The Importance of Blood Sugar
Posted by Andrea Nakayama
Blood sugar balance is a standard focus for patients with diabetes, and even those with non-diabetic hypoglycemia, but blood sugar is often overlooked as a cornerstone of care for other health concerns.
Longtime readers and Full Body Systems students and grads know how much I stress the importance of addressing blood sugar in practice, whether the chief complaints are hormonal, immune, or digestive. This allows you to see that blood sugar balance deserves our attention as nutrition counselors no matter what.
Understanding blood sugar
Before diving into the role blood sugar plays in health, it’s essential to understand what blood sugar is and what body systems are impacted by it. Blood sugar, also known as blood glucose, refers to the concentration of glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream. Glucose is the primary source of energy for the body’s cells and is obtained from the food we eat.
When we eat food, particularly carbohydrates, our bodies break it down into glucose, which is then absorbed into the bloodstream. The body then releases insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, which helps to transport glucose from the bloodstream into the cells to be used as energy or stored for later use.
Insulin also helps to regulate blood sugar levels by signaling the liver to store excess glucose as glycogen or convert it to fat. This way, the body can maintain stable blood sugar levels throughout the day. Balanced blood sugar levels are critical for maintaining stable energy, preventing chronic illness, and for overall well-being.
The role of blood sugar in health outcomes
When blood sugar levels are stable, our body can efficiently use glucose for energy production. However, blood sugar imbalances can result in many signs, symptoms and diagnosable conditions. I call these undesirable health outcomes “branches”.
That said, persistent and fluctuating blood sugar swings have several “roots”. That means that the reasons that can cause them are myriad. While we often highlight lifestyle factors like eating a standard American diet (SAD) or being sedentary, there are other key contributors. Those include genetic factors, family ancestry, digestion, and chronic inflammation.
Addressing blood sugar in a Functional Nutrition practice
Ultimately, blood sugar imbalances are critically important to address in your practice, no matter what the complaint. Blood sugar is so important that I consider it a Non-Negotiable (along with sleep and poop.) The swings and resulting biological mechanisms for trying to regulate are an imbalance that is one of the upstream factors that can contribute to the expression of other chronic illnesses impacting every system of the body.
Download the Blood Sugar Matrix where I’ve mapped blood sugar imbalance on the Functional Nutrition Matrix
Functional Nutrition Matrix
One of the critical elements missing from most nutrition education (but not ours!) is taking nutrition out of the realm of theory and into practice.
We do this by ditching cookie-cutter solutions in favor of systems thinking. When we use systems and tools instead of formulas, we have everything we need to help us address even the toughest cases, with the diet and lifestyle recommendations that make the biggest difference.
The most important tool in Functional Nutrition is the Functional Nutrition Matrix. This is where we map client cases and develop our snapshot of the case at hand. Mapping in this way reveals the underlying interconnections between signs and symptoms, and is a key step in discovering the root causes of your clients’ issues.
A matrix, when used properly, helps you see the forest for the trees.
How to address blood sugar
As you’ll hear me illustrate on our podcast, the 15-Minute Matrix, I sometimes flip the use of the Functional Nutrition Matrix. In this way we can also map a nutrient or a condition or a metabolic function in order to discern the possible roots and branches. And this helps us determine our next steps. In this way we can also see the vast interconnections and impacts that any one thing has on the full body systems. Doing so quickly helps to get us out of the seductive X for Y thinking that rarely works.
Since we’re talking about the Non-Negotiable Trifecta, which includes blood sugar balance, I decided to step back and Map blood sugar.
Can you see how many branches there are? (Remember: those branches are the signs, symptoms and diagnosable conditions.) What you think of as something that you need to address head-on, may actually have its roots in the blood sugar imbalances that every other clinician is bypassing!
Download your copy and study it.
You’ll notice that every single section is filled out (and I’m sure there are components that I was not able to capture.) In the Skills section (on the right hand side of the Matrix) you can see some of the suggested diet and lifestyle modifications for blood sugar imbalances. These are universal suggested changes, or what I like to call the Non-Negotiables for restoring blood sugar balance.
Is there more you can do to support these imbalances—testing, supplements, nutrients? You bet there is! But don’t forget to truly meet a client where they are and start simply to begin, developing the habits and skills that allow for more sustainable health outcomes.
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