The Blood Sugar, Gut Health Connection
Is there a connection between blood sugar imbalances and the health of your gut?
It seems like almost everyone that has gut issues also has some sort of strained relationship with their blood sugar.
Which was definitely the case for me.
Throughout my entire gut healing journey, I’ve always had some sort of blood sugar imbalance.
I went from having really low blood sugar and not being able to go more than a few hours without eating.
To having really high blood sugar and not being able to eat carbs at certain times of the day.
If this also sounds like you, the good news is that you’re not alone. And it is reversible.
For most people with gut issues, this is only going to be a physiological blood sugar imbalance.
It’s not a pathological condition or disease state (like Diabetes). And it can usually be corrected once the underlying issues are taken care of.
Plus, there is science out there that shows these seemingly unexplainable blood sugar imbalances can be explained by the health of our guts.
Normally when you think of blood sugar regulation you think of the hormone insulin.
And insulin does play a major role in whether you’re going to have imbalanced blood sugar or not.
But, our gut bacteria, gut inflammation, and even how much fiber we eat can all contribute to blood sugar dysregulation.
So, let’s dive a little deeper into the blood sugar, gut health connection!
Blood Sugar Regulation Via Insulin
First, I want to give you a quick overview of how blood sugar works in the first place. That way when we’re talking about everything that can affect it, you’ll have a good baseline understanding of the process.
When you eat something, your body needs to turn that food source into an energy source.
Glucose is our body’s energy source of choice. (Don’t get me started on burning fat for fuel on a keto diet. You can read my experience in ketosis here.)
So, when we eat glucose (sugar) containing foods, like sweet potatoes, rice, or bananas, that glucose is absorbed from our digestive tract and is released into the bloodstream.
Once in the bloodstream, glucose is either immediately used for energy, or is stored in the body for later use.
And if the glucose needs to be stored, insulin is the hormone that’s called upon to shuttle it out of our bloodstream.
Where insulin gets involved in the process is when you can start seeing some blood sugar imbalances come in to play.
If your insulin response is inhibited (like in Diabetes) you’re going to have too much glucose remaining in your blood. Resulting in high blood sugar.
And if your insulin response is too sensitive, you’re going to not have enough circulating glucose. Resulting in low blood sugar.
If you’re interested in learning more about blood sugar and blood sugar testing, Chris Kresser has a great article all about it.
Symptoms of Blood Sugar Imbalances
Some of the symptoms of having blood sugar imbalances feel a whole lot like symptoms of many other conditions.
So, unfortunately, it’s not always clear that blood sugar swings are behind the symptoms you’re experiencing.
Here are some of the symptoms of blood sugar imbalances.
High Blood Sugar:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Shortness of breath
- Dry mouth
Low Blood Sugar:
When I was dealing with blood sugar issues, I frequently experienced many of these symptoms.
And if some of these sound familiar to you, definitely keep reading!
Your gut health may actually be playing a part in your blood sugar imbalances. And addressing your gut could be all you need to start feeling better.
Gut Bacteria Can Control Our Blood Sugar Response
It may seem like insulin is really all that’s necessary to drive a healthy or impaired blood sugar response.
But, the health of your gut bacteria actually play a larger role in blood sugar regulation than you may think.
(I wrote an article on other ways your gut bacteria can impact your health. Check it out if this is a topic that interests you!)
When our gut bacteria are healthy and happy, and the number of good guys outweighs the number of bad ones, we’re generally experiencing good health.
But, when we have imbalances in our gut bacteria (known as dysbiosis), we can experience a lot of unpleasant symptoms.
We’re mostly familiar with the gut symptoms that accompany this dysbiosis. Things like bloating, gas, and constipation or diarrhea.
But, certain bacterial imbalances can also lead to conditions that affect your blood sugar regulation.
One study done in mice showed that bacteria actually produce bile acids to help us metabolize sugars, along with insulin.
When those bile acid producing bacteria were reduced after a round of antibiotics, the mice’s blood sugar regulation was impaired as well.
Taking probiotics that contain certain strains of bacteria has also been shown to help normalize high or low blood glucose levels.
Plus, people with Diabetes have different and less beneficial gut bacteria than people who don’t have Diabetes.
With the results of all of these studies pointing to a link between blood sugar regulation and the health of your gut bacteria, it’s pretty clear that this connection is a real thing.
Gut Conditions and Bacterial Imbalances
Science is just now discovering that the health of our gut is mediated in a large part by the balance of our beneficial bacteria.
These beneficial bugs are introduced into our guts when we’re born.
But when those friendly gut bacteria are disrupted, like by stress, antibiotic use, or an infection, our health is widely affected as well.
Gut dysbiosis is associated with the following gut conditions:
- Leaky Gut
- H pylori
- Parasite Infections
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Acid Reflux
- Irritable Bowel Disease (Crohn's and Colitis)
Actually, I can’t think of a gut condition that isn’t either affected by or caused because of an imbalance of gut bacteria.
When we don’t have enough good bacteria in our guts, it leaves room for pathogens to make a home there and cause us symptoms.
Most overgrowths, whether it be of Candida or H pylori, can be traced back to a lack of good gut bacteria.
So, if you have any sort of gut condition, your gut bacteria are likely to be imbalanced, leaving you more susceptible to blood sugar imbalances as well.
Low Fiber Diets and Bacterial Imbalances
When you have one of the gut conditions mentioned above, you’re more likely to need to switch to a diet that is low in carbs.
Specifically, low in carbs that have a lot of fermentable fibers (or prebiotics).
These fibers serve as food for our gut bacteria. And when you have an overgrowth of bad gut bugs, feeding them is likely to cause symptoms.
Some of these low-fiber diets include low-FODMAP, SCD, SIBO Specific, Bi-phasic, and more.
And unfortunately, staying on these diets longer than a few months can cause even more negative shifts in your gut bacteria.
Some of which can actually directly impact your blood sugar.
One study actually showed that a diet high in fiber and prebiotics can help to reshape the gut microbiome in such a way that blood sugar imbalances were corrected.
People who ate highly fermentable foods showed a large drop in their blood sugar levels.
This diet not only regulated blood sugar in the patients. But when their gut bacteria was transplanted into mice, the mice with the high-fiber fed gut bugs had better blood sugar regulation as well.
This shows that eating a diet that feeds your good gut bacteria can help to regulate blood sugar.
Which can also explain why when people switch to these low fiber, low carb diets, they start to have issues with blood sugar regulation.
Ways to Correct Gut Bacteria Mediated Blood Sugar Imbalances
The impact that our gut health and gut bacteria have on our ability to properly regulate blood sugar is pretty amazing.
And it’s just another example that shows how interconnected our body truly is.
But, the good news is that if your blood sugar dysregulation is caused by gut imbalances, it can likely be corrected.
Getting rid of the underlying gut condition that is related to the bacterial imbalance is going to be the best and most effective way to correct your blood sugar issues.
But, trust me I know, healing from these stubborn gut conditions is not always the easiest or quickest thing to do.
So, in the meantime, here are some ways you can work to correct your imbalanced blood sugar while you’re working to heal your gut.
Eat More Carbs
When you have a gut condition, carbs are often pushed to the side as a food group that causes symptoms.
Many of the gut healing diets out there tell you to avoid all carbs, no matter what.
But, if you’re having issues with either high or low blood sugar, avoiding all carbs is probably not the best idea.
Physiological insulin resistance is a condition that can occur when you restrict carbs for too long.
Since you’re not eating carbs, your body almost forgets how to use insulin.
No carbs mean no blood sugar spikes, meaning insulin doesn’t get used very often to shuttle that blood sugar into cells.
So when you do try to eat carbs again, your insulin tends to overreact. And you can end up with really low blood sugar, even after eating a higher carb food.
By reintroducing carbs slowly, you can avoid these drastic blood sugar swings that come with insulin resistance.
I’d recommend finding a few carb sources that work for you and your gut condition and try to introduce them back into your diet.
For most people with gut issues, plain white rice is a good carb option. It’s rapidly absorbed and digested, so it often doesn’t cause many gut symptoms.
For tips on how to reintroduce these fermentable carb-containing foods, check out this blog post.
Eat More Fibers
The lack of fibrous foods in our diet is one reason those blood sugar stabilizing bacteria can decrease in our guts.
So it makes sense that increasing fermentable fibers would help to feed those blood sugar regulating bacteria.
And just like any carb, these prebiotics fibers often aren’t tolerated by people with gut issues.
If that’s you, don’t worry, I have something you can try.
When I had SIBO, and definitely didn’t tolerate many fermentable fibers, I could tolerate one product that helped to feed my good gut bugs.
To increase my intake of prebiotic fiber, I used Sunfiber.
Sunfiber contains partially hydrolyzed guar gum, which is a prebiotic fiber that’s often better tolerated by people with gut imbalances.
I’d recommend starting out with just a ¼ tsp to see how well you tolerate it. When first introducing prebiotic fibers, it’s common to experience more bloating and gas as your gut bacteria get used to being fed again.
And once that gas and bloating subside you can try increasing your dosage.
Try Using Berberine
Berberine is an extract found in the roots of various plants including goldenseal, barberry, and Oregon grape.
It’s been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine and is now being recognized for its ability to help regulate blood sugar.
Berberine works by actually modulating our gut bacteria in a way that helps to regulate blood glucose levels.
So, if you suspect that a bacterial imbalance is at the root of your blood sugar dysregulation, Berberine might be something you could try.
I’d recommend only using Berberine under the supervision of a medical professional. It does modulate the microbiome, so it can produce some unwanted effects if you’re not using it properly.
The Bottom Line
There seems to be a strong, scientifically-proven, connection between the health of our gut, our gut bacteria, and our blood sugar regulation.
If you’re dealing with any sort of gut condition, it’s likely that your gut bacteria are out of balance.
And if your gut bacteria are out of balance, there’s also a high likelihood that your ability to properly regulate blood sugar is going to be affected too.
You can take steps to correct this blood sugar imbalance. Like eating more carbs, including prebiotic fibers, and trying Berberine.
But the best way to correct these blood sugar issues is to determine and treat the root cause of your gut imbalance.
The good news is that once your gut condition is under control, your blood sugar dysregulation should resolve as well.
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