Blood sugar spikes happen to us all: they occur when your blood sugar rises and then falls sharply, usually after eating. These spikes can lead to hunger and lethargy among a myriad of additional uncomfortable symptoms.
Though the risk of diabetes is a long term consequence of blood sugar spikes, it’s a rising health issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control, though there are 30 million Americans who have diabetes, 25% of them don’t even know they have it.
We spoke to two nutritionists to understand everyday things that can spike blood sugar. Below are 12 culprits that will help you be more educated on avoiding certain triggers and thus better maintain long-term health.
1. Food choice
“One of the main culprits of blood sugar spikes are foods rich in carbohydrates,” says Lynell Ross a Certified Health and Wellness Coach and Nutritionist and the founder of Zivadream. “This is due to the fact that once digested, carbohydrates turn into glucose, causing blood sugar levels to soar.”
In addition, processed foods, which often contain an abundance of added sugars and sweeteners, are primary contributors to blood sugar spikes. According to Ross, people often fail to read the nutrition facts, resulting in the consumption of foods that drastically affect their regular blood sugar levels.
2. Skipping breakfast
There are also things outside of food choice that can help us avoid blood sugar spikes: Ross says that ensuring you eat a healthy breakfast every morning is at the top of the list.
A recent study has shown that when people skip breakfast, it can cause all-day spikes in blood sugar levels. “The researchers believed the cause of these extended spikes was the negative impact skipping breakfast had on the function of the pancreas, which produces insulin,” explains Ross.
One other way to avoid daily blood sugar spikes is to de-stress your life. “When we become stressed, whether as a result of physical or mental factors, our blood sugars soar through the roof,” Ross tells Considerable. “This is because when stressed, our bodies release the hormone cortisol, otherwise known as the fight-or-flight hormone.”
According to the dietitian, when the hormone cortisol increases in our system, our bodies become less sensitive to insulin, which helps regulate and maintain blood sugar levels. So, by reducing stress in our lives — whether that means slowing down at work, improving relationships with family, friends and coworkers, or avoiding physically exerting and risky tasks — we can greatly reduce the amount and number of blood sugar spikes.
4. Artificial sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are a sneaky culprit of elevated blood sugar.
“Although you’d think artificial sweeteners are a great way to avoid sugar, studies have demonstrated they have the ability to raise blood sugar levels,” Dr. Kelly Bay, a certified dietitian nutritionist, certified nutrition specialist, doctor of chiropractic and health coach says.
5. The common cold
Though catching a cold often happens even after we do all the right things to prevent it, the immune and hormone changes that the body experiences when fighting an infection can actually cause your blood sugar to rise.
6. Gum disease
Bay also notes that gum disease causes a similar reaction to colds, and that both of those things can be dangerous, especially if you already have diabetes.
7. Certain medications
“Certain medications such as corticosteroids can cause a significant increase in blood sugar,” says Bay.
Some acne medications, birth control pills, antidepressants, beta blockers and statins also have the potential to do this, the dietitian adds.
It’s incredibly important to take the medications prescribed by your doctor, but it’s still good to be aware of the side effects.
8. Lack of sleep
While we sleep, our brains clear out toxins that naturally build up during the day. Sleep deprivation has the opposite effect.
“Less than six hours of sleep per night can lead to loss of glucose tolerance and in turn, spikes in blood sugar,” explains Bay.
Being dehydrated can encourage spikes in blood sugar because of elevated vasopressin (an antidiuretic hormone), says Bay. Research suggests that higher vasopressin levels can lead to blood sugar spikes.
Being sure to stay hydrated is important to all aspects of your health, not just your blood sugar, as it maintains the function of every system in your body. Drink up!
If you’re someone who still has a menstrual cycle, your period could be linked with your blood sugar spikes. “Menstrual periods can actually cause blood sugar shifts because of fluctuating hormone levels, although this varies per person,” Bay tells Considerable.
If you experience blood sugar spikes during your cycle, making a point to be aware of the other factors on this list that may be exacerbating the spikes will help quell the imbalance.
Pain is something that puts your body in a state of stress. When correlated with the notable impact stress has on cortisol levels, blood sugar spikes may take place.
As wonderful as a warm cup of coffee is, there are drawbacks alongside java’s benefits. “Even without sweetener, coffee can raise blood sugar levels in caffeine sensitive individuals,” says Bay.
Everything in moderation, right? Next time you sip your cup of coffee, check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling afterwards. If you’re experiencing symptoms of elevated blood sugar, it might be time to cut back.