I am sure by now everyone has heard about the trend in using Type 2 Diabetes medication for weight loss. Does it work? Why? How? That can all be explained when we understand the purpose of glucose in the body and the benefits of keeping your glucose levels stable and under control. Glucose or your blood sugar is responsible for cellular energy. Most of the cells in our body use glucose, along with amino acids (building blocks of protein) and fats for energy. However, it is your brain’s main source of fuel. When it becomes unstable, too high or too low—for the purpose of this we will be focusing on too high—it causes a cascade effect in the body that is less than desirable. Symptoms of this include: lack of energy, decreased mental focus and clarity, depressed mood, carbohydrate based food cravings, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, elevated cholesterol, obesity, and possibly Alzheimer’s and dementia. The awesome news for those of you reading this is that you have the power and ability, through lifestyle modification, to dramatically affect this in a positive way.
Now that we know a little bit about what unstable glucose levels can do, let’s see what creating stability in your glucose levels does. Through this those questions about the weight loss medication may be answered. When we stabilize our glucose levels, we will see that instead of experiencing energy crashes at midday or having very little energy throughout the day our energy is increased and maintained all day. You may also notice increased attention and alertness and decreased mood swings. Then we have that public health crisis of obesity in this country, in large part from a slowed metabolism and decreased ability to lose weight. When your glucose levels are on a rollercoaster opposed to flat or steady, people tend to overeat, crave simple carbs, have very little energy and store all that extra glucose that your body doesn’t need and can’t use as fat (visceral, the stuff around your main organs). None of that is good for anyone. When we can flatten that curve through lifestyle changes–proper diet and exercise–you can avoid so many of the consequences I just listed. This can be achieved by exercise, both cardio and resistance training, and choosing a diet that consists of foods that are nutritionally rich and low on the glycemic index. The glycemic index is a rating system for foods commonly consumed by the general population. Each food is given a number between 0 and 100. GI numbers of 55 and below are “low glycemic” or having a low impact on a person’s blood glucose 2 hours after a meal. GI numbers of 56-69 are moderate, and above 69, well we really want to avoid if possible because those foods have the greatest impact on your blood glucose and demise to our health. ***I will include a list of common foods and their associated GI numbers at the end of this post. ***
The reason why our glucose levels seem to spike and drop after eating foods that are high glycemic is because these foods rush right through the digestive process and directly into your blood stream. At this point your pancreas has been triggered because it knows that there is too much glucose circulating in your blood stream. In response to this, it releases the hormone insulin to combat this and bring your level back to normal. Your cells will only take what they need to perform their respective duties and the rest turns to fat causing all the nasty symptoms we talked about. When we eat foods that are low GI and rich in fiber, protein and *some fat, our bodies respond by stabilizing our glucose level which in turn allows the pancreas to only produce the amount of insulin needed. Now this is where those Type 2 Diabetes medications come into play, they can bring down our glucose by making the pancreas work to produce more insulin so that our blood glucose isn’t spiking and crashing, but stable. When this happens, we are less hungry because our gut isn’t telling our brain to eat like it was before, and we aren’t having all this extra glucose in our blood stream turning to fat. I am oversimplifying, but I hope you can see just how important that stability in our glucose levels really is for EVERYTHING.
Lastly, something I think we all aspire to in our lives is longevity. When our blood glucose is stable, we may have the ability to avoid brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. In addition, by having your blood glucose on that roller coaster day after day and year after year, you are more likely to become insulin resistant. In other words, your body gets confused by the highs and lows and misjudges how much insulin is needed. Therefore, sometimes the pancreas will produce too much insulin and others too little. Insulin resistance is a huge risk factor for many age-related diseases. All of which significantly diminish our longevity and our overall general well-being. *Please keep in mind that while you can control a lot of these spikes and drops, there are other factors outside of our control that we can’t control like genetics and age that play a role in blood sugar stabilization.
While creating this stability and flattening the curve is undoubtedly important, how does the average person know what their level is outside of routine blood tests? The unfortunate answer is that you really don’t. However, there are some CGM’s (continuous glucose monitors) that a person can get without the diagnosis of diabetes and wear them for 30 days, a couple months or indefinitely, that can give you a good indication of how your body is responding to the food you consume and your lifestyle. These are great tools to use; however, typically require a subscription of sorts and are expensive. For those of us who aren’t interested, motivated or have the financial means for one of these monitors you can still do so much with proper diet, exercise and sleep to keep you stable on a day-to-day basis. Then, when you go to the doctor for your routine work up, they can check your fasting blood glucose and A1C as a part of the other tests typically run by your primary care physician. Both tests are good indicators of your blood glucose in a fasted state and over the previous three-month period. While not perfect, and infrequent, having this knowledge gives all of us the ability to either change or tweak what we have been previously doing or continue on our established path! Either way, it is something and this knowledge will provide us with the power to take control of our lives to be and do better.