Understanding Diabetic Blood Sugar Fluctuations When Sick

Often diabetic blood sugar fluctuations occur when a diabetic starts to get sick with a virus, infection, and so on.  This is a natural event for diabetics and they need to understand what to do.      

When any person gets sick their body goes through what is called "general adaptation syndrome."  This is a broad set of changes that occurs to the body when it is subjected to stress.  There are three stages to this set of changes.  The first is the "alarm reaction," when you secrete adrenaline and cortisol, causing your entire body and mind to spring into action against the stressor.  The "stage of resistance" is the second stage.  In this siege state the body and mind try to pinpoint the threat and activate only the most appropriate resistance mechanisms.  In this second stage the secretion of adrenaline and cortisol decreases, while the battle against the stressor is fought only by the most appropriate methods of the organs or systems.  The final stage is the "phase of exhaustion."  This is the beginning of breakdown, which can lead to further breakdown.  This downward spiral may even result in death. 

In the exhaustion phase, the specific, appropriate organs or systems that are fighting the stressor may wear out, and/or become depleted.  Your body and mind then call in the reinforcements and other organs and systems join the battle.  When this occurs, there is again a surge in the secretion of adrenaline and cortisol.    

During the exhaustion phase, most of the systems and organs in your body are affected and some are harmed.  One result is often there is a substantial enlargement of the cortex of your adrenal glands.  In other words, swollen adrenals, a condition many diabetics suffer.  Other problems occur from continued stress such as a decline in the immune system due to depletion of white blood cells, the shrinkage of the thymus, spleen, and lymph nodes, and other declining function and loss of efficiency.  This continual stress can result in over-secretion of cortisol. Further, stress assaults the mechanism that naturally shuts off your cortisol production.  This cortisol shut-off usually occurs when the threats against you have passed, and the body’s feedback mechanism tells it to quit producing cortisol.  Stress may damage this feedback ability and your body may not be able to shut off the demands of the body for more and more cortisol. (Ref. Dharma Singh Khalsa, MD, Brain Longevity.)    

The essential point in relation to diabetics and getting sick is the increase in cortisol.  Cortisol is a response by the body to what it considers an emergency.  Along with cortisol, the body also increases levels of blood sugar to handle the emergency. “The glucocorticoids are 21-carbon steroids, with many actions; the most important of which is to promote gluconeogenesis.  Cortisol is the predominant glucocorticoid in humans.  (Ref. Robert K. Murray, MD, Ph.D., Daryl K. Granmer, MD, Peter A. Mayes, Ph.D., D.Sc., Victor W. Fodwell, Ph.D., Harper’s Biochemistry, 25th Edition, Appleton & Lance, Stanford, Connecticut, 2000, Page 575.)”   Also, “gluconeogenesis, the synthesis of glucose from non-carbohydrate sources, such as fat and protein. (Oxford Dictionary of Biology.)”  Thus, as the chemistry books explain, cortisol’s primary job is to promote the production of blood sugar from the synthesis of fat and protein.  Cortisol is the body’s stress hormone and is released in response to stress. 

This is the point at which wild blood sugar fluctuations can originate, as additional blood sugar is poured into the blood stream due to gluconeogenesis.  The body is constantly secreting cortisol and surges of sugar to combat the stress of illness.  This is stressful to the body.  This is a lot like stop and go driving versus driving down a freeway.  The stop and go aspect is hard on you and the car. 

When a person begins to get sick, cortisol and blood sugar levels go up.  They stay up during the illness, and remain up during the recovery.  For instance, stress can result in the immune system becoming depressed, the adrenals becoming swollen, and other adaptations occurring from these constant struggles of the body.  All of these result in the body maintaining a state of emergency until a short time after recovery. Additionally, this declining function of the immune system and declining function of other organs and systems in the body are perceived by the body as another threat and these result in additional cortisol and blood sugar being released. 

Furthermore, cortisol is not meant to be long term.  This means constant production of cortisol eventually wears out the body.  This cortisol overload sends another message to the body of emergency and creates further surges of cortisol and blood sugar.    

Thus, a diabetic will usually have wild blood sugar fluctuations during stress from the environment, activity, nutrition, mental aspects, and in particular when sick. Therefore a diabetic needs to understand the value in controlling stress and in taking swift care when the beginning of illness and rising blood sugar occur.    

There is an article on the web site www.restoreunity.org called the "Free Radical Cascade" that describes the necessity for taking care of illness swiftly, so it does not progress into the siege stage and possibly into the exhaustion stage.  This is vital for diabetics to understand.  The longer they are ill, the longer the dangerous blood sugar fluctuations will continue.  Also the body will continue to lose the ability to control cortisol and blood sugar fluctuations, due to damage to the feedback mechanisms mentioned in this article.  The adrenals will eventually become swollen leading to more problems and this will result in more blood sugar fluctuations.    

Therefore a diabetic needs to understand that illness and other stressors are a great threat to diabetic blood sugar.  A diabetic needs to realize that stress and blood sugar are interrelated.  Also a diabetic needs to realize that all stress and in particular illness, is a great threat to the diabetic condition and must be dealt with swiftly.  In the article "Free Radical Cascade" a swift way of dealing with the beginnings of being sick is described.    

In conclusion, an overload of cortisol is a great threat to diabetics.  It can lead to wild blood sugar fluctuations, dangerous to diabetics. A diabetic needs to understand this danger so he can put the appropriate value on reducing stress and taking care of himself at the first hint of illness.  Another point is a diabetic needs to understand that when he gets sick, blood sugar levels may rise dangerously and stay that way even several weeks into recovery.  A diabetic needs to remain calm during this period because worrying excessively will create additional stress and stress can lead to wild blood sugar fluctuations.  You can learn to take care of stressors in your life immediately and understand that stress is a great enemy of diabetics.  Become informed about your disease so you do not unduly worry and make yourself sicker from your worries and fears.  These worries and fears may lead to an increase of cortisol and blood sugar.  Remember diabetics, do not panic, this increases cortisol.


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