High blood sugar or hyperglycemia, or , is the poor regulation of blood sugar in the body.
Your body needs sugar, or glucose (found in the energy from the food you eat), to function. Blood sugar itself is not a bad thing, however uncontrolled blood sugar–either too high or too low–is not a good thing.
When we have high blood sugar in our body, our cells don’t know what to do with all the extra energy, and have difficulty using and absorbing it into our body.
The result? Cortisol (stress hormone) imbalances.
High and low cortisol (stress) leads to a myriad of symptoms and possible diseases, and is the reason why researchers say stress is related to more than 90% of all disease!
What is Ideal Blood Sugar?
Ideal blood sugar levels, measured by blood work or a reliable glucometer, should fall between 70-140 mg/dl. Before-meal normal sugars are 70–99 mg/dl. Post-meal or “postprandial” sugars taken two hours after meals should be less than 140 mg/dl.
High Blood Sugar Diagnosis
There are 2 main types of Hyperglycemia:
Blood sugar higher than 130 md/dl after not eating or drinking for at least 8 hours
Postprandial (after meal) Hyperglycemia
Blood sugar that’s higher than 180 mg/dl 2 hours after eating. (People without diabetes rarely have blood sugar higher than 140 mg/dl after a meal, unless it’s very large)
Blood sugar levels can be determined via serum blood work or with an at-home blood glucose glucometer, such as the FreestyleLite Blood Glucose Meter.
The Hyperglycemia Epidemic
Hyperglycemia, is a modern day epidemic.
Today, more than 1 in 10 people in the U.S. has high blood sugar, and more than 1 in 3 people have pre-diabetes and that same amount will have diabetes by about 2035.
However, it’s important to recognize “high blood sugar,” or even “low blood sugar,” doesn’t just mean you have Diabetes or that you eat lots of candy bars. High blood sugar can happen to anyone, and is most often a sign of stress, particularly in relation to our modern day lifestyle and environment.
Hyperglycemia was practically non-existent in ancestral times when people, who followed a traditional diet and lifestyle, rarely experienced the same blood sugar imbalances and chronic diseases like obesity, autoimmunity, cancer and diabetes.Since hunter–gatherers had genetics similar to us today, this suggests that modern day hyperglycemia is mostly driven by “external factors” (i.e. lifestyle and environment).
Causes of Hyperglycemia
So what modern day lifestyle and environmental factors cause high blood sugar in the first place?
Hyperglycemia, or blood sugar imbalances, are triggered by a variety of stressors. When these stressors persist, without relief, is when your body stops being able to manage and control your blood sugar effectively.
Common triggers for Hyperglycemia include:
- Tap water
- Disrupted gut microbiota
- Low fat or low protein diet
- Antibiotics and long-term medication use
- History of disordered eating/irregular eating habits
- Nutrient imbalances
- Sleep deprivation
- Overwork (without taking time to rest or recover)
- Burning a candle at both ends
When stress on the body exceeds our body’s ability to recover is when the body demands MORE glucose (energy) to deal with the stress, exhausting and thwarting our body’s natural blood sugar balance and leading to all the symptoms associated with Hyperglycemia.
Symptoms of Hyperglycemia
Common symptoms experienced by people with nigh blood sugar include:
- Hangry or irritable before meals
- Shaky if meals are skipped or delayed
- Needing to eat frequently/snack
- Need caffeine to get through the day
- Cravings for sweets, breads, stachy or carb-rich foods
- Sleepy after meals
- Feel better at first, then feel worse after eating
- Thirsty, despite drinking
- Hungry within 2-3 hours of eating
- Low energy, despite sleeping
- Wired and tired at night
- Blood sugar “roller coasters” (ups and downs in energy)
- Unwanted weight gain or “slow metabolism”
- Difficulty losing weight
- Feel jittery, weak or wound-up inside frequently
- Easily agitated
- Lower sex drive
- Frequent urination
- Feel tired after eating or need a nap after eating
- Sleep disturbance
- Occasional blurred vision
- Brain fog
- You crave sweets or breads and pastries….a lot!
- Occasional episodes of hypoglycemia (your blood sugar goes really high, and then plummets really low)
Diseases & Conditions Associated with Hyperglycemia
In addition to unpleasant symptoms, common diseases and conditions associated with high blood sugar include:
- “Adrenal Fatigue”
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Alzheimer’s/memory loss
- Kidney damage
- Arthritis and bone/joint problems
- Skin problems
- Teeth and gum infections
- Cataracts (clouded eyes)
- Damage to the retina of your eye
Natural Hyperglycemia Treatment
The good news?
Blood sugar imbalances are totally reversible, and the majority of people can find remission without pharmaceuticals through a focus on enhancing nutrition and lifestyle factors.
Here are 3 steps to treating Hyperglycemia naturally:
- Step 1: Understand How Certain Foods Affect Your Blood Sugar
- Step 2: Identify Underlying Causes
- And, Step 3: Re-evaluate Your Nutrition & Lifestyle
Here’s how to get started:
Step 1: Understand How Certain Foods Affect Your Blood Sugar
Since eating is a daily activity you do that is a part of life, the first crucial step is to understand what foods cause blood sugar reactions, and which ones don’t. Not all foods are created equal.
Your body, gut and blood sugar levels respond differently to different foods you feed it.
The more sugary, high-glycemic or more carb-rich your meal, the more likely your body will experience a “spike” in blood sugar, followed by a “crash,” signaling to you it needs more food NOW.
Eating to Balance Blood Sugar
The diet most often recommended to balance blood sugar is:
Moderate-higher protein (at least 20-35% calories from protein, OR 100 – 176g on a 2000 calorie diet and 130 – 230g on a 2600 calorie diet )
Moderate-higher fat (30-40%+ total calories, about 80-100 grams on a 2000 calorie diet, 115-130 grams on a 2600 calorie diet)
Low-moderate carbohydrate (5-30% of calories from carbs, OR less than 100 grams starchy carbs on a 2000 calorie diet, and less than 150 grams on a 2600 calorie diet)
These guidelines in conjunction with lower Glycemic Index (GI) foods typically work best while re-balancing your blood sugar levels.
Glycemic Index 101
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a measure of how quickly our blood sugar spikes in response to the fuel we receive from these foods on a scale of 0-100. Foods on the Glycemic Index chart are classified accordingly:
High GI = 70 to 100
Medium GI = 50 to 70
Low GI = below 50
The higher the GI in the food you eat, the more likely you are to have a “high blood sugar” episode in response to that food.
Carbohydrates (including grains, starches, fruits, and vegetables) have a higher Glycemic Index. They get used very quickly into our bodies, which can cause a rapid and high blood sugar, especially if the Glycemic Index is above 50, such as white bread (70), peaches (60), baked sweet potato (70), oatmeal (68) and canned lentils (60).
If the GI is lower, however, such as a cooked & cooled, boiled sweet potato (40), summer squash (15), greens (15), Brussels sprouts (15), you are more likely to keep more balanced blood sugar levels at the meals (especially if you eat your carbs with fats or proteins). Generally, after eating carbohydrates (particularly alone), we become hungry again within an hour or less.
Fat and protein, on the other hand, have a slower “burn rate.” They raise blood sugar more gradually, helping keep blood sugar levels more stable. They also keep us full longer. Assuming you are eating enough calories for your body and activity levels, you will be hungry again two to three hours after eating protein and four hours after eating fat.
The following is a quick reference to help make balancing your blood sugar much easier.
Protein: Time Until You are Hungry Again: 2-3 Hours
Fat: Time Until You are Hungry Again: 4 Hours
Carbohydrate: Time Until You are Hungry Again: 45 min-1 hour
Opt for the lower GI foods as you heal from Hyperglycemia. You can find more information online for particular foods that fit the lower GI category.
It’s important to note that prebiotic fibers that feed healthy gut bacteria, especially resistant starches, have a stabilizing blood sugar impact altogether, even if they have “higher” Glycemic Index numbers on paper.
The best prebiotic fibers to include in your blood sugar diet include:
- Cooked & Cooled Potatoes & Sweet Potatoes, boiled
- Cooked & Cooled Jasmine White Rice, boiled
- Cooked & Cooled Beans, soaked and dried
- Green Plantains
- Green-tipped Bananas
Step 2: Identify Underlying Causes
While you’re hacking your diet and figuring out the foods that help you keep your blood sugar more stable, it’s vital to get to the root of what is causing your blood sugar imbalances in the first place. In addition to modern day stressors, common underlying pathologies behind blood sugar imbalances include:
- SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth)
- Fungal or Bacterial Infections
- Food Intolerances
- Intestinal Permeability
- Cortisol Imbalances (HPA Axis Dysfunction)
- Liver Overload (Toxic & Environmental Exposures)
- Thyroid Dysfunction
- Autoimmune Conditions
Work with a functional medicine practitioner or healthcare provider aimed at looking to root causes.
Step 3: Re-evaluate Your Nutrition & Lifestyle
Here are some game-changing nutrition and lifestyle essentials to balance or lower blood sugar naturally:
Nutrition for High Blood Sugar
- Learn what foods affect your blood sugar positively and negatively (see Bonus section below)
- Include fat/protein with every meal: eggs, nuts, seeds, fish, meat.
- Eat 1-2 fermented foods and take a daily soil-based probiotic and prebiotic like Glucomannan powder or partially hydrolyzed guar gum
- Boost stomach acid for digestion and reduce glycemic load at meals with 1 tbsp. Apple cider vinegar in water, 1-3 times per day
- Avoid fruit juice and sodas.
- Limit caffeine to 1 cup of quality (organic) coffee each day.
- Avoid all grains, dairy, soy, corn, and yeast.
- Never skip breakfast and eat a high-protein breakfast within one hour of waking.
- Eat three balanced meals per day (including protein, vegetables and healthy fats) and limit snacking (try to go longer between meals if not experiencing hypoglycemia)
- Cut out foods with a glycemic index above 55.
- Always combine carbohydrates with fat or protein. Never exceed a 2:1 ratio of carb to protein.
- Don’t fear carbs; Emphasize eating the majority of your carbs in the form of colorful veggies and prebiotic fibers, like cooked and cooled potatoes, white rice, green tipped plantains/bananas, artichoke, garlic, onion and jicama
- Limit fruits to 1-2 servings each day.
- No sweets or carbs right before bed. Opt for a protein based snack before bed if needed.
- Balance nutrient deficiencies associated with hyperglycemia, including: Low vitamin D, low magnesium, low and high levels of iron, low choline, and low chromium.
- Consider intermittent fasting, the ketogenic diet or the Protein-sparing modified approach (PSMF) as a short-term therapeutic approach if your blood sugar levels still are not changing and you don’t have a history of eating disorders.
Lifestyle for Hyperglycemia
In addition to nutrition essentials, boost your lifestyle to address high blood sugar naturally with these key factors:
- Regular exercise: At least 150 minutes each week (but not too much).
- Not sitting all day; Take standing and movement breaks every hour.
- Sleep 7-9 hours per night (one bad night of sleep can throw blood sugar off for the entire next day)
- Limit screen time and light exposures, which can disrupt circadian rhythms and stress the body more (i.e. limit screen use at night, get 30-60 minutes of fresh air each day, sleep in a completely darkened room, use natural light as much as possible).
- Eliminate and replace environmental stressors, such as toxic beauty and cleaning products, with natural, non-toxic versions.
- Manage stress and overwork with a balanced lifestyle: Start a mindfulness practice (yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, etc.), connect with community/people, and make time for play and hobbies you enjoy.
- Assess & correct underlying gut pathologies (SIBO, parasites, yeast, etc.) (work with a practitioner)
- Address HPA Axis Dysfunction (i.e. “adrenal fatigue”) in conjunction with blood sugar and gut health through stress management and supplemental supports if needed (work with a practitioner)
- Supplement with appropriate blood sugar balancing herbs, such as: berberine, fenugreek, banaba, and gymnema (work with a practitioner to determine the best ones for you, and ensure safety if currently taking any medications)
- Work with a practitioner to balance medications as you make lifestyle changes if you are currently taking drugs such as metformin or using insulin.
Lastly, blood sugar “problems” are common, but long-term or life long struggles with blood sugar imbalances do not have to be. You can take healthy control over your health with thoughtful attention to nutrition, lifestyle, environmental and above all, stress.