The biochemist spreading the gospel of balanced blood sugar 

When biochemist Jessie Inchauspé discovered balanced blood sugar levels led to higher energy, improved mood and clearer skin, she set up an Instagram account to share the good news. Could managing glucose spikes also help to ward off serious illnesses such as diabetes?
The biochemist spreading the gospel of balanced blood sugar 

Jessie Inchauspé. Picture: Osvaldo Ponton

Most of us believe that only diabetics need to worry about their blood sugar.

But 30-year-old New York-based biochemist Jessie Inchauspé believes this is a mistake. In her bestselling book Glucose Revolution and Instagram account @glucosegoddess (where she has a following of 798,000 and counting), she aims to convince the world of the importance of blood-sugar management in keeping a range of serious illnesses at bay. It all started with a serious accident. 

“When I was 19, I broke my spine in an accident,” she says. “My body recovered quickly but I felt deep anxiety and depression from the stress and trauma for a long time afterwards. That period of feeling bad drove my quest to find out how to feel good. I wanted to find out how to heal myself, which is what led me to study biochemistry, working in the field of genetics, and eventually discovering the science of glucose.”

While she was working for the biotech company 23andme, Inchauspé was asked to wear a glucose monitor for research purposes. 

“While wearing it, I noticed a correlation between blood sugar spikes and my mental health,” she says. “I started to think glucose could have a far-reaching impact on health.”

She delved further into the science, which prompted her to make changes to the way she ate. Not big changes, but small ones such as drinking a tablespoon of vinegar diluted in a glass of water before lunch and dinner to minimise the blood sugar spike that always follows a meal.

“I quickly noticed a difference,” she says. “My skin cleared. I had more energy during the day. I slept better and felt I had a better quality of life overall.”

Inchauspé was convinced this was because she had learned to manage her blood sugar levels. “I wanted to share this message with my family, my friends and eventually, through my Instagram and book, the wider world,” she says.

What is it?

So, what is blood sugar? “It’s the level of glucose in our blood,” says Sarah Keogh, a Dublin-based registered dietitian.

She explains that glucose is created when carbohydrates are digested by the body. It’s transported in the blood, taken into the body’s cells with the help of insulin, and used to make energy.

The level of glucose in the blood ebbs and flows throughout the day. “After a meal, we get an influx of sugar into the blood,” says Keogh. 

“However, the body is set up to deal with this. The hormones insulin and glucagon work together to ensure that the level of sugar in the blood never gets too high or too low.”

According to the HSE, that healthy range is between 4 and 7 millimoles per litre (mmol/L) on an empty stomach or less than 10mmol/L after a meal. A spike is defined as a sudden increase of more than 1.7mmol/L in the blood.

“We’ve all felt those spikes,” says Inchauspé. “They’re the rush that comes after eating sugary foods.”

Science now suggests that these spikes can have negative consequences for health, especially if they are prolonged. Diabetes is just one example.

“Diabetes is a condition where there is too much glucose in the blood,” says Sinéad Powell, senior dietitian with Diabetes Ireland (www.diabetesireland.ie). 

“Over time, this can cause damage to the blood vessels, leading to problems with the eyes, heart, kidneys, and feet.”

Diabetes Ireland estimates that there are 266,664 people with diabetes in Ireland. However, if the results of a 2018 Stanford University study are applicable here, there may be almost as many undiagnosed cases of prediabetes.

“Prediabetes is when your body can move glucose out of the bloodstream but not as quickly as it should,” says Powell. Up to 70% of people with prediabetes go on to develop diabetes.

The Glucose Revolution by Jessie Inchauspé
The Glucose Revolution by Jessie Inchauspé

The Stanford study found that many people experienced highs and lows in blood sugar throughout the day, often at prediabetic levels. Some 90% of those whose blood sugar was at these levels had no idea that anything was wrong.

“This is worrying because prediabetes is a silent condition,” says Powell. “Blood sugar levels need to climb above 14 mmol/L before symptoms become obvious. This can take up to 12 years, during which time a lot of damage can be done to the body.”

Diabetes Ireland estimates that this could be true for up to 200,000 people in Ireland. It’s why Powell wants everyone to know the risk factors for developing diabetes.

“If you’re over 45 and are overweight, have a sedentary lifestyle, have a close family member with diabetes, have previously had high blood sugar levels, have high blood pressure, or have high cholesterol, get your blood sugar levels tested regularly,” she says. “It will help avoid preventable damage.”

Powell also recommends precautionary lifestyle changes. “Managing stress and engaging in 150 minutes of physical activity a week, especially resistance exercise, has been shown to help prevent diabetes.”

Better sleep helps too. A 2018 study published in the American Journal of Physiology found that sleeping less than six hours a night significantly elevated glucose levels by morning.

The consequences

Diabetes is one possible outcome of spiking blood sugar levels. Inchauspé contends there are many more and cites studies backing up her claim.

A study presented at the 2021 American College of Cardiology conference linked high blood sugar levels with blood vessel damage and an increased risk of heart disease.

A 2014 University of Washington study found a correlation between high blood sugar and a heightened risk of dementia in later life.

Blood sugar may even have a role to play in cancer. A 2019 American Chemical Society study found that DNA sustains more damage when blood sugar levels are high compared to when blood sugar levels are normal. This DNA damage increases the risk of cancer.

In her book, Inchauspé argues that these health problems can be traced back to glucose overwhelming mitochondria. Mitochondria are found in every cell in our body and their job is to absorb glucose from the blood and convert it into energy.

Too much glucose delivered too often can stop the mitochondria from functioning effectively. When this continues for too long, it can cause oxidative stress, which Inchauspé describes as “a driver of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline, and general ageing”.

Learning this changed Inchauspé’s life. “It’s what made me change my diet,” she says. “Not what I ate – I couldn’t cut out the likes of bread, pasta, and chocolate as I love them too much – but how I ate.” (See sidebar for her recommendations.)

Blood sugar spikes v the condition

Keogh is not convinced that spikes in blood sugar levels affect the health of those of us whose blood sugar levels fall within the healthy range.

“It’s having diabetes that leads to an increased risk of problems like heart disease, not having elevated blood sugar levels within the normal range,” she says. 

“Unless you have been diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes, your body will balance your blood sugar levels for you. After you eat, insulin will deliver the glucose that’s needed to the cells and place the remainder in storage. When there’s a dip in blood sugar between meals, glucagon will release that stored sugar. You don’t need to worry about it.”

Dietician and nutritionist Sarah Keogh
Dietician and nutritionist Sarah Keogh

She also questions whether nutritional deficiency might be just as important a factor as blood sugar.

“We thought that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder was caused by too much sugar, but studies now show that a lack of B vitamins in the diet may be just as significant,” she says.

“When you eat a high-sugar diet, more nutritious foods such as fruit and vegetables tend to be displaced and you miss out on their protective effects. Other health problems might also be due to this lack of nutrients rather than high blood sugar.”

However, Keogh acknowledges that many of Inchauspé’s dietary tips are beneficial to health.

“Anything that results in people eating more fruit and vegetables, minimising their intake of highly processed foods, and consuming more fibre is to be encouraged,” she says. “Our general health is likely to improve as a result.”

That’s exactly what Inchauspé believes will happen if we pay attention to our blood sugar levels.

“I urge people to check in with their bodies,” she says. 

“Ask yourself if you’re tired or if you’re craving sugar. Very often, people don’t realise that symptoms are the body’s way of trying to tell us something. If you think your symptoms could be related to blood glucose spikes, talk to your doctor about it and try making small changes to your diet. These changes aren’t hard, but they can make a big difference.”

Jessie Inchauspé's advice for balancing your blood sugar

  • Eat whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juices. The high levels of fibre in the whole fruit slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, helping to regulate blood sugar levels and preventing blood sugar spikes.
  • “Put clothes on your carbs,” says Inchauspé. By this, she means pairing carbohydrates with fibre so that the release of sugar takes place over a longer time period and doesn’t result in blood sugar spikes. Changes could be as simple as choosing wholegrain bread for your toast. “Even better would be to spread that toast with peanut butter instead of jam,” says Inchauspé.
  • If you fancy a sweet treat, have it as dessert after a meal rather than as a snack on an empty stomach. The fibre, proteins, and fats you’ve consumed as part of your meal will slow the release of glucose from your dessert.
  • Have a savoury breakfast instead of a sweet one, as this will automatically reduce your intake of carbohydrates, especially simple sugars. A 2019 study by the University of British Columbia found that restricting carbohydrates at breakfast helped to reduce 24-hour exposure to post-meal blood sugar spikes and flatten the blood sugar curve.
  • Consider your energy needs when timing your carbohydrate consumption. It’s best to eat them when the body needs energy, generally earlier in the day rather than in the evening.
  • Prioritise your sleep. Studies consistently show that sleep deprivation can increase stress hormones, which in turn cause an increase in insulin levels, leading to insulin resistance over time. Aim for between six and nine hours a night.
  • If in any doubt, dietitian Sarah Keogh recommends basing your diet on the food pyramid. “It’s boring because you’ve heard it countless times before, but it’s what works,” she says. “Eat slow-release carbs like wholegrains, pasta, and oats. Only eat foods at the top of the pyramid now and again in small amounts. That healthy balanced diet will allow your body to do a good job of looking after your blood sugar levels all by itself.”

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