar or even diabetes.
The complications of diabetes
As explained in the previous example, a incorrect lifestyle if repeated over time can create imbalances in the metabolism of glucose and increase the risk of development of diseases such as diabetes, of which there are different forms.
- type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin – resistance: cells become less and less efficient in using insulin, leading to hyperglycemia. However, insulin production is not blocked, continuously stimulated by the presence of glucose in the blood and over time the functionality of the pancreas suffers, leading to a series of negative consequences.
- gestational diabetes is diagnosed during pregnancy, usually in the second or third trimester, and after delivery it can regress or develop into a form of diabetes similar to type 2.
There are other forms of diabetes , not linked to lifestyle, such as diabetes induced by endocrine diseases or by drug or transplant therapies.
diabetes type 1 is a basic autoimmune disease and due to causes not of everything clear : the immune system destroys the beta cells of the pancreas, which are those responsible for producing insulin.
It is usually diagnosed in childhood or even in adulthood but usually by the age of 30.
It is also called insulin-dependent diabetes , as it causes an absolute insulin deficiency and forces those affected to adopt mandatory insulin replacement therapy.
When diabetes is decompensated, or when it is not treated adequately, exposes you to the risk of complications, including serious ones, to the eyes, kidneys, central and peripheral nervous system , heart and blood vessels , especially in the lower limbs, causes the onset of diabetic ulcers and increases the risk of amputations.
How to naturally keep blood glucose levels normal
A lifestyle correction can help us keep blood glucose levels normalized and even 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 glucose values.
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 your waist measurement (which indicates any presence of visceral fat) is within within normal parameters (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 with anti-insulin action.
Improve sleep quality
According to some studies, there is a correlation between sleep quality and glucose metabolism control: good sleep management is also part of the concept of living fully.
Regular exercise and a balanced diet
Carrying out physical activity in a planned 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 way to have control of your life in hand.
Even better if we pay attention to consume as much as possible meals with a load glycemic total low , adding plenty of whole grains, fruit and vegetables every day, without forgetting aromatic herbs and spices (such as cinnamon), for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
As in all other cases, controlling your nutrition is bound to have an interesting impact on your whole life .