Is there a blood sugar and cholesterol relationship?
Cholesterol levels: it’s not just about saturated fats, it’s about sugars too.
We are on the last newsletter of this series, and I am really grateful for all of your insights and questions. We’ve already discussed blood sugar imbalance as it relates to inflammation and muscle pain so for this last installment, we will be tackling sugar levels and cholesterol connection.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the standard American diet (SAD) is characterized by being:
Too high in red meat, high-fat dairy products, fast foods and processed foods, refined carbohydrates, added sugars, salt and calories
Too low in lean protein, healthy oils, fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
And over the decades, researchers, clinical practitioners, and health organizations have pushed for a war on sugar due to obesity concerns and cardiovascular diseases. But what not many people know is that sucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup (sugar found in most sweet treats and drinks) along with other sugars and carbohydrates contribute to issues with cholesterol.
How does blood sugar and cholesterol relationship work?
If you’ve read the first newsletter, you probably remember the word insulin. Today, I am bringing that back to remind you that yes, cholesterol levels are affected by high blood sugar levels, and it is insulin resistance that is to blame.
Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels) in the bloodstream is related to insulin resistance (cells can no longer respond properly to insulin), which can result to a person developing a high cholesterol profile:
- High LDL (low-density lipoprotein) meaning high in “bad cholesterol”
- Low HDL (high-density lipoprotein) meaning low in “good cholesterol”
- High triglycerides
Don’t let terminologies surrounding insulin resistance, blood sugar levels and lipoproteins intimidate you. It is pretty easy to understand how all of these are related to one another.
Let’s take a look at some facts:
- After eating, the carbohydrates from your meal are processed by the digestive system into glucose, which is then absorbed into the bloodstream through the intestines.
- Once in the bloodstream, insulin does the following: a) brings the glucose into the different cells so that the cells will have energy to function. b) blocks the breakdown of fat into fatty acids within the body (lipolysis)
- HDL (high-density lipoprotein or “good cholesterol) works to take up extra LDL (low-density lipoprotein or “bad cholesterol”) and transport it to the liver..this means we want more of the HDL than LDL,
- According to the Mayo Clinic, Triglycerides refer to a type of fat/lipid in the blood. When we eat, the body converts any calories it doesn’t use/need right away into triglycerides and stores these in the fat cells. a) People who eat more than they burn are likely to have higher triglyceride levels. b) People who consume excess amounts of sugar, fat, or alcohol are also more likely to have elevated triglyceride levels.
- As mentioned in the section above, when a person has insulin resistance that person’s cholesterol profile changes. Basically, insulin resistance raises triglycerides and LDL while lowering HDL (Chehade et al., 2013)
- Triglycerides move around the vascular system and does not dissolve in the blood. Atherosclerosis (buildup of fatty deposits in the walls of the arteries), risks of heart attack and stroke are linked to the combination of low HDL level or high LDL level plus high triglyceride level (American Heart Association, 2016). There are other factors as well, such as LDL patterns, LP(a), oxidation, but I won’t get into it now. Maybe in another blogpost I’ll dive dipper into cholesterol, advanced IQ panel and it’s connection to pain.
Should we just cut out sugar then?
As I have discussed in the previous blog post, sugars are not entirely bad, it is okay in moderation. In fact, American Heart Association (AHA) recommends the following regarding sugar:
- Women – not more than 100 calories (6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day
- Men – not more than 150 calories (9 teaspoons) of added sugar per day
Sadly, this isn’t what the usual American diet looks like. Personally I think even these recommendations are too high. So, what do we do instead?
Here are some suggestions:
- Read food labels carefully and recall the other names for sugar that might be found in the ingredient list such as malt, molasses, corn syrup, etc. Remember that the ingredients that end with “ose” are added sugars.
- Consider using sugar substitutes like stevia. Take note that honey and agave still contain sugar molecules. Try to use raw, unrefined honey when possible.
- Monitor your sugar consumption in the same way you track calories, saturated fats, or alcohol.
- Exercise regularly for at least 30 minutes a day. This helps to lower the levels of triglycerides and reduce insulin resistance. Reducing 5% of your body weight can already improve your cholesterol profile and glucose levels.
- Improve your diet to include fruits (not too many), vegetables, nuts, healthier oils (not vegetable oil), lean meats and whole grains.
- Be consistent with prescribed medication for blood pressure if you have them. The usual goal blood pressure is less than 130/80.
- Make lifestyle changes (exercise, monitoring alcohol/smoking, eating habits) to reduce cholesterol. The ideal LDL is less than 80-100mg/dL
- Remember that although there is no U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved medication for insulin resistance, there are some research that found taking metformin (blood sugar medication) may help prevent onset of type 2 diabetes and lower cholesterol. Talk to your medical provider about this.
I personally prefer Berberine for blood sugar balance, it can stimulate glucose uptake in muscle, liver and adipose tissues. My other favorite product for blood sugar balance, especially if you want to stop eating sweets is Gymnema extract. Check out blood sugar control product suggestions here, and make sure to follow instructions carefully.
I hope that through the three articles on blood sugar imbalance, I have made it clear that blood sugar imbalances does contribute to inflammation, chronic pain and cholesterol levels. These conditions might not appear much when you read them as words but imagine how it’s like to have all three at once? Yes, it is possible to have all three and be at much higher risk for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and other so called lifestyle diseases.
And as I have mentioned in all my blog posts on blood sugar imbalance, there are ways to take better care of your health so as not to end up suffering from these issues due to dysglycemia.
Get in touch with me today if you want to learn more or if you are interested in getting a consultation for nutrition or pain management.