Blood Sugar Connection to Muscle and Joint Pain

Your body pain might be due to blood sugar imbalance

In my last newsletter, I talked about how blood sugar imbalance contributes to inflammation and it got so many of you thinking and asking more questions (which I appreciate!). So for the second of this three-part series, we will be discussing this much requested topic---blood sugar imbalance connection to muscle and joint pain.

In case you missed the first one, read about it here and stay tuned for the third newsletter in this series as well.

Is blood sugar imbalance really associated with pain?

blood sugar

There are several ways in which blood sugar imbalance (dysglycemia) contributes to pain. 

Here's what we know so far:

  • Rapid rise or fall in blood sugar levels causes painful headaches, affects mood, and leads to further sugar cravings. This loop then becomes not just about physical pain, but emotional pain as well. Additionally, sugar high produces a biological response similar to stress wherein the body pumps out adrenaline and epinephrine, which can make the body feel anxious, irritable and agitated.
  • Researchers have found that diets high in sugar may increase the risk for heart disease (Yang, Zhang & Gregg, 2014). The heart gets stressed out by high blood sugar, making it function less effectively.
  • Impaired glucose tolerance is associated with reports of daily chronic pain.
  • Increased inflammation is one of the negative effects of a high sugar diet. Inflammation causes liver issues, joint pain, and stiffness, especially during the process of glycation in aging. Want to learn more about inflammation and pain?
  • High blood sugar has been directly linked to diabetes and musculoskeletal pain. Some examples of musculoskeletal effects and acute and chronic pain related to diabetes are:
    1. Muscle cramps
    2. Peripheral neuropathy
    3. Back pain
    4. Arthritis
    5. Carpal tunnel syndrome
    6. Stiff hands syndrome
    7. Limited joint mobility
    8. Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)
    9. Adhesive capsulitis or Frozen shoulder
    10. Trigger finger
    11. Osteoporosis
  • Excessive sugar intake drives to fat storage and obesity. A study published in the Journal of Pain Research found that obesity is related to chronic pain, particularly for diagnoses of lower back pain, fibromyalgia, abdominal pain, and headaches.

Hidden sugars: The silent culprit of chronic pain?

The average American consumes about 47 pounds of cane sugar and 35 pounds of high fructose corn syrup per year according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). And while it is obvious that sugary drinks (cola and energy drinks), candy, ice cream and many desserts are high in sugar, there are also sugars hidden in plain sight that we need to be more aware of.

First off, while high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) considered to be the villain out of all sugars, fructose in its natural form is actually good for the body because it has vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and more. The laboratory version HFCS is made of genetically modified corn and abundance of sweetness and no nutritional content.

And did you know there are actually about 60 other names for sugar? This is important information especially if you are the type who read the ingredient list (and you should!). Here are some of the other names of sugar that we all need to be aware of:

  • Agave nectar

  • Barley malt

  • Dextrin (and Dextrose)

  • Malt syrup

  • Treacle

  • Saccharine

  • Mannose

  • Muscovado

  • Dehydrated cane juice

Second, there are hidden sugars in most processed foods. Yes, even the ones we might consider “healthy” might have lots of HFCS that could cause blood sugar imbalance. Some examples of food items that have hidden sugars are:

  • Whole grain breakfast bars

  • Cereals

  • Granola bars

  • Sports drinks

  • Yogurt

  • Tonic water

  • Flavored coffee drinks

  • Juice drinks

  • Flavored milk drinks

Download a list of Hidden Sugars

So is sugar ultimately bad?

Sugar on its own is not ‘bad’. As I have mentioned here, fructose (which is in many of the fruits we consume) is fine. It is the added sugar, most especially the hidden ones that we need to avoid as much as possible. In addition to the calories that these artificial sugars have, they also offer no nutritional value.

Also remember that sugar can be addictive sometimes so putting a limit on it is really for the better. 

How do we do it exactly?

Here are a few tips for you to consider

Look at the labels carefully and scrutinize the ingredient list. IMPORTANT: pay attention to serving size.

I remember this one time a friend of mine got a bottle of juice and right away looked at its sugar content. He was so proud that it stated only 8 grams of sugar until I pointed out that 1 bottle had 3 servings & that 8 grams of sugar was in each serving.

  1. As a general rule, the suggested daily sugar limit is as follows:

  2. Men - 36 grams per day (9 teaspoon)

    Women - 24 grams per day (6 teaspoon)

  3. Remember that one teaspoon of sugar is around 4 grams, so keep that in mind as you add sugar to drinks or desserts.

  4. Some sugars might be under the carbohydrate in nutrition labels so check it carefully.

  5. Try to get your sugars from fruits instead of processed food. Having a diet what is composed of whole foods helps you avoid sugars and artificial sweeteners.

Added tip, some pain medications can cause blood sugar imbalance. So it is important to let your attending physician, pharmacist or healthcare worker know if you’re already suffering from blood sugar imbalance or pain so this can be considered. It might also be helpful to address the root of your pain rather than be dependent on pain medication.

Blood sugar imbalance, particularly high blood sugar, contributes to inflammation and chronic pain. Oftentimes these two conditions are comorbid and affect a great number of our population. Making better lifestyle choices, especially with nutrition and fitness can help.

And as I have mentioned at the top of this blog post, this is the second installment in a series on blood sugar imbalance. Stay tuned for the last one on blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

PS: Have questions? Comment below.

About the author 

Ani Papazyan BS, CN, LMT, LE

As a Pain Resolution Practitioner, I empower individuals to conquer body pain, reclaim their lives, and embrace personalized wellness based on their unique genetic makeup, offering tailored solutions, self-help techniques, and transformative strategies.

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