Sunday, April 27, 2008

Book Review: Blood Sugar 101

I just finished reading "Blood Sugar 101" by Jenny Ruhl. It's a quick read, and very informative. Ruhl is a diabetic who has taken treatment into her own hands, using the scientific literature and her blood glucose monitor to understand blood sugar control and its relationship to health. The book challenges some commonly held ideas about diabetes, such as the notion that diabetics always deteriorate.

She begins by explaining in detail how blood glucose is controlled by the body. The pancreas releases basal amounts of insulin to make glucose available to tissues between meals. It also releases insulin in response to carbohydrate intake (primarily) in two bursts, phase I and phase II. Phase I is a rapid response that causes tissues to absorb most of the glucose from a meal, and is released in proportion to the amount of carbohydrate in preceding meals. Phase II cleans up what's left.

In a person with a healthy pancreas, insulin secretion will keep blood glucose under about 130 mg/dL even under a heavy carbohydrate load. The implications of this are really interesting. Namely, that blood glucose levels will not be very different between a person who eats little carbohydrate, and one who eats a lot, as long as the latter has a burly pancreas and insulin-sensitive tissues.

Most Americans don't have such good control however, hence the usefulness of low-carbohydrate diets. This begs the question of why we lose blood sugar control. Insulin resistance seems like a good candidate, maybe preceded by
leptin resistance. As you may have noticed, I'm starting to think the carbohydrate per se is not the primary insult. It's probably something else about the diet or lifestyle that causes carbohydrate insensitivity. Grain lectins are a good candidate in my opinion, as well as inactivity.

Diabetics can have blood glucose up to 500 mg/dL, that remains elevated long after it would have returned to baseline in a healthy person. Ruhl asserts that elevated blood sugar is toxic, and causes not only diabetic complications but perhaps also cancer and heart disease.

Heart attack incidence is strongly associated with A1C level, which is a rough measure of average blood sugar over the past couple of months. It makes sense, although most of the data she cites is correlative. They might have seen the same relationship if they had compared heart attack risk to fasting insulin level or insulin resistance. It's difficult to nail down blood sugar as the causative agent. More information from animal studies would have been helpful.

Probably the most important thing I took from the book is that the first thing to deteriorate is glucose tolerance, or the ability to pack post-meal glucose into the tissues. It's often a result of insulin resistance, although autoimmune processes seem to be a factor for some people.
Doctors often use fasting glucose to diagnose diabetes and pre-diabetes, but typically you are far gone by the time your fasting glucose is elevated!

I like that she advocates a low-carbohydrate diet for diabetics, and lambasts the ADA for its continued support of high-carbohydrate diets.

Overall, a good book. I recommend it!

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