There’s not a lot of mystery surrounding the reasons for blood sugar spikes…we’re pretty in tune with what makes those scary numbers show up on the glucose meter.
And, of course, if you’ve been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, your doctor has probably given you the “maintain control over your blood sugar” speech…And yet, things happen.
Controlling your blood sugar is important because, for one thing, you just feel better physically and emotionally when it’s within a normal, healthy range.
Also, we know that keeping those sugar levels well managed (and avoiding erratic blood sugar spikes) is the best thing you can do, over the long term, to prevent the many possible complications of diabetes.
No one willingly set themselves up for diabetic complications such as nerve damage, kidney disease, skin conditions, eye damage, high blood pressure, stroke, and more.
But, one of the main contributors to high blood sugar is a diet overloaded with carbohydrates, which, once digested, turn into sugar (glucose).
And then there are processed foods, most of which have a lot of added sugars you may not know about.
The good news, however, is still the old news your doctors and diabetes educators have been telling you about all along.
By sticking (like glue) to a diabetes-heart friendly diet, making the time for some physical activity into your (every) day, taking any medications as prescribed by your physician and regularly measuring your blood sugar levels, you can gain better control over type 2 diabetes and prevent those harmful blood sugar spikes.
In fact, regardless of what you read in the fashion magazines and other non-professional publications, those are the ONLY things that will work to prevent you from having to face the many complications associated with Type 2 Diabetes.
Please, read that a few more times…the only way.
We have to come to terms with that.
- It is not just about watching what you eat, but it’s also about keeping your blood pressure under control, getting enough sleep, taking your insulin on time, monitoring your blood sugar as instructed by your physician, and exercising.
It’s about all of it. No picking and choosing. Everyone can make better food choices and everyone can do some form of exercise. Everyone, even if you’re laid up in bed or in a wheelchair.
However, there are some events that can trigger high blood sugar that you cannot control, and they can sneak up on you.
- If you have the flu, or if you’re menstruating, you may experience a sudden rise in blood sugar. During those times you may find it a bit more difficult to control your blood sugar, even if you’re doing everything right. But those things are temporary.
Here are some other common causes of blood sugar spikes:
You know, of course, to stay away from regular soda, but many recent studies have reported that consuming those zero-calorie artificial sweeteners, like the ones in diet sodas, or added to coffee and tea, can actually lead to glucose intolerance and increased blood sugar levels.
- In other words, they may increase the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, if you are pre-diabetic, or work against your current diagnosis.
When it comes to Type 2 Diabetes, carbs get a lot of attention. But carbs aren’t the only food diabetics need to watch carefully.
Although foods with a high-fat content don’t directly raise blood sugar levels, they can contribute to insulin resistance, and — because they take longer to digest — they can affect the timing of blood sugar spikes.
- While high-fat meals may be okay in moderation, it’s important for diabetics to know that large amounts of fat — 40 grams or more, for example — can make their ability to control blood sugar more difficult.
Some foods affect some diabetics in surprising ways, which makes it important to keep track of what you eat and pay attention to how your blood sugar responds to individual foods.
Breakfast is, and most definitely for Type 2 diabetics, the most important meal of the day — I know you’ve heard this before.
In a study published in the journal Diabetes Care, researchers from Tel Aviv University tracked the food intake of 22 people with Type 2 Diabetes and their corresponding blood sugar levels for two days.
- The only difference in food intake over the two days was that the participants ate breakfast one morning and not the next.
The study showed that on the day breakfast was skipped, all-day spikes in blood sugar levels resulted. The researchers believe that the function of pancreatic beta cells, the ones responsible for producing insulin, was negatively affected when the morning meal was skipped.
But remember, not just any breakfast will do.
➡ Pack your morning meals with low-carb nutrients such as scrambled eggs with spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes. You get the message.
Overeating at Dinner
Our bodies tend to tolerate glucose better in the morning than at night. Our body’s natural clock, (or “circadian rhythm”), influences our blood sugar levels.
During an eight-day study, researchers monitored 14 healthy people after they ate a meal at 8 in the morning, and after another meal at 8 at night.
There were “normal days” (when participants had their first meal at 8 am, their last meal at 8 pm, then slept at night), and there were days when the participants’ schedule was reversed (they’d have their first meal at 8 pm, their last meal at 8 am, then slept during the day).
It turned out that meals consumed in the evenings coincided with blood sugar levels that were 17 percent higher than those measured after morning meals — even if the meals were identical, and regardless of when the participants slept.
This presents a challenge for shift workers (who typically have higher rates of Type 2 Diabetes) of course, but there are adjustments that can be made.
- This study emphasizes that it’s not just what you eat, but also when you eat that influences your blood sugar regulation.
- Carbohydrates and foods that increase blood sugar are better suited for the time of day when you will be the most active.
The American Diabetes Association also notes that blood sugar levels also tend to surge in the very early morning, somewhere between 4 am and 5 am.
➡ Therefore, people with Type 2 Diabetes may be better able to control this “dawn phenomenon,” by eating dinner earlier in the evening.
Women who are still menstruating have some unique challenges as well. We now know that the menstrual cycle can also cause a swing in a woman’s blood sugar levels.
- Fluctuations in hormone levels before and during a woman’s period may trigger temporary insulin resistance, which in turn causes blood sugar levels to shift.
Although most women report an increase in blood sugar in the days leading up to their period, some can experience a drop. Women heading into menopause are also likely to find their blood sugar levels to be unpredictable.
➡ If your menstrual cycle seems to affect your blood sugar level, you may find it helpful to look for a monthly pattern in your blood sugar readings. A pattern would allow you to predict changes in your blood sugar and to work with your doctor to adjust your treatment approach as needed when your period arrives.
Exercise is important in managing Type 2 Diabetes. No, make that: Exercise is crucial in managing Type 2 Diabetes.
In addition to helping you maintain a healthy weight or lose weight, and lowering your risk of stroke and heart disease, physical activity increases the body’s insulin sensitivity and helps your cells remove glucose from the blood and use it for energy.
- According to the ADA, a good workout may lower your blood sugar level for 24 hours or more.
On the other hand, inactivity can cause blood sugar levels to spike.
Research published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise showed that blood sugar levels of healthy, normally active individuals increased markedly after just three days of decreased activity (the participants cut their typical number of daily steps by at least half).
But, I get that being active isn’t always possible.
But I also know that all of us make time for the things we want to make time for.
Preventing heart disease, kidney failure, vision loss (retinopathy), severe gum disease and strokes (for starters) is worth whatever you need to do to manage your weight and blood sugar.
I want you to succeed.
There is such a thing as a healthy type 2 diabetic.
Stress – ah…stress. It definitely raises blood sugar levels.
- It (significantly) increases cortisol, our fight-or-flight hormone.
- When cortisol goes up, it makes us less sensitive either to our body’s own insulin or to insulin injections.
Stress can be physical — sustaining an injury, for example — or mental, such as having financial or marriage/family problems.
Even positive changes to your daily routine — a promotion at work or going on vacation — can cause a sudden spike in blood sugar.
The best ways to de-stress and get the hormones back under control? Hint: The answer is not food.
There are many things you can do when you’re right in the moment — when tension at work suddenly makes you want to pull your hair out or a family argument escalates.
- Go for a five-minute walk or take 10 deep breaths to slow your breathing.
- Better yet, develop a regular habit of engaging in a form of daily exercise your body can tolerate, or yoga, or meditation…Take care of you.
When you’re sick or you have an infection, your body releases hormones to help it fight off the illness. While that’s a good thing, the drawback for people with Type 2 Diabetes is that your blood sugar levels can spike. According to the ADA, in the most serious cases, a life-threatening coma can even result.
- So, have a plan for your sick days.
- Stay well hydrated and be even more careful than usual about what you eat.
- If your illness is severe, call your doctor to discuss if it will be necessary for you to increase the dose on your diabetes medications.
- The illness itself can increase blood sugar levels, but so can illness-fighting medications, so use precautions and check with your doctor first.
Several over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications — even some vitamins and supplements — have been shown to raise blood sugar.
- Examples include corticosteroids (used to reduce inflammation), asthma medications, birth control pills, certain antidepressants, and even some medications for severe acne.
It’s important to let your doctor know about each and every medication you take, whether OTC or prescribed by another doctor. Together you can work to control your blood sugar despite additional medications.
According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) and multiple studies, the very large bulk of the research, as related to diabetes, finds that not getting enough sleep can lead to blood sugar spikes.
- One study, for example, found that participants who slept only four hours a night for six nights experienced significant drops in how their bodies tolerated glucose.
The NSF says the connection is probably related to a decrease in both cortisol and nervous system activity that happens during deep sleep — which, among other changes in the body during sleep, is thought to help regulate blood sugar.
It’s a good idea then, to pay extra attention to your blood sugar levels after sleepless nights.
Gum disease has long been recognized as a complication of type 2 diabetes. And in turn, researchers are finding that unhealthy gums may actually increase blood sugar levels.
- According to the American Dental Association, germs from infected gums can get into the bloodstream, which sends the body into high alert. The body then produces molecules that cause harm in a number of ways, one of which is raising blood sugar.