I’m fading. I need coffee. I need tea. I need sugar. I need to get up and run around the block. I need a bagel. I need a nap. I need chocolate. I need … a boost in my blood sugar.
Balance your blood sugar or it will control your life. According to the CDC last year, by the end of 2015 more than 100 million U.S. adults had diabetes or pre-diabetes- and that number has been steadily increasing. That is almost1 out of every 10 people. Luckily, most of us can see it coming and do something about it. Long before it becomes a diagnosable disease, your blood sugar becomes out of balance. Cravings, moodiness, hormonal imbalances, heart disease, liver challenges, sleep disturbances, and more dis-ease can follow. Many people, especially overbooked women, experience fatigue regularly, make food choices in response to sudden shifts in mood and energy levels, lack the energy to exercise regularly, and do not feel able to make time for self-care and sleep.
Balance with every Bite
When your blood sugar shifts, your appetite and food choices do as well. The curse is the blessing, however. Your body is craving food to solve its problem- and food can solve its problem. You can choose the right foods and supplements at the right times to support balanced blood sugar. You can use food as medicine to rebalance your blood sugar. Amazing, isn’t it… Unlike expensive medications, you have to eat food to live anyway- so why not make it work for you! Food is energy. Blood sugar is a form of food energy in your blood. You can manipulate the energy you take in (carbohydrate, fat, and protein) to manage your blood sugar. But food is more than just calories to burn! Food contains vitamins, minerals, plant chemicals like polyphenols, and more metabolic manipulators that affect how you store, use, and burn energy. Part of my age-defying weight-management strategy in my new book, Glow15, is achieved through re-balancing blood sugar using food as medicine. Read on to learn more!
Glow for Blood Sugar Balance
Each component of my Glow15 approach has multiple metabolic benefits including support for blood sugar balance:
- Intermittent Fasting and Protein Cycling. Intermittent fasting allows the body to rest, digest, and repair optimally, fixing metabolic insults at the cellular level. In Glow15, you combine protein cycling (alternating days of high and low protein intake) with intermittent fasting (16 hours fast, 8-hour feed) to maximize your time for repair while not under-feeding. When you combine intermittent fasting and protein cycling, you have the power to turn autophagy on and off in your cells. Autophagy is responsible for the benefits of intermittent fasting that is demonstrated in evidenced-based research, such as burning more fat, improving insulin sensitivity, reducing heart disease risk, and feeling more energetic!
- Fat First, Carbs Last. When blood sugar rises, insulin rises, and you will take in the energy from your food- either burning or storing it. Constantly spiking blood sugar promotes insulin resistance – the major metabolic challenge of diabetes. Humans are naturally a bit insulin resistant in the morning (as opposed to evening), so choose a low carbohydrate meal to break your fast that is full of fat and fiber to avoid unnecessary rises in blood sugar and weight gain. Eating fat and fiber will encourage your body to burn fat- the fuel it has stored and available- without spiking your blood sugar and insulin. Choosing carbohydrates later in the day allows you to benefit from their nutrients, fiber, and their sleep-and-mood-boosting properties while reaping the rewards of starting your day with fat and fiber. Smaller shifts in your blood sugar and insulin are less likely to negatively impact your mood and energy levels if you are sleeping when they occur.
- HIIT and RET. On the 4 days per week that you are not fasting, choose an exercise that uses healthy stress to trigger your repair mechanisms and get glowing! Choose to exercise half the week with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to put healthy stress on your body- just enough to encourage it to build muscle, repair damage, and become stronger. Cardiovascular exercise increases the density of receptors for glucose in certain tissues, helping them use sugar more effectively, improving insulin sensitivity. Choose to exercise half the week with resistance training (RET), which helps build muscle- the more lean body mass, the less likely you are to become insulin resistant. Both types of exercise boost autophagy in your insulin-producing pancreas, improving blood sugar regulation.
- Self-Care. Stress drives your production of stress hormones which spike your blood sugar. Stress out all of the time and you will ride the blood sugar roller coaster up and down all day long. Indulge in very necessary self-care to hit the reset button on stress and stop spiking your blood sugar. Try a hot sauna, enjoy a few minutes of daily meditation, or develop a sleep ritual to ease yourself into bedtime. Commit to a regular massage, acupuncture treatment, or have a spa day at home with some of the beauty-boosting recipes in my book, Glow15!
- Power up with Polyphenols. Plants have power, and some are particularly potent activators of our innate ability to heal. Polyphenols are a group of compounds in plants that boost autophagy and confer other metabolic benefits. Find them in certain fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs, and even dark chocolate! Some are easy to incorporate into your diet through food or supplements, such as resveratrol in red grapes and wine, EGCG in green tea, curcumin in turmeric, or berberine in supplemental form.
Let’s look more deeply into berberine, our blood sugar control superstar, which has profoundly beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity.
Balance your Blood Sugar with Berberine
Berberine is a natural alkaloid used traditionally to treat digestive diseases in Ayurvedic medicine for over 1000 years. It is from China and India and found in the roots, stems, bark, and rhizomes of herbs such as goldenseal, barberry, golden-thread, and Oregon grape. It has several health benefits beyond treating digestive ailments, such as reducing cholesterol absorption and improving cardiovascular health, reducing inflammation, boosting lung health, and supporting healthy gut bacteria. Berberine also has weight-reducing and fat-burning powers. Berberine activates a compound called AMPK, a “metabolic master switch” that turns on thermogenesis (burning more fat for heat while reducing white fat production). In one study, those who took berberine three times daily for 13 weeks lost an average of 5 pounds — a great boost to your weight management plan! In clinical trials, berberine has been shown to decrease body mass index and waist circumference while improving lipid and glucose profiles. In patients with high cholesterol, berberine has been shown to reduce cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol while raising HDL cholesterol without major side effects, significantly reducing heart disease risk.
The current scientific literature claims that berberine is as effective at controlling blood sugar as the diabetes drug Metformin. Metformin is usually the first medication given to those diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes. While it is a relatively safe drug, long term is associated with kidney damage. Like metformin, berberine is safely normoglycemic, meaning it will not lower blood sugar unless it is already high. It has been shown to lower fasting blood sugar, fasting insulin, post-meal blood sugar, and HbA1c by increasing the number of insulin receptors. We are still not sure precisely what combination of mechanisms is responsible for berberine’s blood-sugar-lowering effects, but here is a growing list of suggested actions:
- Berberine activates AMPK which boosts autophagy, improving insulin sensitivity at the cellular level by promoting internal repair.
- Berberine reduces the effect of NADPH oxidase, an enzyme that is very active in diabetics. Inhibiting NADPH oxidase is considered a therapeutic target for future medications.
- Berberine is often compared to exercise because it improves insulin sensitivity in the liver, reducing the liver’s production of glucose and because it boosts thermogenesis. This is similar to Metformin in that it suppresses the liver’s tendency to make new glucose when liver cells become insulin resistant.
- Berberine supports the good gut bacteria that live within you by killing off the bad bacteria, reducing inflammation and improving blood sugar control. Berberine is poorly absorbed in the gut, so it can more easily travel to the far end of your gastrointestinal tract, where your probiotics gather. Because we know that certain gut bacteria are anti-inflammatory and protective against diabetes, this selective slaughter by berberine may be useful on many levels.
- Berberine may have other anti-inflammatory properties, inhibiting several middle-man chemicals that trigger inflammation such as TNF-a or IL-6.
Moreover, berberine has also been shown to lower fasting blood sugar and A1c as well as both metformin and rosiglitazone. These researchers suggested considering berberine as an alternative to these medications!
Berberine is a very safe herb to supplement. Because it is a normoglycemic agent, it should be safe to take with other diabetic medications, though caution should be taken with any chemicals that affect blood sugar- including food. If you have high bilirubin levels, hold off on berberine as it may slow your liver’s removal of bilirubin.
Because berberine may lower blood pressure and thin blood, be careful with berberine if you are on blood pressure or anticoagulant medications. Berberine can increase blood levels of cyclosporine by slowing its metabolism and is contraindicated in those taking cyclosporine. Gastrointestinal distress and diarrhea are the most common side effects associated with berberine. Because berberine is found in herbs such as goldenseal or barberry that we do not normally eat at a meal, supplement this one: Berberine is in some herbs (like goldenseal and barberry) but not in common foods. Take 500 mg capsules three times daily at meals to reduce the potential for stomach upset and spikes in blood sugar.
Always take berberine with food because, despite its positive digestive effects over a period of time, it may cause transient gastrointestinal distress- and diarrhea, in some cases. You may wish to take berberine for three months, then pause and evaluate your lab results, especially your blood sugar and/or A1c, to check your progress. While berberine is not the only herb that helps balance blood sugar, it certainly is a reliable and heavy hitter with many other metabolism-balancing benefits!
Learn more about polyphenols that help you feel and look younger, such as turmeric or EGCG, in my new book, Glow15. Balance your blood sugar, melt off extra pounds, and get radiant, glowing skin with results in as little as 15 days!