Can you have high blood sugar without carbs? Well, it’s important to look at common beliefs about high blood sugar first.
“High blood sugar is bad. Carbohydrates raise blood sugar. Therefore carbohydrates are bad.” The theory is simple, and yet incredibly flawed.
The truth is, you can have chronically high blood sugar even while religiously avoiding every starch and sugar in sight. Low-carb forums are littered with posts asking a very relevant question:
Why is my blood sugar so high when I’m not eating any carbs?
The answer is simple, yet often overlooked.
The Hormone that Raises Blood Sugar: No Carbohydrates Required
If the body were an engine, glucose would be its fuel. Most people think glucose only comes from carbohydrates (sugar and starch), but protein can also be turned into glucose when there aren’t enough carbs around to do the job. This is called gluconeogenesis, and it’s performed by one of the major stress hormones cortisol.
When you have high cortisol levels (from diet, lifestyle, etc.), the cortisol rapidly breaks down protein into glucose, which can raise blood sugar levels considerably. For some folks, this results in chronically high blood sugar–even if they are on a low-carb diet.
The trouble is, cortisol isn’t just breaking down the protein you eat. It’s doing something far more destructive.
The body is quite a smart machine, and it has no problem taking detours to get energy if necessary. If your body isn’t getting the energy it needs from your diet, it has a back-up source: its own tissue.
It sounds kind of cannibalistic, eating your own lean body tissue for energy. I mean, I seriously doubt any one of you would relish cutting off a chunk of your leg for dinner. I know I wouldn’t. But every time your body uses cortisol to break down lean tissue for energy, this is basically what you are doing.
Cortisol Side Effects…
Aside from eating up your lean tissue (which includes muscles, bones and organs), chronically high cortisol levels can also have some other unpleasant side effects, including:
- Panic attacks
- Weight gain
- Hair loss
- Lower back pain
- Low sex drive
- Poor memory
- High blood pressure
- Gut flora imbalance
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Suppressed immunity
- Accelerated aging
- and more…
Doesn’t look too fun, does it? So before you blame carbs for your high blood sugar woes, consider that high cortisol may be the underlying problem. And addressing the root issue (high cortisol levels) can have a pleasant domino effect by preventing or eliminating the issues above as well. I talk a lot about stress hormones in my book, The Nourished Metabolism.
If you’re interested in learning more about stress and cortisol, check out my other posts on the topic:
- What You Can do About Stress, Part One
- What You Can do About Stress, Part Two
- Who Needs All that Bone Mass Anyway?
- Cortisol and Weight Gain
- How to Reduce Stress Hormones
How is your stress levels, cortisol levels, and blood sugar levels? Tell me about yourself in the comments below!
Elizabeth is the founder of The Nourished Life and has been writing about natural living for 12 years. Her work has been featured at Shape, Bustle, and Mother Earth Living. Her mission is to help you lower your stress levels and find fun ways to become happier and healthier. Read more about Elizabeth here.