Leaky Gut and Hyperglycemia: Is there a connection?
I recently came across new research that shows hyperglycemia and leaky gut are connected. It makes perfect sense that hyperglycemia could be a cause of leaky gut because uncontrolled blood glucose levels can cause many digestive issues, especially for people with diabetes.1
Hyperglycemia, or high blood glucose levels, increases intestinal permeability, which leads to inflammation and opens the doors for leaky gut and autoimmune disease. You don’t have to worry. The good news is that through diet and exercise, you can control blood glucose levels while repairing your leaky gut.
I’m going to tell you more about this research, how hyperglycemia and leaky gut are connected, and tell you how you can regulate blood glucose levels and repair your leaky gut. Before I do that let’s talk about what exactly is hyperglycemia and why you could develop hyperglycemia and not have diabetes.
What is Hyperglycemia?
Hyperglycemia is a technical term to describe high blood glucose (blood sugar). It is not the same as having diabetes.2 The easiest way to understand the difference is to know that Hyperglycemia is a symptom of diabetes. Whereas, diabetes is a long-term health condition that affects how your body turns carbohydrates into energy.
When your body digests food, the sugar and starches break down into glucose. Glucose is absorbed in the stomach and small intestines and released into your bloodstream so it can be immediately used for energy or stored as glycogen in the liver.3 In order to store glucose, your body needs insulin.
Insulin is a hormone that is released by the pancreas that regulates blood glucose levels. When your insulin levels are high, your body stores excess glucose in your liver in the form of glycogen. When your insulin levels get too low, the liver turns glycogen back into glucose to keep blood sugar levels within a narrow range. Without insulin, glucose stays in the bloodstream and keeps blood glucose levels high.
High blood glucose levels cause your kidneys and liver to work harder to remove excess glucose from your bloodstream. When your kidneys and liver have to filter out large amounts of sugar, they can’t stop toxins from getting in the system. Over a long period of time, your liver and kidneys become exhausted and begin to fail.
A blood glucose level less than 140mg/dl is considered normal. A blood glucose level of 140 to 199 mg/dl is considered hyperglycemic, while a blood glucose level of 200 mg/dl or higher after two hours suggests diabetes.
What Causes Hyperglycemia?
There are a number of factors that lead to hyperglycemia. If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, insulin levels are likely causing your high blood glucose. Poor diet, stress, medications, or hormone imbalances can also lead to hyperglycemia. Remember, you don’t have to be diagnosed with diabetes to experience hyperglycemia.
Here are causes of hyperglycemia:4
- If you have type 1 diabetes, the does of insulin or oral medications is not adequate
- If you have type 2 diabetes, your body may not be producing enough insulin or may be insulin resistant.
- Eating too much sugar
- Lack of regular exercise
- Physical or emotional stress
- Endocrine conditions that cause insulin resistance such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
- Gestational diabetes
- Certain medications such as steroids or diuretics
Signs of Hyperglycemia
Without keeping track of your blood glucose levels all the time, you may not know if you have hyperglycemia. The good news is, your body will send you clues that your blood glucose levels are too high. Common signs and symptoms of hyperglycemia include:5
- Increased thirst
- Blurred vision
- Frequent urination
- Skin infections
- Slow-healing cuts
Even if you do not experience signs and symptoms of hyperglycemia, it is important to be tested regularly for diabetes. Diabetes is rampant around the world and often goes undiagnosed because it can take years for symptoms to develop.
Your functional medicine doctor can order an A1C test – also known as a hemoglobin A1C test – to determine if you have diabetes. The test measures your average blood glucose levels over the past three months. An A1C level of 6.5% or higher on two separate tests indicates diabetes. An A1C of 5.7% to 6.4% on two separate tests indicates prediabetes.
LetsGetChecked’s home diabetes testing is a great way to test hemoglobin A1c levels. They also offer at-home diabetes and heart test, which also tests triglycerides, cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL, cholesterol, and HDL% of total cholesterol. You can also get a basic at-home lipid panel test. The results are available online so you can share them with your functional medicine doctor.
Hyperglycemia Increases Intestinal Permeability
New research suggests high blood glucose can increase intestinal permeability, alter the gut microbiota, and increase the risk of gut infections or even autoimmune disease. In other words, hyperglycemia and leaky gut are connected.
One study found that elevated glucose alters the integrity of the intestinal epithelial barrier, which is needed to protect us against bacteria, inflammation, and infection. Researchers also found that hyperglycemia caused significant changes in the gut microbiome and increased the risk for gut infections that cause intestinal illness. The interesting part of this research is that it was found that once high blood glucose levels were corrected, the gut microbiome began to restore itself.
Since intestinal permeability can lead to systemic inflammation, it can also lead to leaky gut syndrome and is a precursor to autoimmune disease and diabetes. What’s more, the study found that high sugar diets can cause intestinal damage and leaky gut even when blood glucose is within normal ranges.
The good news is, following a healthy diet, keeping tight control of blood sugar and prioritizing your gut health can help protect your intestinal barrier and prevent leaky gut syndrome. I’ll talk more about that later. First, let’s have a quick review of what is leaky gut syndrome.
What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?
Think of your gut as a drawbridge. Your gut is naturally semi-permeable to let teeny-tiny boats (micronutrients) pass through your intestinal wall and into your bloodstream. It’s how you absorb your food. Certain external factors, including food, infections, toxins, and stress, can break apart the tight junctions in your intestinal wall, leaving the drawbridge open.
Once this happens, you have a leaky gut. When your gut is leaky, much larger boats that were never meant to get through (toxins, microbes, and undigested food particles) can escape into your bloodstream. Your immune system marks these “foreign invaders” as pathogens and attacks them.
Leaky gut syndrome has been linked to hormonal imbalances, joint pain, autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, eczema, and hyperglycemia.
A properly functioning digestive system is critical to good health. Problems in our gastrointestinal (GI) tract can cause more than just stomach pain, gas, bloating, or diarrhea; they can be the root cause of many chronic health problems. If your intestinal wall has been compromised, you’ll likely experience these symptoms and signs:
- Digestive issues such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Food allergies or food intolerances
- Brain fog, difficulty concentrating, ADD, or ADHD
- Mood imbalances such as depression and anxiety
- Skin issues such as acne, rosacea, or eczema
- Seasonal allergies or asthma
- Hormonal imbalances such as irregular periods, PMS, or PCOS
- Diagnosis of an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, lupus, psoriasis, or celiac disease
- Diagnosis of chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, a leaky gut may be the culprit. Take this quiz to find out!
How to Regulate Blood Glucose Levels
Whether you are on the low end of the spectrum with the occasional hyperglycemia or are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you can take back control of your health, and it starts with repairing your gut. Here are natural ways to regulate glucose levels.
Relieve Your Stress
As I mentioned earlier, stress is a primary cause of hyperglycemia. When your body is under increased levels of stress it releases the hormone cortisol. When your body recognizes it’s under stress, a part of the brain called your amygdala sends a message to your hypothalamus. This sets off a chain reaction that tells your adrenal glands to produce cortisol. Cortisol mobilizes glucose reserves for energy and facilitates the consolidation of fear-based memories so you can survive in the future and avoid danger.
However, too much cortisol can suppress the immune system and increase blood pressure and blood glucose levels, and contribute to diabetes. Your body is just not designed to live in fight or flight mode all the time. It needs to rest and relax to function optimally.
Adopting daily stress-relieving strategies will help you get your blood glucose levels under control. Some of my favorite ways to relieve stress include getting in my Sunlighten infrared sauna, dancing with my daughter Elle, listening to music, or taking a walk with my family and our dogs Mocha and Mac.
Change Your Diet
Most diabetic diets aim for no more than 45% of calories from carbohydrates, such as dietary fiber, sugar, and alcohol. That’s not all. Dairy contains lactose, a sugar that’s found in dairy milk, and it can definitely raise your glucose levels.
What’s more, dairy contains casein, a protein that has a very similar structure to gluten. I recommend everyone remove gluten and dairy from their diets.
You should also avoid processed foods and sugary drinks. You likely are aware that soda, energy drinks, and those fancy coffee drinks and teas all contain a huge amount of carbohydrates and sugar. Yet even options you think are healthy, including green juices, kombucha, and even freshly-squeezed fruit juice, all pack in the sugar.
Alcohol is toxic to all of us and if you have diabetes it can damage your liver even more. Remember, if your liver is having to work too hard to filter sugar, it cannot filter out toxins. What’s more, even a sip of alcohol can lead to high blood sugar.
Rest assured, there are great, delicious foods you can eat if you have hyperglycemia. Here’s a list of six foods I recommend to help regulate your blood glucose levels:
- Organic berries, especially blueberries due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Leafy green vegetables
- Spices, particularly turmeric and cinnamon
- Wild-caught fish
I cannot stress enough the importance of physical exercise if you have hyperglycemia or diabetes. Our bodies function at their best when we exercise regularly. If you are overweight, which contributes to diabetes in the first place, exercise can help you manage your weight and control your blood sugar. Movement helps lower blood glucose, reduces your risk for heart disease, reduces stress, and alleviates depression.
If you have diabetes, consult with your functional medicine practitioner before starting an exercise routine. Remember to start slow. You may need to discuss how to manage any medication with exercise if you are on diabetic medication that already lowers blood glucose levels.
Start by creating a routine by setting a time every day to exercise. Generally, 30 minutes of movement is needed to get the benefits. There are many online fitness options available, and the best part is you can do them in your home with little to no equipment. Canned goods are great hand weights for strength training!
Be sure you take care of your feet. Because diabetes can cause numbness in the extremities, it could be difficult to know if your feet are suffering during exercise.
Repair Your Gut
Leaky gut leads to inflammation that can cause a slew of issues, including gastric problems, acne, and dandruff. At its most extreme, it can lead to autoimmune diseases such as lupus and multiple sclerosis.6 Instead of treating symptoms of leaky gut, you need to get to the root of autoimmune disease. This starts by repairing your gut.
The 4R approach is a proven approach that I recommend to all of my patients to begin repairing their gut.
- Remove: Remove all inflammatory foods that can contribute to leaky gut such as gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and eggs. You’ll also need to ditch toxic foods including sugar, caffeine, and alcohol.
- Replace: Replace the bad with the good. Adding supplements such as digestive enzymes to your regimen will help support optimal digestion and nutrient absorption, as well as assist your body’s intestinal repair and inflammation responses.
- Reinoculate: Restore the beneficial bacteria in your gut with high-quality, high-potency probiotics to re-establish a healthy microbiome. I recommend 100 billion CFUs (colony forming units) while dealing with symptoms. Transition to 30 billion CFUs as a maintenance dose.
- Repair: Provide your gut with the essential nutrients it needs to repair itself. My most comprehensive supplement for this is Leaky Gut Revive®. This supplement contains powerful, gut-repairing ingredients such as L-glutamine, aloe, licorice, arabinogalactan, slippery elm, and marshmallow root. With these ingredients, Leaky Gut Revive® nourishes and soothes your gut cells, restores your gut’s natural mucosal lining, and maximizes gut-mending fatty acid production.
A quick note about type 1 diabetes and L-glutamine. Some studies suggest that L-glutamine supplementation can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in people with type 1 diabetes with no insulin secretion, especially after exercise. If you have type 1 diabetes, talk with your doctor before taking supplements that contain L-Glutamine.
My No. 1 Tool to Repair Your Gut
As I’ve said more than a thousand times, your gut is the gateway to optimal health. My number 1 tool to repair your gut is Leaky Gut Revive®, which also comes in a delicious Strawberry Lemonade flavor. I drink a glass of Strawberry Lemonade Leaky Gut Revive® every day.
Leaky Gut Revive®, is a natural, 6-in-1 physician-formulated blend of nutrients designed to soothe and repair your gut quickly. Formulated with pharmaceutical-grade L-glutamine and a unique combination of restorative botanicals, Leaky Gut Revive®combats the root cause of leaky gut — resulting in reduced belly bloating, smoother digestion, a repaired gut lining, and a healthier appearance overall.
I have seen thousands of my patients take back their health, and you can too! The relationship between the foods that we eat, hyperglycemia, and leaky gut all share a fascinating connection. Repairing your gut and regulating blood glucose levels are the first steps in restoring your health.
FAQs About Hyperglycemia
Is hyperglycemia the same as having diabetes?
Is hyperglycemia the same as having diabetes?
No. Hyperglycemia is a technical term to describe high blood glucose (blood sugar). It is a symptom of diabetes. Whereas, diabetes is a long-term health condition that affects how your body turns carbohydrates into energy.
What causes hyperglycemia?
What causes hyperglycemia?
There are a number of factors that lead to hyperglycemia. If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, insulin levels are likely causing high blood glucose levels. Poor diet, stress, medications, or hormone imbalances can also lead to hyperglycemia.
Does hyperglycemia cause leaky gut?
Does hyperglycemia cause leaky gut?
New research that suggests hyperglycemia can increase intestinal permeability, alter the gut microbiota, and increase the risk of gut infections such as leaky gut, which is a precursor to autoimmune disease.
- Diabetes and Digestion. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. 2021.
- Hyperglycemia (High Blood Glucose). American Diabetes Association. 2021.
- Sugar Metabolism. Royal Society. 2021.
- Hyperglycemia. Cleveland Clinic. 2020.
- Hyperglycemia drives intestinal barrier dysfunction and risk for enteric infection. Christopher Thaiss, et al. Science . 2918.
- Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases. Qinghui Mu, Jay Kirby, Christopher M. Reilly, and Xin M. Luo. Frontiers in Immunology. 2017.
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