The state of your blood sugar has a sweeping impact on your entire body, from eye health and vascular function to hormone production. And though your internal systems are constantly at work trying to strike a healthy blood sugar balance, there are a host of external factors that can affect your glucose numbers.
Various lifestyle choices and environmental influences can unexpectedly throw your sugars out of whack. Fortunately, most of these factors are largely within your control. If you suspect (or know from glucose monitoring) that you’re being taken for a ride on the blood sugar rollercoaster, consider whether any of the following elements might be making an impact. From there, you can start taking action to help get your numbers back in the black.
- ABOUT OUR EXPERTS: Sheri Berger, R.D.N., C.D.C.E.S., is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and nutrition consultant for Consumer Health Digest. Erin Palinski-Wade, R.D., C.D.C.E.S., L.D.N., C.P.T., is a registered dietitian, nutrition consultant, and the author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet.
1. A Change In Your Eating Pattern
When it comes to blood sugar control, it’s crucial to keep tabs on your carb intake. Carbs get broken down into sugars, which ultimately accumulate in the bloodstream, so an increase in your carb and sugar consumption is a sure path to elevated glucose.
Beyond that, skipping meals (especially breakfast) will also influence your blood sugar in a big way, according to Sheri Berger, R.D.N., C.D.C.E.S., a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and nutrition consultant for Consumer Health Digest. Going without sustenance for too long can cause a dangerous dip in blood sugar, especially in the morning, when your sugar is likely to be at its lowest.
Skipping meals can be particularly dangerous for those with a diabetes diagnosis, Berger notes. One 2019 study showed that eating a late dinner and skipping breakfast resulted in impaired blood sugar levels among type 2 diabetics.
2. Falling Short On Water
Skimping on your daily hydration is another poor habit to watch out for. “When the amount of water in the bloodstream decreases, the concentration of sugar increases,” Berger says. Even if you don’t have a chronic blood sugar condition, getting dehydrated could raise your blood sugar beyond ideal levels. Long story short: For consistent blood sugar, stay consistent with drinking water.
3. Too Much Caffeine
Most people with blood sugar issues can safely enjoy a cup of coffee (as long as it’s not epically sweetened). In fact, some studies even suggest that drinking coffee could improve glucose metabolism in the long run. For an unfortunate few, though, too much caffeine is bad news for blood sugar.
“The caffeine content of coffee can lead to a spike in blood sugar levels since caffeine can increase cortisol, a stress hormone that is central to our fight-or-flight response,” explains nutrition consultant Erin Palinski-Wade, R.D., C.D.C.E.S., L.D.N., C.P.T., author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet. The reason this occurs in some people but not others? “Some people naturally metabolize caffeine quicker than others. Those who metabolize caffeine slower have been shown to experience higher blood glucose levels after consuming it.” (Figure out how quickly you metabolize caffeine here.)
If you have blood sugar issues but don’t want to jettison the java (or any other caffeinated drink), moderation is key. “Limit it to at least eight hours before bed, avoid sweetening it with large amounts of added sugar, and monitor your blood sugar response,” Palinski-Wade advises. “If you find caffeine spikes your blood sugar, opt for decaffeinated options.”
Even if you don’t have blood sugar issues but know you metabolize caffeine slowly, you still may want to cut back. Doing so could help shorten the window of any jitters after sipping.
4. Not Drinking Responsibly
Nobody ever said alcohol was good for, well, much of anything when it comes to health. But how bad is it exactly for blood sugar? “Since alcohol is identified as a toxin, the body’s first priority is to clear the substance. This means other normal functions like blood sugar regulation are put on hold,” says Berger. When this happens, blood sugar initially rises, but then can sink dangerously low. “Blood sugar levels drop because the liver is too busy clearing the alcohol to produce glucose for normal blood sugar balance.”
To find a healthy balance when drinking, Berger recommends pairing an adult beverage with food (ideally a balance of carbs, protein, and fat), limiting intake to one drink, and sipping on the drink slowly.
5. A Stressful Lifestyle
Some people like to crack that “stressed” is “desserts” spelled backward…and they might be onto something. Stress can act on your blood sugar much like a hefty serving of chocolate cake. “When we are under stress, hormones are released to ‘help’ us deal with the situation,” says Berger. Yep, it’s that pesky hormone cortisol again here. Cortisol signals the pancreas to make less insulin (the hormone that is needed to shuttle blood sugar into the cells for fuel), which means excess sugar gets left hanging around in your blood, explains Berger. Not a huge deal when it happens once in a blue moon, but definitely a problem when you’re stressed out on a regular basis.
Read More: 6 Science-Backed Ways To Lower Cortisol
Feel like a stressful lifestyle is contributing to glucose woes? Take steps to create more peace in your world, like reducing commitments, spending time in nature, and clearing time for self-care.
6. Getting Sunburns
Soaking up some vitamin D can be a great thing for pretty much everyone—and may be particularly beneficial for people with blood sugar issues. According to the American Diabetes Association, low levels of vitamin D are associated with increased diabetes complications.
Just don’t stay on that beach blanket too long. Surprisingly, getting a sunburn can lead to elevated blood sugar. “Any inflammation of the skin, the body’s biggest organ, can cause an increase in stress hormones, which can increase blood sugar levels,” explains Palinksi-Wade. She also points out that lengthy stretches in the sun can cause dehydration, another risk factor for blood sugar spikes.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a day in the sun. Just be sure to take extra precautions, like wearing protective clothing, applying sunscreen, and drinking plenty of water.
7. Sleeping Poorly
Is there anything a good night’s rest can’t improve—or a bad night’s rest can’t worsen? There’s definitely a connection between sleep and blood sugar levels. “Poor sleep can increase fatigue, worsen insulin resistance, elevate stress hormones, and cause a shift in hunger/satiety hormones, leading to increased appetite,” says Palinski-Wade. Believe it or not, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), just one night of too little sleep can lower your body’s ability to use insulin properly.
For general wellness and blood sugar issues, focus on getting solid nightly rest. (The CDC recommends at least seven hours a night for adults.) You might be amazed at the difference healthy rest makes to your glucose levels. And if nothing else, you’ll feel better all day long!
If any of the above factors are playing a role in your day to day, there’s no better time like the present to take action. Meet with a nutritionist to get your diet on track, make sure you’re incorporating movement into your daily routine, have your glucose levels checked by your primary care physician on a regular basis, and consider taking certain supplements, such as berberine or Vthrive Advanced Blood Sugar Support, to help support healthy blood sugar balance.