Stress, the Brain and Blood Sugar

Stress, the Brain and Blood SugarStress.

We had a really big, bad financial surprise last week.

It caused a huge amount of stress.

Even as we’ve been experiencing this stress, I’ve been observing how we’ve been reacting to it.

Matthew and I have responded differently:

  • He’s had a major flare of autoimmune symptoms as well as a significant increase in nausea. All the progress he made through his recent biofilm & yeast-busting protocol evaporated almost overnight. Not necessarily permanently. But for the time being, he’s back to where he was at this time last year. Hardly able to eat. Not able to do much.
  • I have been experiencing increased anxiety, but I have also been noticing a decrease in my brain’s ability to function and I’ve been feeling spaced out and irritable between meals. Which I know from experience is related to a blood sugar imbalance.

We already know that Matthew is acutely susceptible to stress. So we aren’t learning too much from the reaction that he’s having.

But I am learning a lot about my own physiological responses to stress, and how it affects my blood sugar and my brain.

Stress, the Brain and Blood Sugar

After noticing that I was experiencing impaired cognitive function and blood sugar imbalance in response to stress, I dove into the literature to figure out what was going on.

Hey, some people eat cake as a coping mechanism. I do research!

My Research

First I opened Dr Datis Kharrazian’s Why Isn’t My Brain Working? (because it’s my favourite brain book).

Dr Kharrazian reminded me that glucose is brain food.

And that stable blood sugar creates a steady supply of glucose which keeps the brain fueled and happy.

Therefore, stable blood sugar is necessary for a healthy, functioning brain.

When it comes to improving brain health, Dr Kharrazian recommends stress management and blood-sugar regulation.

Dr David Perlmutter agrees in Brain Maker, another book I keep on my reference shelf: “Blood sugar regulation is priority #1 when it comes to preserving brain function.”

Right. So there’s a clear connection between blood sugar and brain function.

Dr Kharrazian also explains that in a healthy individual, cortisol is the body’s blood sugar back-up system. It raises blood sugar levels whenever they drop, maintaining homeostasis in the system and ensuring a stable supply of glucose for the brain.

Stable blood sugar is so important that the body has a back-up system for the back-up system. In the absence of sufficient cortisol, it substitutes epinephrine and norepinephrine, fight or flight hormones, in an attempt to maintain blood sugar. These hormones increase anxiety.


I then turned to Chris Kresser’s website. In his post Beyond Paleo, he notes that dysregulated blood sugar is, in itself, a form of chronic stress, which causes our adrenal glands to keep flooding us with cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine.

Kresser points out that disruption in the natural daily rhythms of cortisol also raises blood sugar.

So, there was an explanation. Stress dysregulates blood sugar which disrupts cortisol levels which further dysregulates blood sugar which leads to decreased availability of glucose for the brain which leads to decreased cognitive function.

I figured something like that was happening to me.

And the weird thing is, I already sort-of knew that.

I’ve written about it before in The Origin of Illness.

Maybe my decreased cognitive function prevented me from remembering. Or maybe I just had to learn it again in a new way. By applying it to my current circumstances.

Stress Management

My stress management practices weren’t cutting it this week.

By that I don’t mean that they are inferior or I am uncommitted. I go to yoga 3-4 times a week. I walk. I get lots of sleep. Stress Management is one of my highest priorities.

But when there is a big gnarly pile of stress in the middle of my life, sometimes I just can’t yoga my way through it.

So I decided to implement a new strategy.

Tracking my blood sugar.

I got myself a glucose monitor and now I’m measuring my blood sugar throughout each day.

I figure that if I can learn to keep my blood sugar stable, I can intervene in the reinforcing loop of stress that is negatively affecting my body and mind.

Now that I feel like there is something concrete that I can do, my stress is more manageable.

I’m excited about this new experiment.

The stress is still there. But I’m finding new ways to understand it. And to intervene in the system that perpetuates it.

Stress, the Brain and Blood Sugar 2

10 thoughts on “Stress, the Brain and Blood Sugar

  1. I have cancer & am unemployed. My husband just lost his job. We know what you are going through.

    Just read Dr. Caroline Leaf’s books: Who Switched Off My Brain and The Gift in You. She explains neurology and the effect of stress on health in both books. Very nuts & bolts.


  2. I, for one, am very glad you do research (although, I wish it wasn’t driven by extra stress). I’m sorry to hear about Matthew’s set back and your dysregulated blood sugar.

    Very interested in the results of your latest n=1 experiment, tho’.

  3. I love that you do research instead of eating cake! I wish I could (would?) be so strong. Though, to be fair to myself, I don’t eat cake, just have tea with milk…really not AIP.

  4. I love the positive spin you have placed on such a challenging situation. Petra, you are an inspiration!

    I’m also fascinated by the link between blood sugar regulation and stress. Do you think that’s why so many people crave sugar-rich foods when they are stressed?

  5. Cant wait to see the follow up post for this. Thank you for making those of us who have the same issues, feel a little less crazy, despite it all.

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