Friday, March 4, 2011

For Your Brain’s Sake, Be Aware of Your Blood Sugar Levels!

There are two factors which make our brains function normally: Fuel and Activation. Fuel for the brain is oxygen and glucose, more commonly known as your blood sugar. The brain can’t store glucose for a rainy day; it needs a steady supply and will break down other tissues to get it if it’s not available at the moment. This makes sense for survival because life cannot be sustained without proper brain function. Your quality of life can suffer also without proper brain function. Activation is the “use it or lose it” concept that we hear about often like exercise, meditation, chiropractic adjustments and brain activities such as learning a new language.

When we look at fasting blood glucose (blood sugar levels) in a patient’s blood chemistry, we’re looking at a window into their brain function. Normal functional ranges for blood glucose are anywhere from (85-100 mg/dL) in the fasting adult. If the fasting glucose levels are lower than this, a person can be considered hypoglycemic. Hypoglycemia can cause symptoms of fatigue, irritability, confusion, and headaches. In essence, the brain begins to suffer.

The cause of hypoglycemia can be several factors. One factor can be too much insulin is being released. Insulin is a protein that is released by the pancreas. It stimulates the uptake of glucose into the cells which is eventually converted into the energy needed to power the brain and thereby the rest of the body. Some people suffer with hypoglycemia as a result of too much insulin being released due to poor dietary choices. A diet high in sugar is one of the most common causes of hypoglycemia. Other factors for hypoglycemia include nutritional deficiencies and hormonal problems, just to name a few.

Hypoglycemics usually have a burst of energy after eating and then “crash” hours later. The insulin is dumped out in a large amount, absorbs the glucose, leaving the blood levels of glucose depleted. The brain then alters its output to save energy -- the equivalent to your car running out of gas. The symptoms one may experience are the same ones mentioned above. Chronic, long-term hypoglycemia can have serious consequences for the brain and can even lead to brain degeneration.

If hypoglycemia is not corrected, it can lead to a condition known as insulin resistance. This is when the pancreas no longer effectively produces insulin and the blood sugar becomes elevated. The fasting blood glucose will creep up towards the 100 mg/dL level. This can cause a whole host of problems for the brain such as inflammation, fatigue and alterations in hormone levels. It can also lead to cardiovascular problems, small blood vessel changes in the brain, and ultimately brain degeneration. The end result of insulin resistance if not corrected is Type II Diabetes. Once Diabetes sets in, it can be very difficult to correct. Diabetes can lead to stroke, depression, and recent evidence suggests that diabetics are at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. (1)

A very important blood marker for insulin resistance is Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c). HbA1c is a chemical component in the blood that reveals the blood glucose levels over a long period of time, not just as a result of the last meal. HbA1c is a useful indicator of how well the blood glucose level has been controlled in the recent past (6-8 weeks). Normal ranges should be around 4-6%. When HbA1c begins creeping up around 6, it indicates possible insulin resistance.

Blood sugar is of utmost importance to your brain’s performance. Whenever we attend a patient with a chronic health issue, especially chronic neurological issues, whether it be traumatic brain injury, Autism, Vertigo, chronic pain, etc., the first thing we want to look at is the fasting blood glucose. These levels give us a picture of the functioning of the entire brain. It is equivalent to a mechanic checking the oil levels in your car -- it’s the first thing they do to determine how the engine is performing. Often times, the blood sugar level (either too high or too low) is the cause of many common, chronic problems that people present with to healthcare professionals. In many cases, simply stabilizing a patient’s blood sugar through dietary changes and supplementation can eradicate many chronic symptoms and prevent future diseases and healthcare costs down the road.

-- Dr. Brent Reynolds

(1)Cerebral complications of diabetes mellitus. Ory Hetil. 2007 Dec 16;148(50):2371-6.

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