Sugar Dysregulation and Mitochondrial Dysfunction
Type II diabetes is on the rise and has been for some time. A diagnosis of Type II Diabetes represents the beginning of sugar dysregulation being considered a “chronic disease”, but no one wakes up one day with it, having been a perfectly healthy person the day before.
In this post I am going to provide a basic discussion of the balance involved with energy production and blood sugar.
So, for starters, sugar is what your body uses to produce energy, much the way gasoline is what your car uses to produce energy.
You consume sugar in the form of non-fibrous carbohydrates and your body can turn protein and fat into sugars. You can store a certain amount of sugar in your muscles and in your liver.
Sugar is very important and if we lived in a society where food was scarce, this conversation would look very different.
But since we live in a society where food is both abundant and super, highly processed, we need to have a very different discussion about the role that sugar, and carbohydrates have on our health.
Let’s start at the beginning:
All energy in your body is produced at the level of the cell. Cells have little structures called mitochondria that “burn” sugar for energy so that the cell can do whatever it is that the cell needs to do.
Muscle cells and nerve cells are two types of cells that have the highest energy requirements and thus have the most mitochondria.
So, muscles and nerves have the greatest need
for sugar and they will create the most energy.
So how does sugar go from your plate into your cell?
In the post on the gut, I discuss how food goes from the table into your stomach where it is broken down into very small molecules. Some of those molecules are sugar molecules which make their way through the gut wall and into the blood stream.
When sugar makes its way into the blood stre
am it raises the amount of sugar in the blood which your brain registers and sends a message to a gland that sits behind your stomach, called the pancreas, that stimulates the pancreas to release a hormone called insulin.
What is insulin?
Sugar cannot simply pass into a cell. It must be escorted into the cell. Insulin is the escort.
So, the insulin molecule holds hands with a sugar molecule and goes looking for a cell that has a sign on the door that says something to the effect of, “Sugar Welcome Here.”
When the insulin molecule sees the sign, it takes its sugar molecule over to the door where a doorman stands ready to escort the sugar molecule into the cell. We call the doorman an insulin receptor.
Once the sugar molecule gets into the cell, it can be used to produce energy by the mitochondria with the help of some vitamins and minerals, but I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds on this.
If you don’t eat enough sugary carbohydrate and your blood sugar gets too low, your brain sends a signal to your pancreas that stimulates the pancreas to release a hormone called glucagon.
Glucagon causes your liver to release stored sugar (remember that sugar can be stored in the liver and in the muscles).
If you still don’t consume enough sugar, then your body will start to take fat out of your fat cells and the liver will convert the fat into sugar.
Everything that I have said up to this point is NORMAL physiology. It’s the way things should work, and it’s all designed to keep your blood sugar level within a pretty narrow range and keep your cells tanked up with plenty of fuel.
So, what’s the problem? You might ask.
1. Your cells can only hold so much sugar. When they are full, they tell the doorman (the insulin receptor) to come back inside and take the “Welcome Sugar” sign down. When this happens, you are said to be insulin resistant.
2. When you become insulin resistant, your blood sugar starts to become elevated because you continue to eat carbohydrates, but you are not burning those carbohydrates fast enough. So your pancreas starts to make more and more insulin but all of the cells basically have closed signs out. It’s kinda like Mary and Joseph looking for a hotel room to stay in in Bethlehem but there was “no room at the Inn.” So Jesus had to be born in a feeding trough . . . are you following me.
When this happens to you, your liver can convert the excess sugar into fat and store the fat in your fat cells and not only that but if your fat cells become stuffed . . . your body makes MORE FAT CELLS. It’s a BIG problem.
Also, over time, your pancreas starts to get tired because it is pumping out all of this insulin that isn’t really doing what it is supposed to do. I don’t really have a better way to say this, but it JUST GETS TIRED.
3. Interestingly enough, although having an adequate amount of blood sugar is important for . . . well for life and consciousness . . . having too much sugar in your blood irritates the lining of your blood vessels and causes vascular damage. Imagine a kid running around one of those tunnels that you might find at an indoor playground with a sharp stick or God forbid . . . a knife.
What would happen? He would scrape up the inside of the tunnel. Right? It’s pretty much the same thing as having too much blood sugar.
Too much blood sugar leads to vascular damage which leads to inflammation which can lead to all sorts of damage from cardiovascular disease to kidney disease and kidney failure to blindness to gangrene in your foot requiring having your foot amputated.
BTW I have a good friend who was a podiatrist and amputated many feet for this very reason.
Okay, I get it doc. Now what do we do about it? Good question . . . glad you asked.
First, we need to do 2 things simultaneously. We need to rev up your mitochondria, so they start burning that sugar that is just stuck in your cells and we need to stop dumping more sugar into your body.
You need exercise and a carb restricted diet.
Let’s talk about exercise first. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Walking is probably the easiest thing that you can do.
I recommend doing it without a cell phone and with a friend or spouse. It’s a great time to talk and laugh and enjoy each other’s company while you get your mitochondria firing.
Mobility exercises are also great to do. There are health benefits that go way beyond just firing up mitochondria that mobility exercises will help with.
Weight training. I will be honest with you. I used to hate weight training. I was an endurance athlete. I like running and cycling and that was about it and that is about all I did. But over the past 10 years or so, I have learned the importance of weight training for many reasons but minute for minute, you will burn more sugar lifting weights than just about anything else that you can do.
I highly recommend weight training. Personally, I like using kettlebells and I could make an argument that for our purposes, they are superior to other forms of weight training . . . but I am not going to do that here.
About the carb restricted diet. Look, for all intents and purposes, your body is DRUNK on sugar. Your poor body’s sugar management system has stuffed sugar everywhere it can think to stick it and it is overrun and wore out. Your poor old sugar management system needs a break.
Not forever. But . . . it needs a break. Plus, your body needs to process all the extra sugar out. Get the cells back to wanting sugar so that they can put their doormen back out and hang their, “Sugar Welcome” signs back out so that insulin actually has a place to deliver the sugar too again. You need to give your pancreas a chance to recover from being over-worked for however long this mess has been going on for.
Remember earlier when I said that there are some vitamins and minerals that aid in the conversion of sugar into energy, well if your digestion isn’t the greatest then there is a good chance that you are deficient in these co-factors as well. So taking a good Mitochondrial support supplement would be a good idea too.
If you are looking for someone to help you get your health back on track so that you can enjoy the rest of your life with vibrant health instead of chronic disease. . .
We would love to meet you.
Click the button below to have a free, no-obligation discovery call to see if we would work well together.