I've been experimenting over the past 3 weeks with using a blood glucose monitor to learn about what makes me tick, and a few friends and family members have also taken part in this study. I know that several others on these pages (jbird, Heidi555 and phoebe) have shown an interest in this approach so I thought I would share a few things that I've learned, and some suggestions for others who might want to self-experiment.
First, some caveats: I am not a diabetic, not were any of my friends who tested this. So if you are diabetic, only some or none of this may apply. And I am not a doctor, so take any advice given here at your own risk, or check with your doctor before proceeding.
Insulin and glucose. A number of us on this site subscribe to the view that insulin levels are important in regulating weight and appetite. (See the Appetite Suppression vs. Setpoint Adjustment thread for more details). Ideally, we would like to be able to measure blood insulin directly but, alas, home blood insulin meters are not yet available. I've had my basal insulin level measured during my annual physicals and it is very good. I was at 10uU/ml a year ago, but after 6 months of low carb, intermittent fasting, appetite deconditioning and high intensity exercise and am now down to 4 uU/ml insulin.
The problem is that occasional basal insulin measurements don't tell you the hour-by-hour story of what is happening to your insulin. And basal insulin also doesn't tell you whether or not you are insulin resistant -- which is the other half of the story, and probably what really is the driver behind high insulin levels and the risk of diabetes.
But inexpensive blood glucose meters are available and, with a little cleverness, we can use them to indirectly tell us what is going on with our insulin.
What to buy. Many makes and styles are available. I was able to buy a Freestyle Lite at Walgreen's Pharmacy for $19. The Freestyle uses the smallest pinprick drop of blood, smaller than any other make. That makes it almost painless, which is important if you are going to be taking 4 or 5 samples a day. The technology has improved so much, that you barely feel anything in taking the miniscule pinprick blood sample.
The glucose test strips are expensive if you buy them in the drugstore (without a prescription), but from Amazon I was able to order a container of 50 test strips for $26. That's good enough for a week of experiments, enough for you to learn how your blood sugar responds to diet and exercise. So if you are willing to invest $50-100 in this experiment, that's not too bad...or, you could just ask a diabetic friend to let you try a few test strips.
Preliminary results of experiments. I've learned a lot in the last few weeks, but I'll try to boil it down to the highlights:
1. Time. It really does take a long time for blood glucose levels to return to baseline. In my case, baseline is usually about 90-100 mg/dl, occasionally below 80, and occasionally above 110. After a meal, it can take 2-4 hours to get back to baseline.
2. High carb. After a high carb meal, my glucose goes up quickly to about 140-150, then falls back to about 120 for 2-3 hours, and make take as much as 4 hours to get back to baseline. This reflects the well-known 2-phase insulin response; the cephalic or pre-prandial phase controls the blood sugar to no more than 140-150, then the slower postprandial phase brings it back to baseline over several hours.
3. Insulin resistance. For some people (like my friend), blood glucose was slower to respond to the hi carb meal, but kept increasing to above 190 mg/dL even 2 hours after the meal! And at the same time, my friend became hungry and tired when her blood glucose was that high. That is a clear indication of insulin resistance. What is means is that the insulin receptors on the glucose transporters in the tissues are not responding to the high insulin levels...so glucose is not getting into the tissues, and she is actually "starving" even with all that glucose around. Not a good sign. And that is why many of the carboholics on this site paradoxically get hungry the more carbs they eat...the glucose and high insulin are shutting down the glucose transporters, make them ravenous. If you think this sounds like you...do the experiment to confirm this.
4. Low carb. After a low carb meal, my glucose level barely goes up over baseline! It's amazing...low carb really does control blood insulin.
5. Exercise. Immediately after strrenuous exercise, like a one-hour run, my glucose goes up between 10-40 units, very quickly! But then it comes down quickly, within an hour, to 10-20 units below the pre-exercise level. So, net, exercise reduces my blood glucose. The rise may seem paradoxical, but I think it means that adrenaline and glucagon are breaking down glycogen in the muscles to release glucose for energy. That is good!
6. Sleep. After sleeping, in the morning, my glucose is typically 10-20 units lower than the night before. If it was 110 at bedtime, it is 90 in the morning. And this is always associated with losing about 2-3 pounds weight overnight.
7. Coconut oil. Now here is one of the strangest things I found, though now it makes sense to me. Coconut oil causes blood sugar to drop -- and fast! Every time I've tested it, CO drops blood sugar by 10-20 units! And I can even get my blood sugar to 70 or 80 (which might normally be a sign of "hypoglycemia") while feeling fully energized. Furthermore, CO always increases my energy, but it actually creates a "wired" or adrenaline like feeling if I take it when my blood sugar at baseline. So if I take it at 90, my blood glucose drops to 70 or 80, and I get the adrenaline. This is because with the MCT fatty acids in your bloodstream, your liver acts to clear "unneeded" blood glucose, by shunting it back to glycogen stores. (Otherwise you would have "too much" energy). I have also read that CO transiently increases insulin levels (in order to lower glucose levels in compensation for the extra fatty acids in the bloodstream), although this is temporary because CO is known to improve insulin sensitivity and reverse symptoms of insulin resistance. So here is one case where it is GOOD to raise insulin, temporarily. If you raise insulin for short spurts when your blood glucose is low, you are increasing the sensitivity of your insulin receptors, helping to reverse insulin resistance!
8. Other fats and oils. Interestingly, heavy cream or other fats had NO effect on blood glucose. This corresponds well to my subjective experience that they are satiating, but not energizing.
9. Blood glucose and weight loss. I have found that I lose weight ONLY when my glucose is kept below 100 mg/dL. Since it typically takes 4 hours after a big meal for the glucose to get down this low, this proves the importance of a fasting "window" after eating in order to lose weight. Furthermore, I have found that if I go to bed after a big meal, with high glucose (120 or higher) then I lose NO weight in the morning. This reinforces the importance of not eating big dinners or desserts late at night...cut off your eating by 7 or 8 p.m. and allow your blood glucose to come down before going to bed.
10. Hunger. I found very little correlation between "hunger" and blood glucose. Actually, the one association I found was that hunger comes BEFORE a drop in blood glucose. If I was every hungry, I would measure my blood glucose and it was the same...but 30 minutes later, it had dropped 10-20 units. So hunger causes a drop in blood sugar, but not the other way around This seems to confirm my hypothesis about pre-prandial insulin and hunger. The thought of hunger...drives insulin up...which drives glucose down. But this plays out in time, and the earlier event must be the cause of the later event. A dose of CO or platinum calories fixed the hunger...by driving glucose temporarily even LOWER, which then turned on glucagon and adrenaline to restore homeostasis. Very interesting!
11. Fasting. During an experiment last week of not eating for 48 hours, my blood glucose remained within a narrow window of 83-101 mg/L the entire time. During fasting, I had only water or herb tea. Once, I had a little low energy, took 2 tbsp of CO, and that boosted my energy (after dropping my glucose to 75 briefly).
I'm still learning a lot, but if anything, the blood glucose measuring experiments have convinced me that weight loss occurs only during times when blood sugar is kept low -- less than about 100 mg/dL. And I did not necessarily get hungry when it was as lower than 100. The one time it was very low (80) and I was hungry, CO came to the rescue by freeing up more glucose from my glycogen. So hunger seems to have a life of its own, driven by psychology, and our physiology (insulin and weight loss) follow our psychology, not the other way around. Most interesting.
Here's a thought: if you are constantly eating throughout the day and your blood sugar never drops below 100...or even 120 -- is it possible to lose weight?
So...There are a lot of questions to be asked, tested, and answered. I would be interested to have others post their experiences on this thread.