Sugar is vital to your health. It feeds your brain and provides your body with fuel. Too much or too little sugar can carry serious health risks. It is normal for your body to experience spikes and dips in your sugar levels depending on your current activity. Your body does have a built-in mechanism called the pancreas that helps to prevent your sugar levels from spiking too high or dipping too low.
Many foods that you eat contain the sugar vital to your body's normal function. Sweets, such as candy, cake or cookies, contain processed sugar. Fruit contains natural sugar. The body converts carbohydrates into sugar. When you ingest sugar from any of these sources, it enters your bloodstream and becomes what is known as blood glucose or blood sugar.
You can test your blood glucose level by placing a small amount of blood on a small strip of treated paper that you then insert into a glucose meter. Normal blood sugar levels are between 70 mg/dl to 120 mg/dl (milligrams of blood glucose per deciliter of blood).
Hyperglycemia is when your blood glucose levels are higher than normal. Blood glucose levels below normal can cause a condition called hypoglycemia.
When sugar enters your bloodstream, your pancreas is triggered to produce a hormone called insulin. Insulin bonds with the blood glucose, allowing it to feed your body the energy that it needs. The pancreas constantly monitors your blood glucose levels and produces enough insulin to fuel your body and keep your blood glucose levels in the normal range.
High Blood Glucose From Eating a Meal
There are several activities that can cause normal fluctuations outside of the normal range in your blood glucose. The most common are eating a meal, exercise and stress.
When you eat a meal that contains any sugar source, your body is flooded with blood glucose. The pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to accommodate the sugar, and so your blood glucose levels will rise above a normal level for approximately one to two hours. It is possible that during that first hour, your blood glucose level could be as high as 180 mg/dl.
The post-meal spike in blood glucose can be lessened by eating a healthy diet that is high in protein and low in carbohydrates. Avoiding processed sugar will also help to keep your blood glucose levels more stable.
Blood Glucose Swings from Exercise
If your bloodstream contains more blood glucose than it needs, insulin works to store the excess away as fat. Your body requires a lot of energy when you exercise. Your pancreas will create more insulin than normal to provide your body with the needed fuel. When your blood glucose levels get too low, your body will feed off of the fat supplies that have been stored away.
When you stop the exercise, it takes a little while for the pancreas to adjust the insulin supply back to normal, so it is not uncommon to experience a high blood glucose level right after exercising. When the pancreas does adjust its insulin supply, your blood glucose level may dip below normal until you replace the blood glucose through food or drink.
Low Blood Glucose Levels from Stress
When you become stressed or anxious, your body goes into what is known as the "fight or flight" syndrome. Even though you may not be exercising, your body will require more fuel than normal. Your pancreas responds by creating an excess of insulin which causes your blood glucose levels to dip.
If your blood glucose level consistently rises higher than 180 mg/dl after eating any type of meal, you could have a medical condition known as "diabetes" or "insulin resistance." Diabetes is a condition where the pancreas does not function properly and either creates no insulin or not enough insulin.
Insulin resistance is a condition where your pancreas does create the appropriate amount of insulin, but your body is unable to allow the insulin to bond with the glucose in your bloodstream, and so it cannot create energy.
Persistent hyperglycemia can cause serious medical issues, including loss of vision, circulatory problems, heart disease, kidney problems, coma and even death. According to the National Institute of Health's National Diabetes Information Clearninghouse, if you suffer from persistent hyperglycemia, you are at the same risk of suffering from a heart attack as someone who has already had a heart attack.