This is part of our Body Talk series which involves simple explanations of complex body processes to make them easier to understand. Today we will focus on Hypoglycemia and Diabetes.
Your body uses glucose as energy. Glucose is a single sugar molecule that comes from a variety of foods including starches and fruit. When you eat sugar and starches the glucose is released into the bloodstream. If there is a lot of glucose in the blood it becomes thick and heavy, like syrup, which makes it difficult for the blood to circulate so your body sends a signal to your pancreas to release the hormone insulin. Insulin works like a key unlocking cells to escort glucose inside of them and out of the blood.
Refined sugar and starches are quick to digest and so release a lot of glucose all at once into the blood. The pancreas in turn releases a large amount of insulin to take care of it. Imagine I have a bunch of beads. If I were to take twenty of those beads and throw them on the floor it wouldn't take very long for one person to pick them up. If I threw a thousand beads all over the floor though it would take a long time for one person to pick those up so it would be more efficient to have twenty people helping. So the pancreas releases a lot of insulin all at once to quickly put away the high amounts of glucose.
The body requires some glucose to remain within the bloodstream because it is the only source of energy for the red blood cells. So imagine that I told those twenty people to pick up all but 10 beads. Imagine the mass confusion that would ensue! So basically when a lot of insulin is released too much glucose is removed from the blood resulting in fatigue, lack of energy, moodiness, and all sorts of effects.
In order to balance the blood sugar again the liver releases another hormone called glucagon which tells the cells to release glucose back into the blood.
In hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) often the individual is eating too many refined carbohydrates and sugars causing an excessive amount of insulin to be released. These people may also have an issue where the liver is not working properly or is so congested that it is having difficulty producing the glucagon hormone to re-balance the blood sugar. When hypoglycemia goes on for too long the cells may actually become "gummed" up and so they become resistant to allowing insulin to dock. This is what happens in Type II diabetes which used to be called Adult onset diabetes until children started getting it. This is not surprising considering the amount of refined carbohydrates and sugar the average American kid gets in their diet.
Type I diabetes involves a dysfunction of the pancreas so that it is not producing enough insulin. In my experience, diet plays a very important role in Type I diabetes as well.
In order to resolve glucose regulation issues I recommend a very low refined carbohydrate diet. I also highly recommend eating more fat and protein with each meal as either will slow down the glucose release avoiding the roller coaster of insulin and glucagon response.
Many of my clients with blood sugar issues keep a jar of coconut oil mixed with honey and a little nut butter to taste with them at all times. When they feel low in blood sugar they take a spoonful of this mixture. The honey gives a quick glucose boost while the coconut oil is used by the body for a slow release of energy to keep the red blood cells fed. Some people will also need to address their overall liver and pancreas health for long term resolution.
Do you remember that movie, The Horse Whisperer? Ever since that movie came out there have been all sorts of people claiming to be some sort of "whisperer": Dog Whisperer, Ghost Whisperer, even a Chicken Whisperer. I've often joked that I feel like some sort of "Body Whisperer". I spend a lot of time trying to understand how complex bodily processes work so I can explain it to my clients in simple terms anyone can understand. My husband has been encouraging me for awhile to write a book of my explanations. Because when you understand what the body is trying to do... it takes a lot of the frustration out of common symptoms.
Let's start with something simple.
We all have to deal with getting sick at least once or twice a year. The symptoms are familiar: runny nose, sneezing, coughing, low energy, mucus production, congestion, sore throat, and maybe if you're unlucky enough some body aches, fever, vomiting or diarrhea. Nobody likes being sick and most people would do anything to get rid of these symptoms as fast as possible. Many pharmaceutical medications have been created just to make our life more bearable when we are sick by reducing these symptoms. But let's listen to the body and try to understand what is happening during illness.
Your body is bombarded with germs on a regular basis. Germs are scavengers. They prefer to feed off of diseased or weak cells because they can get through the cell's defenses and because that is their job: to break down diseased or dead cells. This isn't some sort of heroic good vs. evil story. Germs were created as equally as humans. They feed, live, reproduce and die just like we do. One theory is that the human body will even allow certain germs to enter just so they can feed off of less than healthy cells. A sort of survival of the fittest I guess.
So the germs get into weakened cells and start reproducing and spreading. More and more cells are being used as little germ factories instead of doing their regular jobs. Eventually all of this comes under the radar of the immune system. How strong and healthy your immune system is determines how long it takes for them to find the invaders. And when they do find them they use all kinds of different methods to evict them. Like flooding mucus to the area to trap the germs in a sticky, slimy mess. The mucus is either swallowed so the germs are destroyed by the acid in the stomach or it is coughed up and blown through the nose into a tissue. The excess mucus, coughing and runny nose are not caused by the germs themselves but by the body in the attempt to remove them.
Other germ eviction methods include a fever (certain germs die at higher temps) vomiting, diarrhea and sweating (physical eviction). Sometimes their is a localized skin reaction so the skin becomes red and itchy. When you scratch the germs are physically removed or damaged by the action. Body aches and pain are the result of chemicals produced as immune cells damage, kill, and even eat the germs and any cells they were infecting.
Sometimes when people are sick they decide to boost their immune system through herbs and nutritional supplements only to find that their symptoms get worse. Thanks for boosting the immune system! Now it can clean harder and faster! Or maybe you take the conventional medical approach and use an over-the-counter drug to stop the cough, sneeze, runny nose, vomiting, fever, etc. Now you've weakened the immune system. You may feel temporarily better but the germs can continue to multiply causing even more damage.
A better plan would be 1) Eat healthy and stay physically active so the cells are not weakened and prone to invasion to begin with and 2) Take immune boosting herbs before you even develop symptoms so germs can be eradicated before they multiply and get out of control. Some good herbs might be echinacea, astragalus, reishi, garlic, etc.
The wrong response would be to sterilize everything and try to eradicate every possible pathogenic germ. You can't do it. It isn't possible and you may actually make things worse.
If I were to sterilize a countertop with bleach it won't stay sterilized for long. Bacteria from the air settles on the counter and start to multiply. But the types of bacteria that can live on a sterilized field tend to be stronger, more resistant forms than what was living their before. The same is true with using antibiotics. Kill off the resident bacteria and you will encourage the stronger, more resistant and pathogenic strains instead.
In cheese houses in Europe they use whey to wash the walls and floors rather than an antibacterial agent. Whey is the waste product of the cheesemaking process and contains trillions of probiotic bacteria. By doing this the cheesemakers encourage the kind of bacteria that makes the best cheese while crowding out any others that might ruin the cheese. I've often said someone should come up with a probiotic cleaner as opposed to antibacterial soaps. But then again, your whole house may end up smelling like cheese!
So listen to your body! If you do get sick, make sure you get plenty of rest. Eat light with lots of easy to digest foods, soups, liquids, and herbal tea to keep up the strength of the immune system. Don't try to overdo it physically because the body needs to expend that energy to fight a battle not run around doing errands. Let your body clean out knowing that when it's done you will be all the healthier for it!
To Your Health!
This summer I have been taking an adult ballet class. I have never taken ballet in my life so this is quite a challenge for my mind and my body. I very much appreciate my instructors. They have the exact knowledge and experience to guide me. I wouldn't dare say "I'm a ballet dancer" if I had only read how from a book or watched a video. And I wouldn't trust someone to teach me ballet if they had never done it themselves. I also prefer having a teacher who has experience teaching adults how to do ballet. My body and mind are very different from a five-year-old's so I would expect a different teaching method.
Or let's take meditation for another example. You can say, "Yes, I meditate" but how do you know you are doing it right? You have to find someone who has been meditating for a long time to teach you. But you want to check them out first. Do they seem like the kind of person who has experienced the benefits of meditating? Are they calm in body and mind? Or are they angry, irritable, have too much nervous energy, rude to others, etc. Would you really want to learn from that sort of person?
We should take a similar approach to our health. I often ask my clients what their diet looks like. Almost all of them will tell me, "Well, I eat pretty healthy." Well, what does it mean to eat healthy? If you wanted to learn how to eat healthy should you read a book? Listen to people who theorize about how to be healthy? Maybe rely on animal studies? I can find over a hundred different theories about what it means to eat healthy but how do I know which one is right for me? Do I trust someone who has a lot of book knowledge and theories but has poor health?
If I want someone to teach me how to meditate, or do ballet, or even eat right... then I want to make sure they know what they are doing and have done it themselves. I want to make sure they have been able to successfully help others through their methods. And I want to make sure they are healthy.
Most people think they are eating healthy because they read a theory in a book or believed the label on the box or because someone told them that was how they should eat. But if you want to treat your health as if it was a precious jewel (which it is) then that shouldn't be good enough for you. Find someone who is healthy, who teaches others how to be healthy, and who has the experience and knowledge about what it means to be healthy. Otherwise, you may be dancing.... but it isn't ballet.
To Your Health,
Kathryn Doran-Fisher is a Traditional Naturopath, Certified GAPS Practitioner and owner of Elder & Sage.