October 26, 2020

How your body responds to sugar and refined carbs

Learn about the long term effects of sugar

The modern lunch break should qualify as an olympic event - shovelling down your food during a 15 minute sprint while speaking to your coworker about their cousin’s wedding and simultaneously glancing at your email inbox through your peripheral vision. For all of us that just felt a small tinge of recognition while reading that (maybe you are even reading this during those precious 15 minutes), the idea of a long lunch break might sound about as real as genies, ghosts or affordable insurance.


But they exist! Siestas and long lunch breaks have been utilised by many organisations to allow their employees to avoid that famous post-lunch slump. But why does this slump occur? Why does a pint of ice cream help you in almost any situation? Why do you almost always fall into a mini coma after you finish a bag of candy? And why do you feel so energetic or so tired during different parts of your day?


You guessed it - it’s all in your blood sugar.

Your body's response to sugar

Picture yourself binging Tiger King early afternoon with a tub of rocky road ice cream by your side. As you make your way through the tub, every spoonful eaten as you mumble “I bet she DID kill him” will start affecting your body and blood sugar.

The sugar you buy at the supermarket or that they pour into that rocky road tub is stripped of its original nutrients. Those nutrients might have helped your body break it down, but now your body is left to fend for itself. Vitamins and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium are required to turn sugar into energy. If the sugar lacks these on its own, your clever body will take these vitamins and minerals from other parts of your body, such as teeth and bones.

Once in your body, some sugar is absorbed into the blood stream directly. However, some of the sugary goodness makes its way to the GI tract instead, where it feeds some of the organisms living there. Once well-fed and overly-produced, these organisms basically hijack your body, causing complications and issues including:

  • A serious sugar addiction
  • Mental fog
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Inflammation
  • Recurring infections

The excess sugar then makes its way to the liver, where excess sugar that’s not used immediately is converted into fat in the body, contributing to weight gain and fatty liver disease.

And finally, the ‘pièce de résistance’ - the blood sugar effects.

Hyperglycemia

Ooh, we bet you’ve heard this word before in a Grey’s Anatomy episode while someone faints on screen. But however complicated it may sound when a handsome doctor shouts it to the medical team, hyperglycemia simply means that your blood sugar level is higher than normal.

This is most commonly a term used for diabetics who experience severe hyperglycemia, but non-diabetics can also experience hyperglycemia after a meal. This is most commonly known as the sugar rush.

The Sugar Rush

A delicious piece of banana bread with some whipped cream and fresh cut fruit is a treat - however from the moment you take that first bite, that banana bread starts reacting and causing changes to your body.

Digestion begins in the mouth where salivary enzymes break down the sugar molecules for absorption. A lot of it is directly absorbed into the blood stream from the mouth, setting off a rapid blood sugar reaction. As the rest of the sugar travels to the GI tract, enzymes (with the help of vitamins and minerals from your body) break it down for blood stream absorption. This full process causes your blood sugar to increase.

The high levels of sugar which are now in the blood stream can affect your mood and mental state, and can cause emotional outbursts and erratic behaviour. So when your coworker starts shouting at you about sending an email two minutes too late, consider if that blueberry muffin they just ate could be the culprit (your coworker may of course also just be an unpleasant person, no blueberry muffin to blame).

Additionally, the production of dopamine (the brain's feel good hormone) gives you a natural “high”, a phenomenon similar to the habit-forming addictive nature of narcotics. This causes you to reach for seconds and thirds, and before you know it, you're either out of banana bread or whipped cream, or both!

Yes, we really did just compare banana bread to narcotics.

Further, it has been shown that consumption of sugar can cause white blood cells to be less effective at fighting off infection compared to the white blood cells of people who have not consumed refined carbs. The immune system can be crippled by this for at least 5 hours, suggesting that sugar consumption can lead to a weakened ability to fight infection. So not only is that banana bread akin to narcotics, it could also reduce your body’s ability to protect itself.

Hypoglycemia

On the other side of the spectrum, we find hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia simply refers to when your blood sugar is lower than normal. The term is often associated with diabetics who experience severe hypoglycemia, but non-diabetics regularly experience hypoglycemia throughout the day. This is often referred to as reactive hypoglycemia, and it is the reason why your desk starts looking like a comfortable napping spot 2-5 hours after your lunch.

The Sugar Crash

After your banana bread fuelled sugar rush, your body is so clever that it can adjust your blood sugar levels. The increase in your blood sugar values makes your internal control system kick into gear, and an excessive amount of insulin is released to lower your blood sugar. However, the slight delay between the rise in blood sugar and this excessive insulin means that after a few hours, your blood sugar starts to go down, and down, and down (think along the lines of the FloRida “Low” song) until eventually it’s lower than your ideal blood sugar values. This dip, hypoglycemia, causes tiredness and irritability - a.k.a. the famous food coma.

So, how do I prevent sugar from controlling me?

Three major elements can help you step off that blood sugar rollercoaster - food, physical activity and sleep.

One of the simplest ways to keep your blood sugar within range is to think about the food you eat. Food with low glycemic index and high fibre content such as sweet potatoes, quinoa and non-starchy vegetables is a great place to begin.

Additionally, exercising regularly has been known to help stabilise your blood sugar by increasing your insulin sensitivity and by using glucose to contract your muscles.

Lastly, counting sheep may help in other ways than just sharpening up your maths skills. Sleep plays a crucial role in blood sugar management - lack of sleep has been shown to be associated with higher blood sugar values and increased insulin resistance.

And maybe most importantly - find what works for you. Some people find they can eat that banana bread without any blood sugar effects, some can reduce the effects by eating something else before it or by exercising, and some just shouldn’t even be in the same room as a slice. Find what your body needs and responds to.

This is where glucose monitoring comes in to play (seamless transition to self promotion, thank you very much). Using glucose monitoring can give you answers about your body’s real response to your lifestyle. Veri provides a reliable, pain free and honestly stylish Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) solution that gives you trackable metrics to help you be aware of what happens in your body. We are giving you the power to make and assess adjustments in order to live healthier and happier.

References

American Diabetes Association, “Blood Sugar and Exercise”, 2020. URL: https://www.diabetes.org/fitness/get-and-stay-fit/getting-started-safely/blood-glucose-and-exercise

A. Sanchez et al., “Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis”, 1973. Published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. URL: https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article-abstract/26/11/1180/4732762

J. Kirwan et al., “The essential role of exercise in the management of type 2 diabetes”, 2017. Published in Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. URL: https://www.ccjm.org/content/84/7_suppl_1/S15


M. Grandner et al., “Sleep Duration and Diabetes Risk: Population Trends and Potential Mechanisms”, 2016. Published in Current Diabetes Reports. URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5070477/

N. Goyal et al., "Non Diabetic and Stress Induced Hyperglycemia [SIH] in Orthopaedic Practice What do we know so Far?”, 2014. Published in Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research. URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4253199/

Y. Altuntas, “Postprandial Reactive Hypoglycemia”, 2019. Published in The Medical Bulletin of Sisli Etfal Hospital. URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7192270/

Needless to say, we're just getting started and are excited to share all our learnings in the future!

To optimal health,
Anttoni, Frans & Verneri

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