Two weeks ago, I mentioned that adrenal fatigue can have a serious impact on blood sugar issues. Click here to read the post where I explain what adrenal fatigue is. The short explanation: your adrenals become so tired from long term stress that they no longer produce hormones properly.
How normal blood sugar works
Before we can discuss how adrenal fatigue impacts your blood sugar (or blood glucose), you need to understand how blood sugar regulation works. Blood sugar levels naturally fluctuate. When you digest your food, carbohydrates are broken down into sugars and absorbed into the bloodstream.
When your blood glucose levels rise too much, insulin tells your cells to take in some of the sugar from your blood to store in your fat cells. This makes your blood glucose levels drop back down. When that level drops beyond a certain point (normally a few hours later), you feel hungry.
When stress hormones get mixed in
Cortisol, a stress hormone, also naturally fluctuates throughout the day. When you’re stressed, your body produces more of it. Cortisol increases blood sugar levels by promoting the release of sugar stores from the liver and the muscles. It can also break down muscle to use as sugar (an undesirable process).
Adrenaline is another hormone involved in the stress response. It ensures that your body has enough sugar and oxygen to deal with certain situations. Adrenaline levels increase naturally during exercise.
Cortisol and adrenaline levels aren’t meant to be chronically high. Their purpose in very stressful events is to help you deal with the situation at hand (fight or flight). All that sugar they drop into your blood is meant to give you a big surge of energy. Once resolved, these hormones should return to normal levels.
Because the everyday stress most people experience doesn’t lead to a fight-or-flight response, blood sugar levels can remain very high. High blood sugar levels are dangerous, so the body aims to bring that level back to normal.
Blood sugar levels gone wrong
As I mentioned above, when there is too much sugar in your blood, insulin comes to the rescue to lower that level. But what happens when chronically high stress hormones lead to long term high blood glucose?
Insulin, which is produced in the pancreas, will continue to be released into the bloodstream as needed. However, when the cells in the body are constantly exposed to high levels of insulin, they stop responding properly to it. Think of when you hear a ringing noise. Eventually, it doesn’t sound as loud anymore. That’s how the cells respond to insulin with time.
When you were a child and your parents didn’t respond to you right away, did you scream louder? That’s what insulin does to remove high amounts of sugar out of the blood. But eventually, the pancreas becomes exhausted from constantly producing high levels of insulin. When it can’t keep up with the demand anymore, insulin levels drop, and blood sugar levels are constantly dangerously high. This is what you may know as diabetes.
Adrenal fatigue and weight gain
Diabetes can be an extreme result of adrenal fatigue, but it won’t happen to everyone who struggles with adrenal fatigue. This doesn’t mean that for everyone who doesn’t develop diabetes, blood sugar levels will be normal.
When your body can still produce a proper insulin response, it takes that sugar out of the blood and turns it into the fat in your body. Since cortisol can break down muscle to release sugar into the blood, those with adrenal fatigue may find that they lose muscle quickly and put weight on easily, even when “eating right”.
Another issue commonly experienced by those with adrenal fatigue is sugar cravings. When your stress hormones raise your blood sugar levels too much, insulin quickly tries to bring that level down. If that level drops too much, your body needs more sugar right away to avoid fainting. It asks for that sugar in the form of a sugar craving.
When you feed your body with that sweet food it asked you for, your blood sugar levels spike up again. Insulin, of course, comes to the rescue and pushes that sugar back into your cells to be stored as fat.
How to manage blood sugar levels with adrenal fatigue
Getting blood sugar levels back to a healthy point can take a long time. Eating properly can help, but it’s important to consult your healthcare practitioners regardless if you have blood sugar issues.
Begin by reducing sugar intake to reduce your body’s struggle. Reduce caffeine intake, as well. Caffeine increases production of adrenaline, which increases your blood sugar level and can further tire out your adrenals.
Try macronutrient balancing your meals. Protein and fats take longer to digest than carbohydrates. Eating a meal that contains all three will slow digestion down enough to prevent very quick blood sugar spikes. Not sure how to get started? Shoot me a line!