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What does Blood Sugar have to do with the Immune System??!

Last time we talked about how blood sugar regulation affects the endocrine system. The cool thing about the human body is that everything is connected! So when it comes to the immune system, blood sugar regulation is key to proper function. But probably not in the way that you think…

You see, inflammation is your body’s reaction to a stressor, and the more stressors you put on your body, the more it weakens your body’s natural defenses. You might think of this stress as filling an imaginary ‘bucket’ and once that bucket overflows, your body reacts…either by getting physically sick, showing up as digestive distress, or having skin conditions pop up (among numerous other reactions). In fact, chronic stress can lead to autoimmune diseases and other chronic health conditions. In order to protect your long-term health and avoid overflowing your ‘bucket’ you want to strengthen your defenses (your immune function) and remove the stressors (blood sugar imbalances, mental stress, environmental stress, potential food reactions, etc.). Dr. Terry Wahls discusses this at length in her book The Wahls Protocol ® (2020) and how finding this balance can improve symptoms associated with a number of autoimmune conditions.

Blood sugar imbalance was discussed in a previous post but as a refresher; every time your body sees those high peaks (spikes) in blood sugar, it sees it as a stressor and your hormones react accordingly. The graphic below demonstrates dysregulated blood sugar control.

Over time, this stresses your HPA (hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal) axis and can cause dysregulation and inflammation. Your immune system is always working hard to address any causes of inflammation to achieve homeostasis (aka balance). And every time blood sugar spikes, so does your cortisol. Over time, this leads to chronically high cortisol which can lead to a number of health issues, inflammation, and imbalances. I really like the graphic below for showing the relationship of cortisol to other imbalances. You can see just how many systems a cortisol imbalance can affect with some direct and many indirect impacts on the immune system.

This is why finding a macro balance that feels good to your body is key to long term health. By balancing your intake of all of the macronutrients, you can keep your blood sugar more stable, so if you graphed your blood sugar levels, it would look more like rolling foothills and not the peaks and valleys of a mountain pass. Chronic blood sugar dysregulation is the start of a cascade of imbalances that are regulated by the HPA axis as shown in the graphic below.

So by avoiding blood sugar dysregulation, we can prevent some big imbalances in our downstream systems. This is key since when our downstream systems are out of balance, our immune system is compromised. This is because our body is working hard to bring these systems back into balance. This stress makes it harder for the body to activate our immune “soldiers” and fight off “invaders”.

Photo by Wesual Click on Unsplash

The biggest change you can make today is look at your carbohydrate intake relative to protein and fat. The majority of people heavily lean towards carbs. By making some minor tweaks to include more protein and fat on your plate and reduce your carb serving, I think you will quickly find yourself feeling more satiated (fuller longer) and reaching for snacks less often! Essentially, you always want to pair your carbs with a protein and/or fat.

Here are some balanced snack/meal ideas:
● Gluten free avocado toast and 2 eggs
● 1 piece of fruit + a handfull of your favorite raw or dry roasted nuts
● Hummus and plantain chips
● Cheese and apple slices
A meat stick and almond flour crackers
● Yogurt (unsweetened greek) + drizzle of raw honey, berries and a sprinkle of pecans

If you struggle with cravings and finding the right way to step into finding macro balance, let’s get in touch, I’d love to support you!

Resources

Blood Sugar Regulation – does it really impact the Endocrine System?

Photo by Juan Camilo Navia on Unsplash

You may have heard about the endocrine system, but do you really know what it does or what it is? Its actually a really cool system as the various glands in this system create some very important hormones. Imbalance in the endocrine system can present itself in several ways – hypothyroidism, sexual hormone dysregulation, and auto-immune conditions just to name a few. Put simply, this system of glands is a master regulator of your hormonal regulation.

Why are hormones so important anyway? Well, we rely on hormones to communicate to our cells for some critical functions. These include contractions of smooth and cardiac muscle fibers, immune activities, metabolism and energy balance, your circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle), and reproductive function. There are many glands included in the endocrine system which are most easily shown in the diagram below (side note: the hypothalamus is actually an organ, not a gland).

Endocrine Glands – Definition, Examples, Function | Biology Dictionary

Today I’d like to discuss functional ways we can support the endocrine glands and hence support the balance of hormones throughout the body. In particular, I want to discuss blood sugar regulation. Over the next few posts Ill be discussing how blood sugar regulation is oh-so important for supporting a number of downstream functions. It’s actually very underrated!

A number of blog posts ago, I did a detailed blog on blood sugar. If you haven’t read it, please go back and read “Why is Blood Sugar Regulation So Important to My Health?” to fill you in on the foundations.

You may have heard people refer to the HPA Axis – Hypothalamus, Pituitary, Adrenal. As seen above, these are all part of the endocrine system and get a lot of attention because they are involved in the body’s stress response. However, some other endocrine glands are also involved in the production of the majority of our hormones. The graphic below is used to introduce them as well as their main functions.

Hormones made in the pituitary: Human growth hormone (hGH), thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), Antiduretic Hormone (ADH), adentriocotropic hormone (ACTH)
Thyroid function - regulates cellular metabolism, oxygen use and basal metabolic rate, growth and development, nervous system activity, stimulates synthesis of protein, increase use of glucose, increase lipolysis, enhances cholesterol excretion, reducing blood cholesterol levels.
adrenal functions: blood sugar regulation, inflammation regulation, mineral balance regulation, production of sex hormones
gonads (ovaries/testes) function: production of female sex hormones (estrogen & progesterone), production of male sex hormones (testerone)

So does it seem strange that blood sugar regulation can support these glands? Looking back at the post about blood sugar, I discussed how the adrenals are responsible for cortisol production. And when your blood sugar spikes or dips too severely, your body triggers your fight or flight response and releases cortisol. Then, as blood sugar comes back into equilibrium, signals are sent back to the hypothalamus and pituitary to regulate and back off the release of cortisol (as well as epinephrine and norepinephrine). Chronic cortisol spikes will tax the adrenal glands over time and cause fatigue and general “burn out”.

For women of menopausal age, it becomes even more important to support your adrenals (and your entire endocrine system). This is because the ovaries stop producing estrogen and instead, the adrenal glands start taking over this function! Crazy stuff, huh?! This is why it’s important to stop constantly taxing your adrenal system so your adrenals will be healthy and ready to take on this new job.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

I think it is important to note that blood sugar regulation is not just foundationally supported by eating macronutrient balanced meals but can also be affected by mental stress as well. If you are constantly stressed about work or family matters or are generally just not very good at managing stress (cause, we all have it, right?!), your blood sugar can be difficult to manage. This is because you are still spiking your cortisol and your body is reacting in much the same way as if you had eaten a donut! Of course, if you are doing both…eating the donut and stressed out, you are getting a double whammy, so by all means, start with the dietary changes and then slowly work on some stress management tools as well!

To sum up…by supporting your blood sugar regulation you will support your endocrine system and avoid that stressed and tired feeling. In fact, stable blood sugar will leave you with solid energy throughout the day, for workouts, playing with your kiddos, or just general life!