Our Educational Content is Not Meant or Intended for Medical Advice or Treatment
You’ve heard a lot about blood sugar over the years. Too high and you get diabetes; too low and you risk hypoglycemia with its accompanying shakiness, brain fog, and irritability.
Yet for all you’ve heard, if someone asked you to explain the basics of blood sugar, you’d be stumped.
But I’ve got you covered.
In this article, I’ll cover:
- The difference between blood sugar and blood glucose
- What homeostasis is and why it’s important
- What low, high, and normal blood sugar levels are
- The one key hormone that regulates blood sugar
- Why insulin resistance is a factor in blood sugar levels
Let’s dive in.
Blood Sugar Or Blood Glucose: What’s the Difference?
When you talk with your doctor, she tells you about your blood sugar and blood glucose levels. Unless you’ve stopped to ask her for clarification, you probably don’t know if there’s a difference or not.
When your doctor runs a test to determine the level of sugar in your blood, all that means is a check to see how much of the smallest unit of carbohydrate - in other words, glucose -is circulating in your blood. Although we use the term blood sugar, strictly speaking, that’s somewhat misleading. The term glucose is scientifically accurate.
But don’t worry, nearly everyone, including your doctor, uses the terms blood sugar and blood glucose interchangeably. For the purposes of this article, I will too.
Why You Must Know About Homeostasis
Your body is incredibly intelligent. It will naturally do everything it can to maintain your blood sugar at healthy levels. This is part of a process called homeostasis. Homeostasis is your body’s ability to maintain a relatively stable internal state despite changes in the world outside. All living organisms, from amoeba to people, must regulate their internal environment to process energy and ultimately survive.
For example, if you eat certain foods that raise your blood sugar higher than what your body considers healthy, it will respond by releasing sugar-regulating hormones - primarily insulin - to bring your blood glucose back to normal.
Or, if you go outside and it’s cold, your body will shiver to generate heat and energy. If you exercise and get overheated, your body will sweat to cool it down.
These are all examples of homeostasis at work.
With me so far?
Okay, back to the basics of blood sugar.
Blood Sugar Basics
Your body is constantly monitoring your blood sugar and adjusting it if necessary, to try to maintain your level at 100 milligrams per deciliter, abbreviated as mg/dL.
A blood sugar level of 100 mg/dL ensures that you’re functioning well, and have the best cognitive abilities: you’ll think clearly, you’ll be creative, and have plenty of energy.
If your blood sugar level drops significantly below 100 mg/dL, that’s called hypoglycemia. Hypo means low, and glycemia means sugar level. And when you’re hypoglycemic, you’ll start to have problems with your cognitive function. You’ll be irritable, tired, and dizzy.
You’ll crave sugar like crazy, because your body demands more sugar to get the blood glucose level back up and correct the hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia Is A Pre-Diabetic State
Interestingly, hypoglycemia is a pre-diabetic state. But wait! Doesn’t diabetes mean your blood sugar is too high? So how can hypoglycemia be a pre-diabetic state?
Let me explain.
It’s true; diabetes means your blood glucose is too high. You’re what’s called hyperglycemic. Hyper means “excessive amounts of”, and, of course, glycemic means blood sugar.
Yet, somewhat counter-intuitively, the first step toward diabetes is actually hypoglycemia. Your blood sugar is too low.
How Low Blood Sugar Becomes Diabetes
Over time, you become hyperglycemic because the regulatory mechanism in your body essentially wears out, allowing your blood sugar to go too high for long periods of time.
Thus, you become diabetic.
Along with being hyperglycemic - diabetic -, you experience brain fog, memory loss, and extreme fatigue, among other physical problems such as kidney damage, cardiovascular problems, and eye damage
You can see that being at risk of, or actually developing, type 2 diabetes can severely compromise your health, and put you at risk for serious, life-threatening diseases
I know this is a lot to take in.
For now, just remember that hypoglycemic means your blood sugar is too low below the optimal measurement of 100 mg/dL, and that hyperglycemic means your blood sugar is too high above 100 mg/dL. And that low blood sugar precedes diabetes.
Next, let’s take a look at the primary hormone that regulates your blood glucose.
The Basics About One Key Hormone
The main hormone that regulates blood sugar when you’re eating is called insulin. Insulin lowers your blood glucose by taking it out of your blood, converting it to fat, and then storing it as fat.
Thus, insulin is a fat-making hormone. (You can easily see how high levels of insulin in your body would cause you to store too much fat.)
As well, the main reason people with diabetes have trouble with their insulin levels is that their insulin is imbalanced.
Their body has become resistant to insulin’s normal function. They can no longer properly regulate blood sugar with the insulin made by their body.
As a consequence, their blood sugar rises and stays chronically high, resulting in type 2 diabetes.
Another indicator that you are in a pre-diabetic state is something called insulin resistance, which precedes full-blown type 2 diabetes. When you’re insulin resistant, your cells can no longer respond to the insulin your body has delivered into your blood to pull out the glucose. Your body, believing you don’t have enough insulin to properly draw out sugar from your blood, responds by making even more insulin - which your body can’t use.
This results in chronically high levels of insulin, leading, as I mentioned, to type 2 diabetes.
Insulin, as I’ve made clear, is a key hormone to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Your New Understanding Of Blood Sugar Basics Will Support Your Health
I’m pleased that you’ve now gotten the basics of blood sugar, and the critical role it plays in your health. It’s a complex subject, but I’m confident you can now build on your basic understanding. When you do, you’ll unlock the door to taking charge of your health; to partner with your medical provider and make the most informed decisions you can.
To continue your learning, I suggest you watch this video on insulin next. You’ll be glad you did.
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Disclaimer: Our educational content is not meant or intended for medical advice or treatment.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for quality and relevancy.