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  • Kathleen Hernder RD, CDE

7 Things that affect your blood sugars that aren't food

Today I want to talk about what affects your blood sugar. When I ask people about what affects their blood sugar, the first answer is usually "sugar" or "carbs." While this is one factor that affects blood sugars, there are a lot of other factors that affect your blood sugars too!

In this post, I'm going to focus on the factors other than food that affect blood sugars, since it's a pretty big topic. This list is by no means comprehensive but hopefully it will give you some food for thought (pardon the pun) about what things other than food affect your blood sugars!

There is a whole system of hormones in the body for regulating blood sugars- while insulin helps them to go down, there are other hormones that cause blood sugars to go up since having blood sugars that are too low can be very dangerous. For that reason, the liver stores sugar to be released when your body needs it. There are hormones that cause that glucose to be released, and other factors that can make your body more or less sensitive to insulin and these factors can play a significant role when it comes to your blood sugars.

What factors increase blood sugars?

1. Illness and infection

When you get sick or have an infection, your body uses different hormones and signals to try to fight the infection. Those hormones cause a release of sugar from your liver and make the insulin less effective since your body is trying to mobilize energy to help fight the infection. Basically, if you're sick, you'll likely notice your blood sugars go up even if everything else seems to be the same with your eating and activity.

2. Stress

When we are under stress, there are different hormones that get released. The hormones responsible for the 'fight or flight' response (epinephrine and norepinephrine) cause your liver to release sugar and also slows down insulin production, making blood sugars go up so that if you needed to run away or fight, you'd have the available energy to do so. If you find yourself in a stressful situation with a deadline or going into a job interview, you might notice your sugars go up as a result of this stress.

A hormone caused by chronic (ongoing) stress called cortisol makes your body more resistant to insulin and causes your liver to release more sugar, making blood sugars go up. This one can be really difficult for people since often, diabetes can be a major source of stress for people!!

This is why it's so important to try to be kind and compassionate with yourself and cut yourself some slack. Living with diabetes can be really frickin hard. Now I'm telling you that on top of everything else, you have to worry about not worrying??

I'm not saying that in order to help manage your blood sugars, you need to live a stress-free life because let's face it- that's not realistic. But finding ways of helping you to cope with your stress that works for you can be really helpful when it comes to managing your blood sugars.

3. Menstrual Cycle

If you have ovaries and menstruate, there are certain points in your cycle where your body becomes more resistant to insulin, making your blood sugar levels go up. Generally, this is right before your period (during the luteal phase) so if you notice your sugars going up during this time, that might be why!

4. Time of day

Early in the morning there is something known as the "Dawn Effect." Basically right before waking (between ~3-6am) there is an increase in insulin resistance and a release of glucose from the liver, thought to be caused by growth hormone and cortisol levels.

5. Poor/ insufficient sleep

Sleep deprivation can increase insulin resistance, so the insulin in your body doesn't work as well. I've heard from many clients that when they don't get enough sleep, their blood sugars are higher the next day. This means blood sugars can be higher if you haven't gotten enough sleep so if it's possible for you, prioritizing sleep can be helpful for your blood sugars!

What factors decrease insulin resistance (or increase insulin sensitivity) and make blood sugars go down?

6. Movement and activity

When we engage in movement, whether that's walking, dancing, cleaning, gardening or whatever fits into your life, that actually helps insulin to work better and brings blood sugars down. That doesn't mean that you need to start going to the gym or engaging in really intense physical activity, but rather, if you're able to find a way to incorporate movement into your life in an enjoyable way, it can help bring down blood sugars.

(2... again) Reducing stress

I know we already talked about how stress makes blood sugars go up but it's also important to remember that means that reducing stress can therefore help you manage your blood sugars!

What ways do you have to cope with your stress? If you don't have very many, that could be something that could be an important part of managing your diabetes!

7. Medications

Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes has come a long way. There are lots of medications that can improve blood sugars by improving insulin sensitivity and increasing insulin production. If the cells in your pancreas aren't doing a great job of making insulin, there are also newer insulins that work in a more stable way to help prevent your sugars from going all over the place. If you have diabetes and have blood sugars above target, you might consider speaking to your doctor or healthcare practitioner about what medications and/ or insulin might be a good fit for you.


I hope this helped give you an idea of some of the many factors that can affect your blood sugars to see that there is a LOT more than food involved! It can be easy to fall into the idea that focusing on food alone can 'fix' your blood sugars but the truth is that isn't really the case and often, that ends up to increased stress and avoiding medications, which have a negative impact on your blood sugars.

Next time your sugars are different than you expected, I invite you to be curious: what other factors other than food could have affected them? That question could help you understand your body and how it responds to some of these factors a bit better!

Sometimes you'll have no idea what happened with your blood sugars and that's okay. Our body is very complex and sometimes you might have sugars above or below target that makes no sense to us. Although it can be difficult, try to not let this get to you.

I hope this post helped you see that there is so much more to blood sugars than what you eat! Did anything surprise you? Is there something I didn't mention that you've noticed affects your blood sugars? I'd love to hear from you!

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