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  • Writer's pictureScotti McLaren

Blood Sugar: A balancing act

Updated: Nov 4, 2023

Sugar, in the form of glucose, is the main source of fuel for the body. Blood sugar refers to the amount of glucose in the bloodstream at a given point in time.

The key to blood sugar balance, and all that goes with it, is the slow, even release of glucose.

All carbohydrates are ultimately broken down to sugar in the body.

  • Simple, refined carbs are broken down quickly ... Examples include processed foods: pasta, white rice, white bread.

  • Complex, unrefined carbs are broken down more slowly ... These include un- / less processed foods: brown rice, brown bread, oats.

The importance of blood sugar balance

Blood sugar controls our energy levels, hunger and cravings, and greatly influences our mood. We feel best when our blood sugar is balanced: not too high, not too low.

Balanced blood sugar, through consumption of complex carbs provides a slow, steady release of glucose, for balanced energy levels, appetite and mood.

Unbalanced blood sugar, on the other hand, through consumption of sugar and simple, processed carbs, can cause sugar cravings, irritability, brain fog, weight gain, poor sleep and lethargy. Over time, it can lead to insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes.

Your body's mechanisms to regulate blood sugar balance

Blood sugar balance is controlled by two hormones: insulin and glucagon. The job of insulin is to regulate how much glucose enters the cells for energy, and how much remains circulating in the bloodstream.

When blood sugar is too high, the pancreas secretes more insulin. When blood sugar levels are too low, glucagon helps the liver to convert glycogen storage into glucose available for fuel. Meanwhile, the stress response pumps out adrenaline and cortisol in response to insufficient levels of fuel.

The blood sugar roller coaster

Rapid release of large amounts of sugar cause blood sugar spikes, which fall sharply after. The figure below demonstrates the roller coaster caused by these blood sugar peaks and drops.

What causes blood sugar imbalances

Blood sugar can be thrown-off (also balanced) by what we eat and do.

Processed / refined carbs – Not only do refined carbs convert quickly to sugar and cause blood sugar spikes - they have been stripped of most nutrients, vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Sugar, both refined and unrefined, will directly increase blood sugar and cause blood sugar spikes. But natural, unrefined sugars, found in fruits, provide some nutrients – whereas refined, added sugar brings empty calories.

Dehydration causes the kidneys to retain fluid and reduce excretion of excess glucose through the urine. It also pushes the liver to convert glycogen to glucose, increasing blood sugar levels further.

Alcoholic beverages contain high levels of sugar, which increase rapidly blood sugar levels.

The stress response tells the body to release stored glucose in a fight-or-flight response to whatever the brain thinks is threatening you. This additional glucose drives blood sugar levels up.

Poor sleep can impair insulin sensitivity, increasing blood glucose levels.

Being overweight can make it more difficult for your body to use insulin and control blood sugar levels.

Blood sugar and menopause

Hormonal changes associated with the menopausal transition can affect how the body processes glucose. Decline estrogen may impair insulin sensitivity, making it more challenging for the body to manage blood sugar effectively. This can lead to fluctuations in blood sugar levels and increase the risk of type-2 diabetes.

Many women experience weight gain during menopause, especially around the abdominal area. Increased body fat, particularly visceral fat, can contribute to insulin resistance and blood sugar imbalances. Conversely, maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular physical activity helps blood sugar control.

Hormonal fluctuations can trigger cravings for sugary and high-carb foods - problematic not only for weight, but also for brain health. Rapid blood sugar spikes and crashes can trigger mood and cognition issues often experienced in menopause, including mood swings, depression, anxiety and brain fog. Maintaining stable blood sugar levels can help stabilise mood and cognition in menopause.

Poor sleep quality and fatigue are often caused by hot flashes and night sweats - and by blood sugar imbalances. Poor sleep can impair insulin sensitivity, which may further disturb your sleep and energy levels. Another merry-go-round to accompany the roller coaster. Want to have more energy and better sleep in menopause? Think blood sugar.

Getting off the roller coaster for good health

Balancing blood sugar is an excellent step towards your health. And it all begins with the choices you make every day. Whether it's opting for complex carbs over refined ones, staying hydrated, getting quality sleep or managing stress – you hold the reins to a smoother ride. Your body and brain will thank you for it.

For personalised recommendations tailored to your unique issues and needs, get in touch!


Scotti McLaren Personalised Nutrition

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