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This is Why Stress Increases Blood Sugar Levels


What Is Stress? We experience different types of stress throughout our lives. This can be emotional (like loss of a loved one) or physical (like illness or injury). Moderate and short-term stress can improve brain function, alertness, memory, and performance. However, extreme or chronic stress can negatively impact our health including glucose (sugar) metabolism.


Cortisol and Blood Glucose Spikes Hormones regulate all processes in our bodies. Stress can play a big role in how these hormones operate and how much or how little of them we produce. Cortisol, commonly known as the stress hormone, is important for healthy body function. In high concentrations, it can pose a threat to those with diabetes. Cortisol increases glucose metabolism; high blood sugar levels will last longer when cortisol is around. How does stress impact cortisol? As stress increases, so does the release of cortisol. This excess cortisol increases the production of glucose, suppresses utilization of glucose by the body and suppress insulin release. In other words, blood sugar levels go up. If you experience excess or chronic stress, it can increase your blood glucose and worsen insulin resistance.

What Can We Do About It?

  1. Eat Your Veggies & Protein First: studies have shown that, eating carbohydrates after vegetables leads to a slower digestion, requires less insulin, and minimizes blood sugar spikes. Overall, protein and fiber from vegetables will slow down the digestion of carbohydrates minimizing blood glucose spikes and insulin secretion. For example, you could eat 2 hard-boiled eggs before your morning bagel or eat your vegetables and chicken breast before the rice.

  2. Implement Stress-Management Strategies: for stressors that can be managed, we encourage setting aside a 5-minute-reset to take some deep breaths. Stress can lead to faster breathing rates and may send a signal to the brain that says you are in fight or flight mode or that there is a threat to prepare for. Find a comfortable position with no distractions and try to focus on a word, sound, phrase, or movement for a couple of minutes. If you find yourself busy with daily tasks, take a midday break to re-organize and prioritize the important tasks first.

  3. Prioritize Sleep Hygiene: adequate sleep is crucial for hormone regulation and recovery. Think about it: your body is working hard for most of the day and the only time it has to reset and recover is during sleep. Try to avoid social media or high-stimulating activities 30-60 minutes prior to bedtime. Try reading a book or playing a board game. If you find your mind working while trying to fall asleep, try a brain dump strategy to clear your mind. Lastly, try to have your last meal 2 to 3 hours before sleeping to avoid discomfort or impaired digestion.

Meal Timing Matters; Track Your Intake to Notice Patterns Individuals who skip meals may have difficulties controlling hunger later in the day. Timing meals at regular intervals may be helpful in balancing hunger hormones, decreasing the stress response, and achieving adequate blood glucose levels. If you are already a Treo member, use your Treo whole-person platform to set a specific amount of time for your Mealtime Spacing duration. Most Treo members have success and no-to-minimal side effects when they gradually extend this amount of time. Slow adjustments by about 15 minutes per week seem to work well, and 12 hours is recognized as safe for Mealtime Spacing. Gradually extend this time by about 15 minutes per week until you reach 12 hours. There are some additional advantages of extending this duration up to 16 hours, resulting in an 8-hour eating window.

We often find ourselves mindlessly snacking or eating foods that are high in calories but low in satiety value: have you ever found yourself eating handfuls of nuts yet, you still find yourself being hungry? Try tracking your meals and beverages for three days and identify your individual eating patterns. You can do the good ole’ pen and paper, use a notes application on your mobile device or use the Treo tracker to track habits such as eating more fruits and vegetables or exercising. From there, you can evaluate where you can make small changes to achieve a more balanced way of eating and avoid the peaks and valleys in blood glucose.

When you know exactly how many times a day you typically eat, unintended snacks are easier to avoid. In addition to these specific Habit Tiles, many Treo members track servings of veggies and fruit, because adding healthier options enhances nutrition and fiber intake.

Takeaways Stress is often difficult to avoid. Regardless of life stress or physical stress, it is often more important to take a step back and think “how can I manage my current situation?”. Think of one thing you can work towards today and celebrate making that change work in your favor. Maybe it’s setting boundaries with colleagues or meal prepping are your lunches for the work week. If you are interested in learning more about Treo’s whole-person platform and how it can serve your healthy progress, email us at info@treowellness.com. At Treo Wellness, we believe you can make one small change today to positively impact your health tomorrow. This blog was contributed by Betty Guerrero RD, CD, CPT. Betty is the owner of Eat with Betty. She was born in Puerto Rico and current lives in Madison, WI. She speaks Spanish, English, and Portuguese and supports individuals with nutrition from around the world. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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