Staying Active with Aging Joints and Diabetes

Using bandsWithout properly functioning joints, our bodies would be unable to bend, flex, or even move. A joint is wherever two bones come together, held in place by tendons that cross the joint and attach muscles to a bone on the other side and ligaments that attach to bones on both sides of the joint to stabilize it. The ends of the bones are covered with cartilage, a white substance. Specialized cells there called chondrocytes produce large amounts of an extracellular matrix composed of collagen fibers, proteoglycan, elastin fibers, and water. Tendons and ligaments are also made up of primarily of collagen.

Joints can be damaged, however, making movement more difficult or painful. Joint cartilage can be damaged by acute injuries (i.e., ankle sprain, tendon or ligament tears) or overuse (related to repetition of joint movements and wear-and-tear over time). Damage to the thin cartilage layer covering the ends of the bones is not repaired by the body easily or well, mainly because cartilage lacks its own blood supply.

Aging alone can cause you to lose some loss of this articular cartilage layer in knee, hip, and other joints—leading to osteoarthritis and joint pain—but having diabetes also potentially speeds up damage to joints. Although everyone gets stiffer joints with aging, diabetes accelerates the usual loss of flexibility by changing the structure of collagen in the joints, tendons, and ligaments. In short, glucose “sticking” to joint surfaces and collagen makes people with diabetes more prone to overuse injuries like tendinitis and frozen shoulder (1; 2). It may also take longer for their joint injuries to heal properly, especially if blood glucose levels are not managed effectively. What’s more, having reduced motion around joints increases the likelihood of injuries, falls, and self-imposed physical inactivity due to fear of falling.

Reduced flexibility limits movement around joints, increases the likelihood of orthopedic injuries, and presents a greater risk of joint-related problems often associated with diabetes, such as diabetic frozen shoulder, tendinitis, trigger finger, and carpal tunnel syndrome. These joint issues can come on with no warning and for no apparent reason, even if an individual exercises regularly and moderately, and they may recur more easily as well (3). It is not always just due to diabetes, though, since older adults without diabetes experience inflamed joints more readily than when they were younger.

So what can you do to keep your joints mobile if you’re aging (as we all are) and have diabetes? Regular stretching to keep full motion around joints can help prevent some of these problems, and also include specific resistance exercises that strengthen the muscles surrounding affected joints. Vary activities to stress joints differently each day. Overuse injuries occur following excessive use the same joints and muscle in a similar way over an extended period of weeks or months, or they can result from doing too much too soon.

Doing moderate aerobic activity that is weight-bearing (like walking) will actually improve arthritis pain in hips and knees (4). People can also try non-weight-bearing activities, such as aquatic activities that allow joints to be moved more fluidly. Swimming and aquatic classes (like water aerobics) in either shallow or deep water are both appropriate and challenging activities to improve joint mobility, overall strength, and aerobic fitness. Walking in a pool (with or without a flotation belt around the waist), recumbent stationary cycling, upper-body exercises, seated aerobic workouts, and resistance activities will give you additional options to try.

Finally, managing blood glucose levels effectively is also important to limit changed to collagen structures related to hyperglycemia. Losing excess weight and keeping body weight lower will decrease the risk for excessive stress on joints that can lead to lower body joint osteoarthritis (5). Simply staying as active as possible is also critical to allowing your joints to age well, but remember to rest inflamed joints properly to give them a chance to heal properly. You may have to try some new activities as you age to work around your joint limitations, but a side benefit is that you may find some of them to be enjoyable!

References:

  1. Abate M, Schiavone C, Pelotti P, Salini V: Limited joint mobility in diabetes and ageing: Recent advances in pathogenesis and therapy. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol 2011;23:997-1003
  2. Ranger TA, Wong AM, Cook JL, Gaida JE: Is there an association between tendinopathy and diabetes mellitus? A systematic review with meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med 2015;
  3. Rozental TD, Zurakowski D, Blazar PE: Trigger finger: Prognostic indicators of recurrence following corticosteroid injection. J Bone Joint Surg Am 2008;90:1665-1672
  4. Rogers LQ, Macera CA, Hootman JM, Ainsworth BE, Blairi SN: The association between joint stress from physical activity and self-reported osteoarthritis: An analysis of the Cooper Clinic data. Osteoarthritis Cartilage 2002;10:617-622
  5. Magrans-Courtney T, Wilborn C, Rasmussen C, Ferreira M, Greenwood L, Campbell B, Kerksick CM, Nassar E, Li R, Iosia M, Cooke M, Dugan K, Willoughby D, Soliah L, Kreider RB: Effects of diet type and supplementation of glucosamine, chondroitin, and msm on body composition, functional status, and markers of health in women with knee osteoarthritis initiating a resistance-based exercise and weight loss program. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2011;8:8

Exercise Management in Type 1 Diabetes: A Consensus Statement

JDRF Consensus Statement Cover

Above you see part of the first page of a new consensus statement that comes from many of the individuals involved with the creation and launch of the new JDRF PEAK Performance Program, aimed at educating both clinicians and people with type 1 diabetes how to manage the complexities of being active. In my opinion, this recently published consensus statement on exercise and type 1 diabetes is long overdue and much needed. I managed to get the American Diabetes Association to let me chair an updated position statement (see my November blog) and include type 1 diabetes in it but, unfortunately, never just one addressing type 1 and exercise alone so this JDRF one fills a huge void.

The past decade has seen a growing number of publications related to diabetes management during exercise in people who have to either inject or pump insulin to stay alive. As you well know, whether insulin is injected or pumped, it is not being delivered where it normally ends up in a body that can release its own insulin, and this altered insulin delivery leads to alterations in hormones and blood glucose management by the liver. Normally, your liver would be able to either release or store glucose to keep your levels constant, but not without these proper hormonal signals.

Consequently, the only way you can keep your blood glucose levels normal (or near normal) with exercise is to take in carbohydrate/food, lower circulating insulin levels, or both during activities. Given that exercise is a huge stressor to normal metabolic control of blood glucose, it can make your diabetes more difficult to manage–even though exercising is generally beneficial for a number of other health reasons. This new consensus statement does an excellent job of covering all of the potential effects of engaging in differing physical activities, along with comprehensive management strategies involving changes in food intake and adjustments in basal and/or bolus insulin dosing. It also points out the many areas that need additional (or even any) research with regard to exercising with type 1 diabetes, either to enhance health or sports performance. Read it now if you haven’t already for some great advice!

Reference:

(1) Riddell MC, Gallen IW, Smart CE, Taplin CE, Adolfsson P, Lumb AN, Kowalski A, Rabasa-Lhoret R, McCrimmon RJ, Hume C, Annan F, Fournier PA, Graham C, Bode B, Galassetti P, Jones TW, Millán IS, Heise T, Peters AL, Petz A, Laffel LM. Exercise management in type 1 diabetes: a consensus statement, Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2017 Jan 23. pii: S2213-8587(17)30014-1. doi: 10.1016/S2213-8587(17)30014-1. [Epub ahead of print]

 

 

Losing Weight with Diabetes: What Prevents It and Causes Weight Gain

Scale weight 2Last year I was included in a discussion on a Facebook group for athletes with diabetes about how hard it can be to lose weight through exercise. While I don’t have all the answers on this topic, here are some ideas about what can make you gain weight or keep you from losing weight with diabetes, based on my decades of professional and personal experience with diabetes and weight management, and what you can do about it.

Insulin: My former graduate student with type 1 diabetes went on an insulin pump and promptly gained about 10 pounds, even though his blood glucose control improved only marginally. Why does it happen to so many insulin users? As an anabolic hormone, insulin promotes the uptake and storage of glucose, amino acids, and fat into insulin-sensitive cells around your body (mainly muscle and fat cells). It doesn’t matter whether it’s released naturally, injected, or pumped. Going on insulin therapy is associated with fat weight gain (1), for people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. When you lower blood glucose with insulin, you keep and store all of the calories instead of losing some glucose through urine (during hyperglycemia). Unfortunately, some people skip or limit their insulin use to help them lose weight (2), but that is a dangerous practice that can lead to loss of excess muscle mass and life-threatening conditions like DKA. The best way to balance your insulin use and your body weight, in my opinion, is to be physically active to keep your overall insulin levels lower. It’s easier to lose weight, too, when you’re taking less insulin—or releasing less of your own if your pancreas still does that.

Food Choices: What you choose to eat has a huge impact on your insulin needs as well as your body weight. My graduate student found that by doing frequent dosing with his insulin pump, he was eating more overall because he could without having to take another injection with a needle. Just because insulin use can make it easier for you to eat cake and other formerly “forbidden” foods doesn’t mean that you need to eat them! There are advocates out there for all sorts of diets for people with diabetes, including ultra-low-carb ones (like Dr. Bernstein’s), vegan ones, etc. Personally, what I have always founds works best is a balanced diet. People don’t necessarily lose weight on low-carb diets, even though their insulin requirements are lower because fat is so much denser in calories (at over 9 calories/gram of fat) than carbs or protein (both 4 calories per gram). If you cut carbs out of your diet, you have to eat something in its place. It’s just too easy to overdose on fat calories without realizing it, and even when your muscles become insulin resistant for any reason, insulin still works to put fat into storage depots around the body. Don’t completely avoid carbs; rather, choose them wisely—eating more carbs that are absorbed more slowly and don’t cause spikes in blood glucose that you have to try to match with large doses of insulin that often lead to hypoglycemia later. Most carbs are fully absorbed in the first hour or two after you eat them, and even rapid-acting insulin can linger for up to 8 hours afterwards. Besides, insulin requirements are determined by more than just carbs, and eating fat with the same number of carbs increases insulin requirements (3). It’s not just about carb counting anymore (and never has been for me); it’s about picking the right balance and type of carbs, as well as total amounts of protein (good for preventing lows 3 to 4 hours later) and fat (fully absorbed in 5 to 6 hours, causing insulin resistance).

Treating Lows: I was contacted once by a US Olympic team handball player with type 1 diabetes who wanted to ask me why she was gaining fat weight while doing all her training. My first question to her was, “Are you treating a lot of lows?” I knew she was going to answer yes. Gaining weight from treating lows is common in people using insulin, whether they are active or not. One of the biggest deterrents to successful weight loss and prevention of weight gain with diabetes is being forced to treat frequent bouts of hypoglycemia with glucose, sugary drinks, or food. Even though these calories are necessary to treat a medical condition, they still count as calories in the body. One way to cut back on lows is to decrease your insulin intake to prevent them, which may include decreasing meal-time insulin doses before exercise, insulin taken for food after exercise, and basal insulin doses to prevent later-onset hypoglycemia following activities. It also helps to more precisely treat lows instead of overtreating them (it’s harder to follow this advice when you’re low, though!) Immediately treat lows first with glucose—in the form of tablets, gels, or candy containing dextrose like Smarties—and then reassess later if you need additional food intake (often a mix of carbs, protein, and fat) to fully correct the low and prevent lows later on. Juice, although often touted as a treatment for hypoglycemia, contains fructose (fruit sugar) that is much, much more slowly absorbed than glucose and can lead to overtreating lows while you’re waiting for the juice to kick in. Don’t eat more calories treating a low than you need to!

Lack of Physical Movement: Finally, and I probably should have listed this section first, expending more calories can help prevent weight gain, even if you take insulin. In adults with type 1 diabetes, having an active lifestyle compared with a more sedentary one has been associated with a lower BMI (body mass index) and percentage of total and truncal fat mass (5). The more you move, the less insulin your body needs to get the same glucose-lowering effect. Requiring smaller doses of insulin allows you to 1) treat lows with fewer calories overall, and 2) avoid having as many lows from being off on your dosing. In anyone who is insulin resistant (most people with type 2 diabetes and many with type 1 who are inactive), total insulin requirements will be so much higher that there is a lot more room for error. Injected or pumped insulin is generally absorbed at a speed dictated by the dose, meaning that larger doses take longer to fully absorb and the insulin “tail” hangs around for longer. Taking or releasing less insulin due to being physically active means that all of the carbs you take will be stored as carbs in muscle or liver and not converted into fat to be stored. Stay regularly active—even if that means just standing up more or taking more daily steps–to keep your calorie expenditure high and your insulin needs low.

References:

(1) Conway B, Miller RG, Costacou T, Fried L, Kelsey S, Evans RW, and Orchard TJ. Temporal patterns in overweight and obesity in Type 1 diabetes. Diabet Med 27: 398-404, 2010. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20536510)

(2) Ackard DM, Vik N, Neumark-Sztainer D, Schmitz KH, Hannan P, and Jacobs DR, Jr. Disordered eating and body dissatisfaction in adolescents with type 1 diabetes and a population-based comparison sample: comparative prevalence and clinical implications. Pediatr Diabetes 9: 312-319, 2008. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18466215)

(3) Wolpert HA, Atakov-Castillo A, Smith SA, and Steil GM. Dietary Fat Acutely Increases Glucose Concentrations and Insulin Requirements in Patients With Type 1 Diabetes: Implications for carbohydrate-based bolus dose calculation and intensive diabetes management. Diabetes care 36: 810-816, 2013. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23193216)

(4) Brown RJ, Wijewickrama RC, Harlan DM, and Rother KI. Uncoupling intensive insulin therapy from weight gain and hypoglycemia in type 1 diabetes. Diabetes Technol Ther 13: 457-460, 2011. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21355723)

(5) Brazeau AS, Leroux C, Mircescu H, and Rabasa-Lhoret R. Physical activity level and body composition among adults with type 1 diabetes. Diabet Med 29: e402-408, 2012. doi: 410.1111/j.1464-5491.2012.03757.x. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22817453)

Physical Activity/Exercise and Diabetes (ADA 2016 Position Statement)

ADA Position Statement CoverI would like to let everyone know about a new position statement that covers all types of diabetes (type 1, type 2, and gestational) and prediabetes and addresses physical activity and exercise. It is based on an extensive review of more than 180 papers covering the latest diabetes research and includes the expertise of leaders in the field of diabetes and exercise from top research institutions in the US, Canada, and Australia.

The most notable recommendation calls for three or more minutes of light activity, such as walking, leg extensions or overhead arm stretches, every 30 minutes during prolonged sedentary activities for improved blood sugar management, particularly for people with type 2 diabetes. Sedentary behavior—awake time that involves prolonged sitting, such as sitting at a desk on the computer, sitting in a meeting or watching TV—has a negative effect on preventing or managing health problems, including diabetes. Studies have shown improved blood sugar management when prolonged sitting is interrupted every 30 minutes—with three minutes or more of standing or light-intensity activities, such as leg lifts or extensions, overhead arm stretches, desk chair swivels, torso twists, side lunges, and walking in place. Physical movement improves blood sugar management in people who have sedentary jobs and in people who are overweight, obese and who have difficulty maintaining blood sugars in a healthy range.

These updated guidelines are intended to ensure everyone continues to physically move around throughout the day – at least every 30 minutes – to improve blood glucose management. This movement should be in addition to regular exercise, as it is highly recommended for people with diabetes to be active.

Since incorporating more daily physical activity can mean different things to different people with diabetes, these guidelines offer excellent suggestions on what to do, why to do it and how to do it safely. It includes various categories of physical activity—aerobic exercise, resistance training, flexibility and balance training, and general lifestyle activity—and the benefits of each for people with diabetes.

Aerobic activity benefits patients with type 2 diabetes by improving blood sugar management, as well as encouraging weight loss and reducing cardiovascular risks. Movement that encourages flexibility and balance are helpful for people with type 2 diabetes, especially older adults. Regular aerobic and resistance training also offer health benefits for people with type 1 diabetes, including improvements in insulin sensitivity, cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength. Women who are at-risk or diagnosed with gestational diabetes are encouraged to incorporate aerobic and resistance exercise into their lives most days of the week. People with prediabetes are urged to combine physical activity and healthy lifestyle changes to delay or prevent a type 2 diabetes diagnosis.

Recommendations and precautions for physical activity and exercise will vary based on a patient’s type of diabetes, age, overall health and the presence of diabetes-related complications. Additionally, specific guidelines are outlined on monitoring blood sugar levels during activity. The statement also suggests positive behavior-change strategies that clinicians can utilize to promote physical activity programs.

Reference:

(1) Colberg SR, Sigal RJ, Yardley JE, Riddell MC, Dunstan DW, Dempsey PC, Horton ES, Castorino K, Tate DF. Physical Activity/Exercise and Diabetes: A Position Statement of the American Diabetes Association, Diabetes Care, 39(11): 2065-2079, 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.2337/dc16-1728

How to Treat Lows–as Quickly as Possible

Glucose pictureYou have to love it when research studies come out and prove what you believed all along. I had this experience recently when a systematic review and meta-analysis (looking at the results from multiple studies simultaneously) e-published ahead of print in Emergency Medicine Journal in September 2016 (1) compared the speed of glucose tablets against dietary sugars for treating hypoglycemia in adults who had symptoms of being low. The dietary forms of sugar tested included sucrose (table sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), orange juice (containing fructose), jelly beans, Mentos, cornstarch hydrolysate, Skittles, and milk.

What the compiled data from four studies suggested is that “when compared with dietary sugars, glucose tablets result in a higher rate of relief of symptomatic hypoglycemia 15 min after ingestion and should be considered first, if available, when treating symptomatic hypoglycemia in awake patients.” In other words, glucose worked faster in resolving symptoms of feeling low—and who wouldn’t want to feel low for less long?

Why does glucose work faster? It’s because glucose is the actual sugar in blood that you’re trying to raise. There are three simple sugars in our diet: glucose, fructose, and galactose. Sucrose (table sugar) is a compound sugar that is only half glucose, half fructose. As shown by its glycemic index, fructose raises blood glucose much more slowly than glucose, likely because fructose has to be converted into glucose. For this reason, juice is not an ideal treatment for hypoglycemia, and it’s very easy to consume too much of it. Milk can also act more slowly (especially if it has any fat in it) because lactose (milk sugar) is half glucose and half galactose.

Others say that other treatment options work better and faster for them than glucose. That’s not surprising since even this meta-analysis found that neither glucose nor dietary sugars reliably raised blood glucose levels to normal within 10 to 15 minutes. Since lows occur for all sorts of reasons—including missing a meal, exercising, overestimating insulin needs, and more—how you best treat it depends on a number of factors, and not all treatments are going to work the same in every situation. The rate at which your blood glucose reaches hypoglycemic levels will also vary, as will how low it goes and how long it will continue to drop.

If you have some glucose handy, though, the fastest way to initially bring up your blood glucose is likely by consuming some straight glucose, which you can get in glucose tablets and gels, Gu (maltodextrin), Gatorade and other sports drinks (glucose polymers), and even Smarties candy (dextrose, another name for glucose). You may have to follow glucose intake with more glucose, another carb snack, mixed nutrient snack (with some fat and protein), or a full meal, depending on why you went low in the first place.

To treat hypoglycemia, focus on doing three things: (1) raising your blood glucose out of the low range as quickly as possible, (2) not overtreating a low, and (3) not taking in any more calories than necessary. For these reasons I recommend using at least a small amount of glucose to initially relieve your immediate symptoms and then deciding—based on when you last ate, what you ate, how much insulin you’ve had, activity levels, etc.—if you need to follow up that up with anything else to fully resolve the low, prevent it from recurring, and not overshoot your blood glucose target.

Honestly, there’s nothing worse than feeling low for a long time, except for maybe ending up high later after you’ve eaten everything in sight. You also don’t want to gain excess fat weight from having to treat too many lows or from overtreating them (requiring more insulin later to bring down highs). Treat them with as few calories as possible for all these reasons! Be prepared and always carry some glucose with you, along with other snacks.

Reference:

(1) Carlson JN, Schunder-Tatzber S, Neilson CJ, Hood N. Dietary sugars versus glucose tablets for first-aid treatment of symptomatic hypoglycaemia in awake patients with diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Emerg Med J. 2016 Sep 19. doi: 10.1136/emermed-2015-205637. [Epub ahead of print]

(Why I) Count Calories, Not Just Carbs

Crate of veggiesWhenever someone gets diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) nowadays, the first thing that an educator or dietitian tries to teach them is how to count carbohydrates (carbs). Although I have been living with T1D now for almost half a century, I have to admit that I don’t count carbs. Not only that, but I personally don’t think carb counting works very well! But I also don’t avoid them.

The whole point of counting carbs is to try to balance the dose of mealtime insulin with carb intake to avoid post-meal spikes in blood glucose or hypoglycemia later on. Carbs are digested and fully absorbed within one to two hours after you eat them, and they undeniably have the most direct and dramatic impact on blood glucose levels. All carbs get broken down into simple sugars (glucose, fructose, or galactose), and the latter two (fructose and galactose) can easily be converted into glucose, which is the primary simple sugar in blood.

The problem I see with carb counting is two-fold: first, not all carbs are equal with regard to their glycemic effect (how much they raise blood glucose and how quickly) and; second, carbs are not the only component of food that can affect your blood glucose levels. Foods with a higher glycemic index (GI, found on glycemicindex.com) cause more rapid spikes in blood glucose after you eat them, but it also depends on the total amount of carbs in what you eat (the GL, or glycemic load). For example, carrots have a high GI, but their GL is fairly low, meaning that you would have to eat a lot of them to raise your blood glucose much. Pasta, on the other hand, is digested more slowly and has a moderate GI, but the load can be tremendous and enough to raise your blood glucose slowly for hours afterward.

In the first 18 years when I had diabetes without a blood glucose meter, I was taught to make every meal a balanced one (carbs, protein, and fat) and only have a certain number of servings in each category. I naturally gravitated away from eating fewer highly processed carb foods (made with white flour and white sugar) and more towards foods that didn’t make me feel crappy after eating them because they had a lower GI. To this day, I eat a lot of high-fiber, low-carb veggies (green ones like lettuce, green beans, and broccoli), only moderate amounts of starchy veggies (like corn, peas, and potatoes), and very few white carbs with a high GI. Honestly, if I were to count carbs and dose with mealtime (bolus) insulin for them, I would end up low after every meal and high later on due to how slowly my meals cause my blood glucose to rise!

The second part of the issue relates to the fact that intake of protein and fat can also impact insulin needs and blood glucose. Excess protein is turned into glucose and raises blood glucose within three to four hours after you eat it. This works well when you’re trying to prevent later-onset hypoglycemia, but not so well when you don’t have the insulin in your body to cover the rise in blood glucose naturally. Although fats are not directly converted into glucose, during rest your body will use fat over glucose, and the fats released from food make you insulin resistant for that reason. Recently, research done at the Joslin Diabetes Center showed that when people eat the same exact amount of carbs in two dinners but differing amounts of fat and calories, they have to take more insulin to cover the meal with more fat (1). I could have told them that just from personal experience!

In 2015, a systematic review (2) came up with similar findings: All studies examining the effect of fat, protein, and GI indicated that these dietary factors modify your blood glucose after meals. Late postprandial hyperglycemia was the predominant effect of dietary fat; however, in some studies, blood glucose was lower in the first 2-3 hours, possibly due to a slower emptying form the stomach. These studies also reported that high-fat/protein meals require more insulin than lower-fat/protein meals with identical carbohydrate content. Such findings point to the need for research focused on the development of new insulin dosing algorithms based on meal composition rather than on carbohydrate content alone.

 Another related problem arises from the types of insulin that people use as mealtime insulin. Back in the “dark ages” of diabetes care, I started out using what was called “Regular” insulin, which had a slow onset and lasted for many hours after the meal. Actually, I wish I still used R insulin as it would likely cover the mixed meals I eat better than the rapid-acting insulins on the market now (I’ve heard you can still buy R without a prescription, but haven’t tried getting any). The rapid-acting ones available now (Humalog, Novolog, Apidra, and inhaled Exubera) only really last for a couple of hours, and they’re really ineffective at covering the rise in blood glucose arising from fat and protein digestion and absorption long after the carbs are gone.

My personal strategy to deal with the way rapid-acting insulins work is to take higher levels of basal insulin during the day to help cover my protein and fat intake. I also check my blood glucose an hour or so after eating every meal and correct with extra insulin then based on my blood glucose level and my expected response to whatever remaining calories in the food I ate (mostly coming from low GI carbs, protein, and fat).

So, what should you do if you choose not to count carbs? Learn as much as you can about what you’re eating. Read food labels to find out how many grams of carbs, protein, and fat are in your foods. Record everything you eat and drink (and do) for at least a month and see what your unique response is to foods you eat on a regular basis. (I did this for at least a decade after I finally had a blood glucose meter to learn my individual response to everything.) It may also help to actually measure out what you’re eating with measuring cups or a kitchen scale until you get a better idea of what portions you’re taking in as well. Most Americans these days have portion distortion and eat way more than they think. Most of all, just consider more than the carbs that you’re consuming when it comes to managing your postmeal spikes effectively.

References:

(1) Wolpert HA, Atakov-Castillo A, Smith SA, Steil GM: Dietary fat acutely increases glucose concentrations and insulin requirements in patients with type 1 diabetes: implications for carbohydrate-based bolus dose calculation and intensive diabetes management. Diabetes Care 2013;36:810-816

(2) Bell KJ, Smart CE, Steil GM, Brand-Miller JC, King B, Wolpert HA: Impact of fat, protein, and glycemic index on postprandial glucose control in type 1 diabetes: Implications for intensive diabetes management in the continuous glucose monitoring era. Diabetes care 2015;38:1008-1015

Head Scratching Days with Insulin Action Changes

SB sprint subject (and Sheri)

The topic of insulin action (resistance and sensitivity) has come up multiple times over the years in my articles and posts, but it is admittedly much more complex than I often make it out to be. In a DiabetesInControl article I posted last summer, you can find a short list of all the factors that can potentially improve insulin action (basically insulin sensitivity). In reality, though, sometimes it is impossible to know exactly what is affecting it.

Recently, I spent the majority of two days traveling in a car and not exercising, and I reached the point where I could barely eat anything without my blood glucose rising over 200 mg/dL, even when giving twice or three times my usual insulin dose for the same food. Just sitting in a car and not exercising resulted in full muscle glycogen stores, with no room to store more carbohydrate—hence the resulting muscular insulin resistance. Even I was frustrated by dealing with my lack of immediate control, even though I knew that physical inactivity was the cause.

Based on my personal experience, I want to take some of the burden of always being on top of blood glucose levels off of anyone with diabetes. Sometimes you can do everything right and your insulin action can still less (or more) than expected. It’s not necessarily your fault, nor can you always anticipate how to best combat it.

Here is my short list of factors from my personal experience that can make people insulin resistant one day and insulin sensitive the next—and not always as you would expect. I call those the “head scratching days,” but sometimes it’s more like hair pulling!

  • If you’ve had a prior hypoglycemic event

Going too low and staying there for a while (such as during sleep) may increase insulin resistance more than just having a simple hypo event and treating it quickly. Morning insulin resistance is the most variable anyway (higher levels of cortisol then). It is admittedly my most frustrating time of day since often the same exact breakfast and starting blood glucose level will result in a different rise in blood glucose levels. Sometimes an overnight low explains it, but sometimes it doesn’t.

  • If your blood glucose has been running high

Hyperglycemia begets more hyperglycemia because it causes insulin resistance. That is why sometimes it takes way more insulin than you would expect just to get back to a normal level, and it may take hours. Try not to overdose on insulin in the meantime (especially you’re your bedtime) or you’ll end up low and back on the blood glucose rollercoaster.

  • If you’ve drastically changed your normal exercise patterns

Heightened insulin action due to your last workout is fleeting, and sitting in a car for two days is a dramatic change for me, particularly since my basal and other insulin doses are set for being active, not for being inactive. Even a week of detraining (due to injury, vacation, sickness, or other life event) can cause insulin resistance to rise rapidly in everyone, not just in people with diabetes. If you start working out more overall or just more regularly, your overall insulin needs (including basal) may also decrease. Just try to be as consistent as possible to make it easier for yourself to manage.

  • If you ate more calories, fat, or protein than you realized

Eating out at restaurants is really hard for me because no matter what I order, it seems like it takes two to three times my usual insulin doses to cover it. It is likely because protein and fat kick in and affect blood glucose levels later on (3-6 hours after a meal) and restaurant meals have more calories in them than most home-cooked meals. Fat, sugar, and salt keep people coming back to the restaurant for more! You can strategically use protein and fat intake overnight or after exercise to help prevent later-onset lows, though.

  • If you’re stressed, mentally or physically

It is truly amazing how much of an impact that stress has on blood glucose levels. Just try going to court (if you’re not an attorney) and keep your blood glucose in check while your adrenaline is pumping. Your cortisol levels also go up and raise blood glucose. So, just being stressed out during the day, or being exhausted or sick (physical stress), can cause insulin resistance. Try to take deep breaths and get some exercise during the day to combat both the stress and the resulting insulin resistance. Getting sick and running a fever or having an infection can also drive your blood glucose and insulin needs up.

  • If you’re lacking on sleep

Not getting enough sleep is physically (and often mentally) stressful. I knew an oceanography professor who had to harvest samples at sea, sometimes for days at a time, on no sleep.  The longer he went without sleeping, the higher his insulin resistance became. Lack of sleep may be causing some of your unexplained highs since more cortisol (a stress hormone) is released when you are sleep-deprived.

  • If you’ve had some alcohol to drink

Alcohol interferes with the normal function of the liver in making and releasing glucose. While it can lead to hypos, it can also be used strategically to relieve insulin resistance or to keep it in check—and luckily it does not take much alcohol to have an effect. An older guy called me on a diabetes hotline I was manning for a TV station once and explained that he usually had two shots of whiskey at night and woke up with good blood glucose levels, but that if he ever had to skip the whiskey, he would wake up too high.  He wanted to know what he should do.  I said, “Keep drinking the whiskey!” No more than one drink daily for women or two for men is recommended, though, so do not overdo it or you raise your risk of other health problems.

  • If it’s a certain time of the month (women only)

You may have everything else accounted for and your blood glucose levels are still skyrocketing for apparently no reason—except that you’re either ovulating (and releasing extra hormones that promote insulin resistance) or in the few days or week leading up to your period when insulin resistance is highest.  This has been a bigger issue for me later in life since my cycles seem to be more extreme, although I do not know if this is the case for all women. I helped a diabetes educator recently figure out that she was pregnant when she simply could not figure out why her blood glucose levels were so whacked out; it can be as simple an explanation as that (and hopefully a desired one, if pregnant).

Regardless of what is causing your (unexplained) insulin resistance, just try to manage your blood glucose levels the best you can and lose the guilt over not knowing exactly why it is high and not being totally in control 24/7. Even the most knowledgeable of us have our head-scratching and/or hair-pulling days trying to figure it out!