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Why Won’t My Glucose Fall?

I get questions all the time about elevated glucose readings even after eating low carb for several weeks. This article will discuss more details about the physiology and glucose readings.

When beginning a low carb nutrition plan, it is important to monitor glucose readings before and after eating to understand exactly what is happening to the blood levels in response to food intake. To determine how to do this, see my previous article, “Do You Check Your Glucose?”

Many people who cut carbohydrates will notice that glucose levels actually increase after awakening – this effect is called dawn phenomenon and there are loads of adequate resources available for reading if you’ll simply Google the term; there isn’t a great need to go into detail here about it. Suffice it to say that the liver is simply trying to “help” you by secreting glucose out into the bloodstream when food intake is unavailable – such as during sleep. If you awaken and still do not eat for several hours, the liver will continue “helping” you out, secreting more and more stored glycogen, thinking that you “need” the glucose for energy.  This DP effect is also another reason I discourage fasting for the first 6 months on a ketogenic eating plan.

On our low carb way of eating – especially the first several months – the body may seem a bit “confused” about fuel source. The body is accustomed to using glucose for fuel, but with low carb eating the glucose intake becomes scarce, so the liver acts as a back-up system and releases stored glycogen in the form of glucose to help raise blood levels of the fuel.   Fat-adaptation is the term we use to describe how the body becomes accustomed to used fats for fuel and typically takes 4-6 weeks for most people.  However, it can take 2-3 months for some people to become completely fat-adapted.  Fat adaptation means that the body has learned to use ketones (simple fats, broken down into smallest useable components) for fuel.

Many people also report continued high glucose readings even with very low carb eating; this phenomenon is often difficult to understand. The first thing to remember, though, is that it took MANY YEARS of poor eating habits and very HIGH carbohydrate intake to get us to where we are.  We cannot expect to see perfect glucose readings the first week of low carb eating.  Yes, MANY people DO report significant drops in glucose, but not everyone fits into this category.  Think about a “bell curve” used in data collection.  An easy to understand example is test scores in a classroom.  If there are 100 students who take a math test, by far, the majority of students will have an average score; but there will be a very few students who ace it or score very high, and there will be a very few students to score very low.  This proportionate report is referred to as a “bell curve” as pictured below.

Bell-Curve
Standard Bell Curve

So, now that we understand how averages and the majority of people respond, understand that everyone fits on the bell curve SOMEWHERE. It can take many, many weeks to locate your particular placement on that curve.

What happens when glucose levels are falling but people report symptoms of low glucose? This phenomenon occurs because your body has become accustomed to elevated glucose levels and now perceives the high glucose as “normal” even though it truly is NOT.  People often report tremors, nervousness, shakiness, headaches, and even nausea when glucose is running 100-120. Consider, though, that the body had been experiencing glucose levels sometimes as high as 200 – 400 on a regular basis before LCHF eating.  To the liver and the brain, even a 150 can seem very low, when the body was used to a 400 most of the time.   When dropping glucose levels this drastically, many people will experience uncomfortable symptoms and think that the “correction” for this event is to consume some carbohydrates, sugars, or other unhealthy foods/drinks.  Keep in mind, that it is NEVER a good idea to treat a NORMAL glucose level – NEVER.  Treating a normal glucose level with sugar/carbs will only raise glucose even more, resulting in more effort to get it lower.

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Health care providers around the world recognize that the biggest threat to people with diabetes is hypoglycemia – low blood sugars.  We never medicate a LOW and we never medicate NORMAL glucose whether with food or medication.  THE ONLY EXCEPTION is if you take SPECIFIC glucose-lowering drugs (NOT metformin) and have symptoms of a low glucose, you might need to consume a GLUCOSE TABLET, specifically for treating a low.  We never recommend chasing lows with sugary food items.  Always use a specified amount of glucose so that you will KNOW exactly how glucose will respond.  You MUST work with a KNOWLEDGEABLE provider to help you lower medications appropriately when first beginning a low carb nutrition plan.  If you cannot locate one, you should contact a health coach with medication knowledge, like KetoNurses, to provide you with adequate information to make YOUR OWN CHOICES, to provide for your own safety.

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GET MEDICAL ADVICE for YOUR specific situation

Be consistent and persistent with your low carb intake. Keep carb intake to 6-7 grams PER MEAL; do not “save up” carbs for a “splurge” because this technique can contribute to even more erratic glucose levels.  The real goal is to have almost no rise or fall in glucose levels.  Glucose readings should be maintained at a fairly stable level all the time, even after eating.  I teach my clients that if glucose level increases more than 10 points with eating, there were probably too many carbs in that meal. How do you figure that out?  By measuring foods.  Most of us measure foods BEFORE cooking, and most nutritional data is listed before cooking, but ALWAYS read nutritional info carefully. Vegetables are measured by volume – in a measuring cup, not by weight on a scale.  Imagine weighing 4 ounces of spinach! LOL It would be a HUGE amount of spinach, likely more than a person could consume in a whole day.  However, meat is measured by weight; a kitchen scale can be a very important tool in your low carb journey.  Most of us have a terrible, preconceived notion of what a 4-ounce piece of steak looks like.  We are accustomed to restaurant portions, which are often massively oversized.  Also, keep in mind that during the first 4-6 weeks of low carb eating, we do NOT encourage portion control.  Our major focus during this initial phase of lifestyle change is learning WHAT to eat and how to cook with real fat. We really want people to learn this new way of cooking and eating without undue stress; eat when physically hungry and learn to determine first signs of fullness.  Learning how the body works is also a really important task in improving your health.

After you have mastered what to eat and how to cook with healthy fats, it is then time to cut portions back. Start by calculating your personalized macro goals; we base protein needs on AVERAGE IDEAL BODY weight – NOT current weight, and NOT on some randomly chosen arbitrary goal weight.  Used by experts and medical providers for over 100 years, basal protein needs are calculated this way; this method is still taught in nursing, medical, and nutrition programs today.  Again, this AVERAGE ideal body weight is based on a “bell curve” and many people will NOT fit the average. There will be some people with weights all along the spectrum that we call “normal.”  However, we base protein needs on this AVERAGE, since MOST of us will fit in with the majority; after some time on LCHF eating, the body will “find” its own healthy weight – so using this IBW chart to determine goal weight is UNNCESSARY.  See my previous blog article, “Do the Math” for more details on macro calculations.

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Another major concept to utilize when beginning a low carb nutrition plan also includes relearning how to respond to “head” hunger, or “habit” hunger. Many of us eat to a schedule on a high carb intake; this habit occurs because of the natural and rapid rise and fall of glucose levels on standard high carb intake.  If you have not watched my video, “What Happens to All That Glucose?” now might be a good time to locate it on the KetoNurses Facebook page. When we were consuming many carbs – every 2 hours, typically – our bodies became used to the frequent intake.  It is sometimes quite difficult to overcome this bad habit.  Our bodies were designed to go many hours without food intake, but current dietary advice runs amuck with recommendations to “graze” or eat every 2-3 hours.  The frequent intake has trained our brains to prepare for food; our mouths water with anticipation of food, and often we even experience tummy growls.   However, true physiological hunger occurs when glucose levels are approximately 70 – again, remember the “bell curve” because many people will experience true hunger well away from 70ish.  Another phenomenon that occurs in many people with out-of-control diabetes and severe insulin resistance is “near constant hunger.”  Near-constant-hunger will often occur when glucose levels are 200+ simply because the glucose cannot move into cells, so the brain mistakenly believes the person is hungry and needs fuel.

glucose fluctuations
Avoid these glucose fluctuations

In addition, medications can significantly affect your glucose levels, including those NOT prescribed for diabetes. Blood pressure drugs, cholesterol medicines, steroids, and many others will contribute to elevated glucose levels.  Insulin users often find that they have very erratic glucose levels when beginning a low carb eating plan. It is very important to research your specific medications and learn exactly how they work and what side effects you can expect.  Knowing this information will help you feel much more confident in eating low carb and learning how your body responds.

A major factor to also keep in mind is that it takes TIME for the body to heal. It takes TIME for glucose levels to normalize.  It takes TIME for the liver to release all the excess stored glycogen.  It takes TIME for the body to become less dependent on medications.  It takes TIME for our brains to learn to respond appropriately to TRUE hunger.  There is no “magic cure” for the inadequate, high carb, nutrient-poor intake we have endured for many years.

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The real “magic cure” is in consistent and persistent low carb intake, with adequate fat and protein intake. Provide highly nutritious “close to the farm” intake for the body.  The quality nutrition found in real food will provide your body with many nutrients you have been missing, but time for healing will still be required.  Anytime you accidentally consume too many carbs during the first 4-6 weeks will impact your body’s healing process, raising glucose and slowing healing and fat-adaptation.

It is not vital to consume “organic” or grass-fed. While some of these foods do provide slightly higher nutritional value, some people just cannot afford them. 

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Choose the best products you can afford and do NOT feel guilty or shamed by anyone for your choices; these feelings can quickly contribute to stress, which in-turn will raise glucose.

There are so many other factors that raise glucose: pain, emotional stress, physical illness, worry, changing a schedule, parenthood struggles, financial stress, and nearly any other life event. Be aware of these impacts on life, mentality, and physical health.   Solve the ones you can, and give NO time or effort to those you cannot change because the additional stress will only compound the stress and impact to glucose levels.  Be aware of your body’s signals.  Learn to recognize symptoms that require management.  Learn to listen to your body; recognize your body’s needs and respond. Finally, if you need help, ASK for it!

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Do you check your glucose?

For any of you who have never checked your glucose, maybe it’s worth a try. It is truly the only way to know how food directly impacts glucose.

Use a glucometer to check and monitor your glucose level. They can be purchased over the counter. For inexpensive ones, ask your local pharmacy about the least expensive to use over time. I believe Walmart has one that is fairly inexpensive; it’s the Relion meter.

I recommend testing first thing in the morning, and then after meals to determine how food impacted your glucose. Standard post-meal testing is at 2 hours. Some people, however are not textbook. I usually recommend testing after several different meals over a few different days every 30 minutes after eating to determine your personal peak… once you determine this time frame, you’ll only need to test before and after once. No need to test every single meal at first if you’re worried about costs of testing OR running out of fingers. 😉

But pick a few meals at different times of day. If costs are a factor in buying strips, it’s really important to test before and after different meals — example: test before and after breakfast on Mon, Wed, & Saturday for 2 weeks, before & after lunch on Tue, Thurs, & Fri for 1 week, and supper on Sunday, Tues, Thurs, Sun, for the 2nd week.

Once you’ve determined your personal glucose peak, you can then limit testing to before meals and around your peak.

To determine the impact of certain food on glucose level, test before and after at your personalized peak. Ideally, the readings should not be very different, but readings are allowed to be about 10 numbers diff.

Example: pre-meal is 97; post-meal highest should be about 107 for optimal glucose control.

Even non-diabetics can use meters and learn for themselves how food impacts glucose.

This is where we get the phrase, “eat to your meter.”

This photo COURTESY of the Facebook group, Type 2 Diabetes Straight Talk.

Testing glucose is the absolute best method for determining how foods impact your glucose. Knowing how food will affect glucose levels is very important for people on a low carb diet, especially those who take medicines to lower glucose directly. If glucose goes up more than 10 points, it’s probably not a good idea to continue eating that food.

If you’d like help learning to eat to your meter or learning how to eat low carb high fat to reduce the impact of disease on the body, please email me at ketonurses@gmail.com for more information.

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Reversing Dementia IS Possible

This is the story of a friend who wishes to remain anonymous. His words. His experiences. And they are amazing!

“I joined this group (a FB group) to help my mother who is 69 years old, has had type 2 diabetes for about twenty years now and has developed many complications although none of them are quite life threatening YET. She also has Alzheimer’s which makes it very difficult. She had followed the ADA guidelines yet she got progressively worse and now needs insulin. With her Alzheimer’s the doctor put her on a pump. Either one of my sisters, myself, or a visiting nurse checks on her twice a day to make sure she is under control. Recently one of my sisters or myself have been staying with her. She will go to the kitchen and eat huge bowls of cereal with skim milk or anything sweet or carby that is in the refrigerator so her levels have sky rocketed. My sisters have said its okay.

About a year ago I noticed a woman at my gym who I see periodically and has been losing a lot of weight. Then a few months ago I overheard her talking to some other people about her keto diet. I finally talked to her and she told me about her diabetes, she told me about this group, and she suggested ways to get my mother on it but my sisters did not agree at all and it has created a lot of fighting with them. I will admit that they do much more of her monitoring then I do but about three weeks ago I convinced them to take a break and I have been living with her 24/7. I know this woman Karen at the gym is not a health care professional but I hired her to come to the house to help get rid of the foods that are not on the diet and to stock the refrigerator with good foods. I was very afraid that my mother would start complaining about what I fed her especially because she was always complaining that we were trying to starve her even though she’s over a hundred pounds overweight and was eating three or four meals a day plus snacks. I should add that she has neuropathy and because of her Alzheimer’s she forgets to use her walker and so she also falls.

Karen went way beyond the time I paid her for and cooked some meals and visited with my mother. We never told her that we were changing her diet. After a few days she stopped complaining about being hungry even though she was already eating a lot less. Her blood sugar used to be from 60 to 350 and sometimes over 400. Now it has never gone above 172 and is usually under 140.

I cannot believe it in three weeks. She has also lost 18 pounds and is not falling. The biggest surprise to me is that she is not as confused and her memory is so much better that I can not believe it.

My sisters had been out of town but they came back and saw my mother one yesterday and the other two days ago. I showed them her insulin use which is less than half what it has been and her blood sugar levels. But they both cried when my mother started asking them questions about their trips and acted like a completely different person. She remembered their names and when my one sister said she was visiting her son my mother asked what college he was in. Well, she used to ask when he was going to graduate from high school. When my mother told her it was Lehigh she apologized and said oh yes, I’m sorry I forgot what is he studying? She said engineering and my mother was happy and said oh, just like his grandfather he would have been so proud.

We both cried again because my mother used to ask where he was and why he hasn’t come home yet. The other sister has a house down the shore and my mother asked her if that is where she was on her vacation. She never once yelled at them for not visiting her which she used to do even when they would come every day. And she is remembering to use her walker every single time now so she is not falling.

My sisters are now onboard. I have invited one to the group and the other promises to follow whatever I say. We have not seen her doctor yet but she has an appointment in a few weeks.

I have also been eating this way because that is what I have been feeding her and even though I don’t have diabetes I feel a hole lot better.

I want to thank everyone in this group. I have not said anything before because I’m not like that but I had to speak up now and thank every one. I also have to thank Karen V. for introducing me to this. She never asked for money but I had to pay her for some of her time. I’m sure she would have come out for free because she is so into this diet and promotes it at the gym all the time. I honestly thought at first that she must be selling something but I was surprised that no one here is selling anything accept getting healthy.

And one more thing. My mother has stopped asking for more of her Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal or hot chocolate and now asks for more of the yummy bullet proof coffee which I sometimes make with tea instead.”

—Anonymous

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What is Vitamin D & Why Do I Need It?

vit d pathwayVitamin D is called a vitamin; it’s often called a hormone. It’s often called a vitamin that acts like a hormone.  So, which is it?  It’s actually all of the above.  Vitamin D is a fat-soluble agent with a chemical structure similar to a steroid.  Which makes sense, as Vitamin D is one of the major ingredients of all steroid-based hormones produced in our bodies. Our bodies were created and designed to absorb sunshine via skin and then a variety of chemical reactions would occur so our bodies actually made its own vitamin D.  However, since the skin cancer scare of the 1970s, the general population applies thick layers of sunscreen and we rarely remove enough clothing to bare our skin for this natural process to occur.  This long-term lack of sunshine on our skin is producing entire generations of significantly deficient people in our society.

What happens when we are low in vitamin D? How does a vitamin D deficiency affect people’s health? Because vitamin D is vital to numerous human processes, it can be quite complex to discuss its actions, roles, and benefits to our bodies.  We will attempt to explain vitamin D as simply as possible, describing the intricacies and complex utilization of vitamin D.

 vit d image

The oldest known function of vitamin D is the role in bone growth and development; we’ve all seen photos of young children with rickets (legs bowing outward) because of a severe deficiency of vitamin D. Without adequate D in the bloodstream, bones cannot grow or develop properly.  For years, calcium was reported to be the “hero” of the skeleton.  People with weakening bones were urged to take high doses of calcium daily “to protect your bones” and prevent osteoporosis.  However, in recent years, that advice has been scaled back a bit; no longer is it general health advice to recommend calcium supplementation unless there is known osteoporosis or osteopenia.  Even where there is evidence, many providers won’t recommend it lightly; they take great care in explaining the risks/benefits and often encourage vitamin D in place of or at least along with the calcium.  So, just what does the vitamin D do for bones?  It’s most recognized benefit is that it aids absorption of calcium from the intestines; it’s the reason vitamin d is added to milk and other dairy products.  Milk/dairy products do NOT naturally contain vitamin D; it is added to promote calcium absorption into the bones for effective use in growth & development. Vitamin D helps keep bones strong and also helps prevent weak, brittle bones in the elderly.

In addition to bone health, vitamin D is recognized for its effects in the brain; it has been called “the depression vitamin” among health care professionals for many years because it is a vital component of neurotransmitters in the brain. Three major neurotransmitters in the brain requiring adequate amounts of vitamin D include serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin; serotonin is a neurotransmitter vital for transmitting nerve impulses. Serotonin is also important for mood regulation; pain perception; gastrointestinal function, including perception of hunger and satiety; and other physical functions. Oxytocin is released from the brain when it is needed for a variety of body needs, including labor & delivery at the end of pregnancy, during sexual arousal, and it is often referred to as “the love hormone” because of its impact on emotional relationships. Vasopressin is an anti-diuretic hormone that regulates fluid balance within the body and bloodstream. It works to prevent excess fluid loss and helps maintain homeostasis (normal internal chemistry) by maintaining the concentration of dissolved particles, such as salts and glucose, in the blood. Reviewing all 3 of these neurotransmitters and their major functions is vital to understand brain chemistry; can you see how a shortage of vitamin D would impact nearly all normal body functions and even our relationships, moods, and emotions?

Vitamin D’s impact on glucose has only recently been identified; multiple studies show conflicting data as this area is new to research. However, knowing that vitamin D is an essential ingredient of vasopressin, and that vasopressin helps maintain healthy glucose concentrations, does it not then make perfectly logical sense that a shortage of vitamin D will result indirectly or directly in elevated glucose levels?

In addition, a recent study shows that fasting glucose levels, insulin levels and insulin resistance all improved with vitamin D supplementation. Additionally, this study suggests that pro-inflammatory cytokines that are thought to contribute to insulin resistance were down-regulated with this vitamin D supplementation. Translation: with high carb/high sugar intakes, we are finding significantly elevated levels of inflammatory markers, like cytokines, that are more linked to heart disease, heart attacks and strokes than we ever imagined. Vitamin D supplementation appears to reduce that inflammation as part of the body’s normal healing/tissue repair processes.

However, let’s review again: former advice to take calcium for bone health came with advice to also take vitamin D to aid absorption of the calcium. Just as calcium needs vitamin D for absorption & effective utilization, so vitamin D needs some help. Magnesium and vitamin K2 are necessary for the absorption and use of vitamin D. Recent studies have shown even the very high doses of vitamin D prescribed by health care providers (50,000 IUs) as a weekly regimen barely raised vitamin D levels at all after 4-6 weeks, the usual recommended time frame for dosing. Once study participants added a magnesium and/or vitamin K supplement to their regular dosing regimen, vitamin D levels immediately began to rise. These studies are why we typically recommend vitamin D, magnesium, and vitamin K2 to most people with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

Recently some reports are suggesting that vitamin D is integral to our immune system; some experts and studies are recommending to add or increase vitamin D supplementation during a variety of illnesses, including colds, flu, respiratory illness, asthma, and more.

What about doses of these supplements? There are limited studies and recommendations because this field is so new and mainstream medical providers are hesitant to make recommendations to patients without a large body of support. The Endocrine Society has stated that a deficiency of vitamin D exists when lab levels fall below 20 ng/mL; however, many reputable experts and organizations say that level should be 40 or even 50 ng/mL. Because of limited evidence, it’s difficult to specify a particular dose. Even more recently, various mainstream medical organizations like the Endocrine Society have stated that health care providers should not draw a vitamin D level on patients anymore, because we’re all deficient anyway, & the test is very expensive; most insurances won’t cover the costs either. So how are we supposed to know what dose to take? Well, the current recommendations for dosing are not clear and without a known vitamin D level, finding your perfect dose may be tricky, but many people find that 1,000 – 2,000 IUs daily is a good maintenance dose; some people just beginning to supplement find that taking 5,000 IUs daily for a few weeks is very helpful at reducing many vague symptoms that they often never connected to poor nutritional status. You can ask for the blood test to be done; you should also ask for the pricing of the test prior to having it drawn so you’re aware of the likely expense. Manufacturers of supplements are meeting the market demand by producing combinations of D, magnesium, vitamin K, and/or iodine for patient convenience.

One warning of NOTE: vitamin K1 is vitally important in blood clotting; if you are taking a blood thinner or have been told you SHOULD take a blood thinner, including aspirin, you should discuss adding this supplement with your provider BEFORE taking it. While vital for normal body processes, vitamin K can contribute to increased clotting within blood vessels; clots are known contributors to heart attacks and strokes.  

In conclusion, the general consensus on Vitamin D includes:

  1. Each increase of 4 ng/mL of vitamin D in the blood is associated with a 4% lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
  2. There is a significant and inverse relationship between blood levels of vitamin D and the risk of type 2 diabetes among a wide range of vitamin D levels and among a wide variety of populations, so that it is difficult to specify “normal” lab reference values and recommended daily dosing. Translation: The lower your vitamin D level is, the higher the risk of development of type 2 diabetes.

For further information about Vitamin D, it is recommended to ask your regular health care provider.

Here’s a link to a great study to reinforce our viewpoint: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5541280/