Controlling After-Meal Blood Sugar SpikesOctober 2016
By Michael Downey
When blood sugar levels spike too high after eating and remain elevated for two hours, this presents a significant mortality risk factor.1
These kinds of surges in after-meal glucose (sugar) surges are associated with prediabetes and diabetes.2,3
Reducing after-meal glucose levels has the potential to help prevent many common aging disorders. Elevated glucose not only promotes vascular disease, but is associated with an increased risk of dementia, cancer, worse outcomes in those stricken with cancer—and even accelerated aging.4-15
Researchers have found that an increased 2-hour postprandial (after-meal) glucose level is an independent risk predictor for cardiovascular and all-cause death.1 During this postprandial period, blood sugar spikes can acutely impair blood flow through vital arteries,16 which can ultimately lead to heart attack or stroke.
Fortunately, published studies have identified three natural agents that can safely impede glucose absorption, reduce glucose over-production in the liver, and enhance clearance of excess glucose from the bloodstream.17-21
Glucose Spikes Boost Heart Attack Risk
After-meal surges in blood sugar directly impair the arteries’ ability to respond to the heart’s demand for an immediate increase in blood flow.22,23
This is one reason that diabetics have such a high prevalence of cardiovascular disease.24 But even if you don’t have diabetes, a “normal” fasting blood sugar measurement doesn’t protect you against the harmful effects of an after-meal glucose spike.22,23,25,26
People who have normal fasting glucose, but fail a measurement of blood sugar two hours after a meal are diagnosed with “impaired glucose tolerance.” Their risk for cardiovascular disease rises sharply, which correlates with the inability of their arteries to dilate appropriately.22,27
In one study, people with impaired glucose tolerance showed a 34% higher risk of dying from any form of cardiovascular disease, with a specific 28% greater risk of dying from coronary heart disease.25
In other findings, diabetic men with the highest after-lunch blood sugar levels were more than twice as likely to have a cardiovascular event, compared with those with lower levels. In women, that figure rose to a 5.5-fold increase.28
Another study found that in nondiabetic people with metabolic syndrome, every increase in after-meal blood sugar of 18 mg/dL raised the risk of cardiovascular death by 26%.1
Blood Sugar Damages Blood Flow Response
Glucose has a powerful oxidizing effect on the arterial lining—the endothelium—that governs arterial blood flow.22 Oxidation products interfere with the production and bioavailability of nitric oxide, the signaling molecule that triggers arteries to dilate or constrict in response to changes in the heart’s demand for blood flow.29-31
Worse, oxidation speeds the destruction of existing nitric oxide molecules, further impairing the endothelium’s ability to regulate blood flow in major arteries, including the coronaries.32
Together, these effects mean that a surge in blood sugar rapidly impairs the arteries’ ability to respond to the heart muscle’s immediate needs for more blood flow.29
Worse, glucose surges raise the levels of “adhesion molecules” that increase the risk for arterial disease.33
Clearly, failure to limit after-meal glucose spikes can starve the heart of precious blood flow. This dramatically increases cardiovascular disease risk and death from cardiovascular disease.
High Blood Sugar’s Cancer and Brain Shrinkage Effects
A wealth of published research links both high-normal blood glucose and elevated insulin to increased risk of breast cancer.34-40 Glucose provides fuel for rapidly dividing cancer cells, while insulin promotes tumor growth through multiple pathways.34,41
In one 19-year study, researchers found that participants with impaired fasting glucose of 100 mg/dL or greater had a 49% greater risk of cancer death. Those with after-meal glucose above 199 mg/dL had 52% increased cancer death risk. The undeniable conclusion is that elevated glucose levels markedly increase an individual’s risk of dying from cancer.42
Additional to this increased risk of cancer and cancer death, glucose levels deemed “high-normal” result in reduced brain volume. In 2012, researchers published findings on 249 volunteers in their early 60s demonstrating that blood glucose in the high-normal range resulted in significant brain shrinkage. This shrinkage occurred in regions of the brain—the hippocampus and amygdala—involved in memory and other critical functions.43
These “high” blood sugar levels were below 110 mg/dL, the World Health Organization’s threshold for pre-diabetes. These levels may account for a 6% to 10% decrease in hippocampus and amygdala brain volume.43
Said differently, glucose levels that mainstream medicine accepts as “normal” are in reality quite hazardous.
In light of abundant evidence linking high normal blood sugar levels with elevated risks of cardiovascular death, cancer, cancer death, and brain shrinkage, preventive steps to reduce glucose levels are critical.44 Those who follow strict calorie restriction diets avoid problems associated with elevated glucose and insulin. For the rest of us, there are steps we can take before meals to impede deadly glucose surges.
The remainder of this article describes three natural ingredients that function by reducing the amount of extra sugar produced in the liver, inhibiting sugar absorption, and facilitating transport of sugar out of the bloodstream into energy-producing cells.
Mulberry Leaf Extract
Mulberry leaf extract—long used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of problems, including those involving blood sugar control—strongly supports stable blood glucose levels. And it does so by utilizing several effective mechanisms to inhibit the production and absorption of excess blood glucose levels.
A study reported in the Journal of Medicinal Food demonstrated the ability of mulberry leaf extract to regulate glucose metabolism. Most people don’t realize that the level of glucose in one’s blood is not solely caused by the amount of ingested sugars and starches.
Since humans die if glucose levels drop too low, the body has evolved compensatory mechanisms to ensure a steady supply of glucose to the bloodstream, even in times of famine. One of these involves the synthesis of glucose in the liver via a process called gluconeogenesis. To give you an idea about how efficient this process is, after 14 hours of fasting, around 47% of the blood’s glucose comes from its synthesis in the liver (gluconeogenesis).45
Mulberry leaf extract inhibits key molecules that promote gluconeogenesis, thus helping to control the amount of glucose that is excessively pumped out of the liver.21 Inhibiting gluconeogenesis can significantly lower the amount of excess glucose circulating in the bloodstream.45
Mulberry has a secondary property that aids in after-meal glucose control. A component in mulberry leaf extract known as DNJ (1-deoxynojirimycin) binds itself to the alpha-glucosidase enzyme, which converts starches into glucose. This binding inhibits the processing of starch so that more of it passes through the intestine instead of being absorbed into the blood as sugar.46-48 This mulberry leaf extract mechanism is similar to the way the drug acarbose controls blood sugar.
In a clinical study, 24 people with type II diabetes received either mulberry leaf extract or the antidiabetic drug glyburide, which works by boosting pancreatic production of insulin. Mulberry leaf extract lowered fasting blood sugar by 27%, from 153 mg/dL to 111 mg/dL, while fasting blood sugar in those taking glyburide decreased only 8%, from 154 mg/dL to 142 mg/dL. Also, patients taking mulberry leaf extract saw their hemoglobin A1c blood level—a long-term measure of blood sugar levels—fall by 10%, while those on glyburide showed no decrease.49
The same study demonstrated the more direct cardiovascular protection that mulberry leaf extract provides. Volunteers given mulberry leaf extract showed a 12% decrease in total cholesterol and a 16% decrease in triglycerides, while the glyburide group experienced no real improvement. Mulberry leaf extract group also saw their protective HDL levels increase by a significant 18%, compared to just 3% in the glyburide group.49
A similar study involved individuals with very high triglycerides, averaging 312 mg/dL, which is more than double the upper limit of the normal range. Patients took 12 mg of DNJ-rich mulberry leaf extract three times daily, before meals. After 12 weeks, mean triglyceride levels had fallen to 252 mg/dL, reduced but still considered dangerous. In 20% of subjects, however, triglycerides fell to under 150 mg/dL—a reduction greater than 50%. There was a significant lowering in small or very low density LDL-cholesterol particles, which are especially dangerous because they are readily oxidized and are strongly associated with atherosclerosis.50
Other research demonstrates that mulberry leaf extract enhances insulin sensitivity, shuttling sugar out of the bloodstream and into cells. It accomplishes this by boosting the number of cellular transporters called GLUT4 and by facilitating their movement to the surface of the cell membrane. Mulberry leaf extract was shown to increase glucose uptake in cells by as much as 54%.51 Metformin also works, in part, by increasing GLUT4.52
In an animal study, mulberry leaf was also shown to increase levels of the hormone adiponectin, which regulates glucose levels, lowers fat accumulation, and reduces damaging inflammatory mediators.53
Mulberry leaf extract clearly improves both metabolic and cardiovascular markers without boosting insulin levels, in contrast to the potentially risk-laden, insulin-boosting drug glyburide.
Scientists have found that sorghum—a grass plant commonly consumed in Egypt about 4,000 years ago and now cultivated in Africa and Asia54—powerfully reduces the dangerous glucose spikes that follow a meal.
A controlled human experiment published in Food & Function in 2014 found that mean glucose responses were substantially reduced after consuming grain sorghum, particularly at 45-120 minutes after a meal. Mean insulin responses were also reduced at 15-90 minute intervals compared to controls. The authors concluded that, “Results show whole grain sorghum is a good functional food ingredient for controlling glucose and insulin levels in healthy humans.”55
In 2015, other researchers found that sorghum has a low glycemic index and low glycemic load and that “…sorghum-based foods may help in decreasing postprandial blood glucose levels.”56
In an animal study involving a high-fat diet, sorghum reduced blood lipid levels, body fat, blood sugar levels, and insulin levels—while controls showed no notable improvement.57 Other research demonstrated that a sorghum compound reduces hemoglobin A1c.58,59
Mechanisms for these potent glucose benefits appear to be multiple.
First, sorghum inhibits gluconeogenesis (similar to metformin) and improves insulin sensitivity.57,60 Second, it inhibits the alpha-amylase enzymes that break down starch into sugar for absorption into the bloodstream.18,61 And third, sorghum activates the PPAR-gamma receptor that regulates glucose metabolism.57
Compelling research has determined that phloridzin—a polyphenol concentrated in the skin of apples62—can combat sudden rises in blood sugar, complementing the actions of both mulberry leaf extract and sorghum extracts.19,20,63,64
In 2015, the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture published a powerful human study in which healthy volunteers were given phloridzin, followed by the oral glucose tolerance test. The glucose response 15 to 30 minutes later was reduced by approximately two-fold. The study’s conclusions read that phloridzin “…can be used as a health-promoting natural product for the reduction of postprandial glycaemia…”65
Just months earlier, a study conducted on both humans and mice had shown that phloridzin substantially decreased intestinal glucose absorption and reduced both blood glucose and plasma insulin levels.66
In 2016, scientists gave phloridzin to mice that had been fed a high-fat diet that induced obesity. Phloridzin was shown to improve measurements of obesity, inflammation, and hyperglycemia. The study also found that phloridzin decreased plasma glucose and insulin levels and was beneficial in preventing insulin resistance.67
One of the mechanisms behind these striking effects includes phloridzin’s capacity to inhibit sugar carrier molecules, known as SGLT1 and SGLT2. By blocking SGLT1, phloridzin inhibits glucose absorption from the intestine, while blocking SGLT2 inhibits the return of glucose to the blood from the urine in the kidneys.64 As a result, sugar passes out of the body without being absorbed.18
Animal data show that phloridzin causes significant reductions in after-meal blood sugar levels, along with a reduction in excessive drinking and urination that are typically seen in diabetes.64
In experimental models of diabetes, phloridzin has demonstrated benefits beyond reducing after-meal glucose spikes and glucose levels. It was shown to restore insulin sensitivity in cells and in living tissues19,20,63,64 and to decrease food consumption and body weight in diabetic animals.64
Together, these three compounds deliver a web of overlapping and complementary mechanisms that inhibit the blood sugar spikes that can lead to metabolic disorders, brain shrinkage, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
A tripling of worldwide sugar consumption over the last 50 years is associated with the epidemic obesity levels and epidemic incidence of diabetes. The expected result is increased cardiovascular disease and early mortality.68
Mainstream medicine generally misses the fact that after-meal blood sugar spikes are strongly linked with increased cardiovascular risk.
As described in this article, abundant evidence demonstrates that three natural compounds—extracts of mulberry leaf, sorghum, and phloridzin—have the capacity to impede glucose spikes via multiple mechanisms, thus helping to prevent not just metabolic disorders, but also brain shrinkage and cancer.
If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.
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