Hyperglycemia, also known as high blood sugar, is when the amount of glucose in the blood exceeds the needed amounts.
At any given point, the body requires only 4 grams of sugar to be circulating throughout the body. That’s about a teaspoon. However, when you eat, the food gets broken down into glucose which is then released into the bloodstream, obviously increasing your glucose levels.
To bring normalcy, the pancreas releases insulin, a hormone that carries excess glucose from the blood into the cells, where it’s used for energy.
However, when there’s low insulin production or when your body cells are less sensitive to insulin, glucose is left to accumulate in the blood, causing hyperglycemia or high blood sugar.
Low insulin production or a lack of insulin production is mainly observed in type 1 diabetes, and for this, one needs to get insulin shots. Otherwise, the common cause of high blood sugar in most people is insulin resistance, a condition whereby your cells are less sensitive to insulin, so they don’t allow insulin to get into the cell.
What Are The Effects Of High Blood Sugar On The Body?
Often, high blood sugar has no obvious symptoms, at least not at the initial stages. Research shows that 86 million people in the US have higher-than-normal glucose but are not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes.
That’s why you should always get your blood checked, especially if you are at risk, such as if you are obese, physically inactive, or have high blood pressure. This can help catch it early before complications such as progression to type diabetes, among other complications.
High blood sugar affects nerves
Over time, high blood sugar can damage the nerves in your body. This nerve damage is called neuropathy and is common in people with diabetes. Neuropathy can cause pain, tingling, and numbness in your hands, feet, or legs. In severe cases, it can lead to problems with your digestive system, sexual function, and heart.
High blood sugar affects eyesight
Persistent high blood sugar is a danger to your eyes. It can affect the blood vessels in your retina (the inner-most light-sensitive area at the back of the eye that senses light and sends images to the brain). Temporal elevation in blood glucose can cause blurry vision that often improves when your levels drop back to normal. However, prolonged elevation can cause abnormal blood vessels to develop, obstructing your peripheral and central vision. It can also affect the iris (the colored part that surrounds the pupil) of the eye resulting in increased pressure within the eye and glaucoma formation.
High blood sugar affects your teeth
High blood sugar levels can damage your teeth and gums in a few different ways:
- The bacteria that live in your mouth feed on sugar, which produces acid. This acid can break down tooth enamel, causing cavities.
- When there’s too much sugar in your saliva, it forms a sticky film on your teeth that promotes tooth decay.
In addition to these oral problems, people with high blood glucose levels are also at an increased risk for gum disease, poor wound healing from a dental procedure, or injury because of slower healing from infections due to low immunity associated with high blood sugar levels.
High blood sugar affects your skin
When you have high blood sugar, your skin can become more sensitive and dry. You may also notice that cuts and bruises take longer to heal. In extreme cases, high blood sugar can lead to a condition called diabetic dermopathy, which causes changes in the skin that can lead to ulcers. If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is important to make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
High blood sugar affects your heart
High blood sugar levels can affect how your heart muscle contracts and relaxes and how well blood flows through your vessels. All of this can lead to an increased risk for heart disease and stroke. High blood sugar levels can also increase the risk of peripheral vascular disease, which affects circulation in the legs and feet.
High blood sugar affects your liver
Too much sugar in your diet can build up fat in your liver. This is because your liver is responsible for processing the sugar in your bloodstream. When there’s too much sugar, your liver can’t keep up, and the excess is stored as fat.
Over time, this can lead to a condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD can damage your liver and make it difficult for it to function properly. It also increases your risk of heart disease, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. It can also increase your cholesterol levels and cause high blood pressure.
High blood sugar weakens your immune system
When your blood sugar is high, it suppresses the production of cytokines. Cytokines are proteins that help fight infection and inflammation. So, when you have high blood sugar, your immune system isn’t as strong, making you more susceptible to getting sick.
High blood sugar affects your weight.
The pancreas releases insulin to transport excess sugar into the cells when you eat. Any extra sugar is stored in the liver and within the muscles in the form of glycogen to be used later.
However, on a high carbohydrate diet, especially processed carbohydrates, there’s still sugar remaining in the blood even after the cell uptake and storage.
This prompts insulin to perform its other function of fat storage. Since the glucose in the blood can only be maintained at a certain amount, any extra amount is converted into fat and stored throughout the body. Common storage areas include your midsection and internal organs, including the liver
. This can lead to weight gain and obesity, which puts your health at risk of chronic conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver, high cholesterol, stroke, heart attack, and heart disease.
High blood sugar affects your fluid intake and urination
When there is too much sugar circulating in your blood, the kidneys can’t keep up with the high levels causing some of this sugar to be excreted into the urine, drawing along fluids. This leaves you dehydrated with the feeling of thirst. This causes you to drink more water, and the more you drink, the more you urinate.
High blood sugar affects your energy levels
If your leading cause of high blood glucose is insulin resistance, glucose can’t get into the cells. This leaves your cells starving and without energy which translates to your feelings. Also, when the blood glucose levels are high, the body tends to lose fluid through urine. This causes the blood to thicken, making it difficult for the heart to pump. And since blood delivers various nutrients into the cells, there might be deficiencies if the situation continues.
High blood sugar affects microcirculation
Excess sugar passing from the blood into urine causes filtering effects where fluid is drawn from the body, leaving the blood thicker and stickier. This makes it difficult for the blood to reach the tiny blood vessels supplying the eyes, ears, kidneys, nerves, and heart.
That’s why complications of small blood vessels are common even in people without diabetes.
High blood sugar affects your digestion
Poor digestion has various causes, and too much blood sugar levels could be one of them. This is because high blood sugar in the blood can damage the nerve supplying your stomach muscles, a condition known as gastroparesis. This condition affects your -stomach muscles, preventing proper stomach emptying. It’s often characterized by nausea, a feeling of fullness after little food intake, bloating, and pain. This can further interfere with your nutrient absorption.
High blood sugar affects memory
According to one German study, chronic elevation of blood sugar can impair your thinking capacity, interfere with memory and increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly.
Another study found that poor glucose intolerance can impair the structure and function of the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with learning and memory. The study further found that improving glucose levels can improve the hippocampal structure and function, which can promote memory in old age.
How to Promote Glucose Regulation in the Body
There are several ways to ensure your glucose levels are well regulated to prevent complications and improve health. These may include:
Focus on whole grains
Eating whole grains can help regulate blood glucose levels by providing the body with a slow and steady stream of energy. High fiber content in whole grains also helps regulate digestion and keep blood sugar levels from spikes. Choose whole grain breads, pastas, and cereals over their refined counterparts.
Get enough protein
Protein helps regulate blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of carbohydrates. This is especially important for people with diabetes, who need to be careful about spikes in blood sugar levels. Eating protein at every meal can help keep blood sugar levels stable. Good plant based sources of protein include legumes, tofu, nuts, and seeds.
Engaging in regular physical activities
Exercise is a great way to regulate blood glucose levels. It helps by increasing insulin sensitivity, improving blood sugar control, and reducing stress levels. Plus, it can also help you lose weight, which can further improve blood sugar control. If you have diabetes, check with your doctor before starting any intense exercise program. Otherwise, simple things like walking, jogging, or cycling can come a long way
Limit your carbohydrate intake
Carbohydrates are the main nutrient that affects blood sugar levels the most. When you eat carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into glucose, which is then released into the bloodstream. The amount of glucose in your blood will rise and fall depending on how many carbohydrates you eat. It’s important to limit your carbohydrate intake to help keep your blood sugar levels under control.
Drinking more water is one of the easiest and most effective ways to regulate blood glucose levels. When you’re properly hydrated, your body is better able to function properly and maintain a healthy balance of fluids. Drinking water also helps your kidneys flush out excess sugar and keeps your digestive system running smoothly. Aim for eight glasses of water per day, or more if you exercise regularly or are exposed to hot weather.
Eating fiber-rich foods
When it comes to regulating blood glucose levels, fiber is your friend. Fiber-rich foods help slow down the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream, which helps keep blood sugar levels from spikes. Try incorporating more high-fiber foods into your diet like beans, whole grains, and vegetables.
Incorporate healthy fats into your diet
Including healthy fats in your diet is one of the best ways to regulate blood glucose levels. Healthy fats promote satiety, fight cravings, and help to slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. This can help keep blood sugar levels stable. Plus, healthy fats are essential for maintaining cell health and preventing inflammation.
Some healthy fats to eat include avocado and coconut oil.
Keep a journal and stay accountable
A great way to regulate blood glucose levels is by keeping a journal and being accountable for what you eat and when you exercise. This will help you be more aware of how your body reacts to certain foods and activities. Plus, it can be a helpful tool to share with your doctor.
Chronic elevation of blood glucose levels can increase your risk of various health conditions, including obesity, which increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, and brain functions. It can also cause kidney damage, impair vision, and interfere with normal gut functions.
A few things you can do to improve your glucose regulation include proper diet, physical activity, and optimal hydration.
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