Artificial sweeteners may not be so innocent after all!

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Many people with diabetes reach for diet drinks as a substitute for regular soda or juice because they assume that sugar-free beverages won’t impact blood sugar. But artificial sweeteners may not be completely neutral after all, according to a new study published in the journal Diabetes Care. When a group of 17 obese, non-diabetic participants sipped a beverage sweetened with Splenda (sucralose) prior to taking a standardized dose of glucose, their blood sugar and insulin peaked at higher levels than when they drank plain water.

However, the research isn’t definitive — other studies have found that artificial sweeteners have no effect on blood sugar. “If you drink a lot of diet soda then you might want to cut back and see if it has an impact on your blood glucose,” suggested Patty Bonsignore, MS, RN, a certified diabetes educator at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. However, you’ll want to switch to healthier alternatives like water or seltzer, not regular soda, which is far worse than diet.

Managing levels of blood sugar—the energy for everyday living—is a key to mood, health and weight control. Preventing blood sugar spikes, and the sugar crashes that follow them, is important to everyone, not just those with diabetes.

Health care professionals know how important blood sugar management is, and for two big reasons. First, poor blood sugar management has major consequences, from mood swings and weight gain to diabetes, heart disease and even some types of cancer. Second is the magnitude of the problem. 25 million people have diabetes and another 79 million people in the U.S. have pre-diabetes1. This means that 1 in 3 people in the U.S. have trouble managing blood sugar levels. 75% of the population is overweight. Most of it traces to poor blood sugar control, and most of that traces to diet.

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The cravings lead to more “fast carb” eating, and the spike and crash cycle happens again and again, on what nutritionists call the blood sugar “roller coaster.”

The constant spike and crash drains the useful energy out of the blood stream which leads to:

Fatigue
Moodiness
Craving
Weight Gain

Many people struggle with fatigue and mood swings, even if it’s only the afternoon energy crash. Why weight gain? When the body is clearing out the excess sugar, it’s converting the sugar to body fat, as we explain here. Body fat doesn’t come from fatty foods; it mostly comes from “fast” carbs. Starting your day with a low-fat bagel or low-fat strawberry yogurt actually promotes weight gain because they contain so many “fast” carbs.

Here are some common causes of blood sugar level swings:

High upon waking —
Your liver is releasing too much sugar at night, or you had a middle-of-the-night low and your body is overcompensating . Or a rise in the hormone cortisol occurs in the early morning hours is causing the sugar to rise (the dawn phenomenon).

Much higher after breakfast —
You’ve consumed too many carbs at breakfast, a common occurrence with typical American breakfasts (such as cereal with milk), or you’ve had a carryover from the high cortisol levels that cause the dawn phenomenon.

High all the time —
Your blood sugar is out of control; you need to see your doctor right away and adjust your medication and diet.

 

Low in the middle of the night or upon waking —
You are taking too much long-acting medication, or your liver may not be making enough sugar during periods of fasting, such as overnight.

Higher after exercise —
The adrenaline that your body makes during exercise is causing your sugar to rise. Usually this is temporary, and overall, exercise lowers blood sugars.

Lower during or after exercise —
You are taking too much medication or not consuming enough carbohydrates prior to exercising. Remember: if you are getting a lot of low readings, ask your doctor about reducing your medication rather than just taking in more food to avoid packing on extra pounds.

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Typically, two main factors lead to a connection between mood swings and diabetes. These are physical factors such as blood sugar levels and hormones, and mental and emotional factors like depression, anxiety, and stress. Sometimes, gender even plays a role in the causes of diabetic mood swings, causing women to experience diabetic mood swings for different reasons than do men, and vice versa.

Perhaps one of the most common physical causes of mood swings in people with diabetes are fluctuating blood sugar levels. If a diabetic’s blood sugar, or blood glucose, becomes extremely high or extremely low, he can experience mood swings. Diabetes also can cause fluctuations in hormones, though the details of this factor are usually gender-specific.

For example, some women experience out-of-control blood sugar levels the week before their menstrual cycles, which lead to mood swings beyond any regular or anticipated menstrual-related mood swings. Similarly, a woman who is experiencing menopause might have trouble managing her blood glucose. These too-high or too-low blood sugar levels also can cause mood swings traced back to diabetes.

Traditionally, the main physical connection between mood swings and diabetes for men, besides peaks and valleys in blood sugar levels, was impotence. Some studies have shown that up to 75% of men with diabetes suffer or will suffer from impotence or erectile dysfunction (ED). Diabetes-related issues like high blood pressure and a lack of nitric oxide can lead to ED, and ED can lead to mood swings.

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