Ray Peat, PhD on Low Blood Sugar & Stress Reaction

Also see:
Low Blood Sugar Basics
PUFA Promote Stress Response; Saturated Fats Suppress Stress Response
The Randle Cycle
Ray Peat, PhD Quotes on Coconut Oil
Low Carb Diet – Death to Metabolism
Blood Sugar – Resistance to Allergy and Shock
Thumbs Up: Fructose
Theurapeutic Honey – Cancer and Wound Healing
Carbohydrates and Bone Health
Sugar (Sucrose) Restrains the Stress Response
HFCS – More to it than we thought
Protection from Endotoxin
Possible Indicators of High Cortisol and Adrenaline
Thyroid peroxidase activity is inhibited by amino acids
Toxicity of Stored PUFA
Belly Fat, Cortisol, and Stress
Ray Peat, PhD Quotes on Therapeutic Effects of Niacinamide

“The maladaptive sequence, starting from stress or hypothyroidism, would typically involve increased absorption of endotoxin, leading to interference with mitochondrial respiration, a shift to fat oxidation, inflammation, and the increase of a wide range of stress hormones. Each of these happens to interfere with the production of progesterone, leading to increased LH.”

“When the tissues are saturated with those antithyroid fats [PUFA], metabolism slows, especially when any stress, such as cold or hunger, increases the concentration of free fatty acids in the blood stream.”

“Decreased blood sugar is a basic signal for the release of adrenal hormones.”

“When we don’t eat for many hours, our glycogen stores decrease, and adrenaline secretion is increased, liberating more glucose as long as glycogen is available, but also liberating fatty acids from the fatty tissues. When the diet has chronically contained more polyunsaturated fats than can be oxidized immediately or detoxified by the liver, the fat stores will contain a disproportionate amount of them, since fat cells preferentially oxidize saturated fats for their own energy, and the greater water solubility of the PUFA causes them to be preferentially released into the bloodstream during stress.

In good health, especially in children, the stress hormones are produced only in the amount needed, because of negative feedback from the free saturated fatty acids, which inhibit the production of adrenalin and adrenal steroids, and eating protein and carbohydrate will quickly end the stress. But when the fat stores contain mainly PUFA, the free fatty acids in the serum will be mostly linoleic acid and arachidonic acid, and smaller amounts of other unsaturated fatty acids. These PUFA stimulate the stress hormones, ACTH, cortisol, adrenaline, glucagon, and prolactin, which increase lipolysis, producing more fatty acids in a vicious circle. In the relative absence of PUFA, the stress reaction is self limiting, but under the influence of PUFA, the stress response becomes self-amplifying.”

“I don’t have an eating plan, other than to be perceptive and to learn about your physiology, so that you can adjust things to your needs. Any craving is a good starting point, because we have several biological mechanisms for correcting specific nutritional deficiencies. When something is interfering with your ability to use sugar, you crave it because if you don’t eat it you will waste protein to make it.”

“While stress typically causes the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, extreme stress, as described by Hans Selye, damages the adrenal cortex, and can cause the cells to die, leading to the death of the animal. There is evidence that it is the breakdown of unsaturated fatty acids that causes damage to the adrenal cortex in extreme stress. Although many factors influence the production of the adrenal steroids, arachidonic acid, even without being converted to prostaglandins, is an important activator of aldosterone synthesis. Adrenalin, produced in response to a lack of glucose, liberates free fatty acids from the tissues, so when the tissues contain large amounts of the polyunsaturated fatty acids, the production of aldosterone will be greater than it would be otherwise.”

“There is a growing recognition that a persistent increase of free fatty acids in the serum, which is seen in shock, heart failure, and aging, indicates a bad prognosis, but there is no generally recognized explanation for the fact that free fatty acids are harmful. I want to mention some evidence showing that it is the accumulation of polyunsaturated fats in the body that makes them harmful.”

“Stress seems to be perceived as a need for sugar.”

“The polyunsaturated oils interact closely with serotonin and tryptophan, and the short and medium chain saturated fatty acids have antihistamine and antiserotonin actions. Serotonin liberates free fatty acids from the tissues, especially the polyunsaturated fats, and these in turn liberate serotonin from cells such as the platelets, and liberate tryptophan from serum albumin, increasing its uptake and the formation of serotonin in the brain. Saturated fats don’t liberate serotonin, and some of them, such as capric acid found in coconut oil, relax blood vessels, while linoleic acid constricts blood vessels and promotes hypertension. Stress, exercise, and darkness, increase the release of free fatty acids, and so promote the liberation of tryptophan and formation of serotonin. Increased serum linoleic acid is specifically associated with serotonin-dependent disorders such as migraine.

Coconut oil, because of its saturated fatty acids of varied chain length, and its low linoleic acid content, should be considered as part of a protective diet.”

“The saturated fats, in themselves, seem to have no “signalling” functions, and when they are naturally modified by our desaturating enzymes, the substances produced behave very differently from the plant-derived “eicosanoids.” As far as their effects have been observed, it seems that they are adaptive, rather than dysadaptive.”

“The alarm reaction produced either by damage of some of our own tissue or by the entrance of LPS into the circulation can, under ideal circumstances, lead to a series of protective and defensive reactions, that resolve the problem. The production of steroids is increased, and, early in life, the liberation of fatty acids itself can contribute to the antiinflammatory processes that restore the barrier function and energy production. But when the endogenous omega-9 fatty acids have been thoroughly displaced by dietary omega-6 and omega -3 fatty acids, the systemic release of fatty acids becomes an amplifier of the stress state initiated by injury or other stress. The liver, for example, decreases its detoxification of estrogen in the presence of polyunsaturated fatty acids.”

“The stress response is self-sustaining on several levels. For example, stress increases the absorption of bacterial endotoxin from the intestine, which increases the estrogen level and synergizes with biliverdin and cortisol.”

“The first reaction to a decrease of blood glucose, at least in healthy individuals, is to increase the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, with an increase in adrenaline, which causes the liver to release glucose from the glycogen stores. The effect of adrenaline on the liver is very quick, but adrenaline also acts on the brain, stimulating CRH, which causes the pituitary to secrete ACTH, which stimulates the the adrenal cortex to release cortisol, which by various means causes blood sugar to increase, consequently causing the sympathetic nervous system activity to decrease. Even when the liver’s glycogen stores are adequate, the system cycles rhythmically, usually repeating about every 90 minutes throughout the day…With advancing age, most tissues become less sensitive to adrenaline and the sympathetic nervous stimulation, and the body relies increasingly on the production of cortisol to maintain blood glucose.”

“An immediate reaction to hunger is to secrete adrenalin, which draws glucose from the liver and fats from the fatty tissues. When the liver’s glycogen is depleted, cortisol is produced to mobilize amino acids from muscles and other tissues, to provide energy.

Muscle protein is very rich in tryptophan and cysteine, and these amino acids suppress the thyroid gland’s function, and are potentially toxic to nerves, especially in the presence of cortisol and hypoglycemia. Tryptophan is turned into serotonin, which promotes lipid peroxidation, blood clotting, and certain patterns of nerve activity. Serotonin can suppress mitochondrial respiration, and along with the reduced body temperature that it produces, a pattern of torpor or helplessness tends to be produced.”

“The amount of glucose in liver cells regulates the enzyme that converts T4 to T3. This means that hypoglycemia or diabetes (in which glucose doesn’t enter cells efficiently) will cause hypothyroidism, when T4 can’t be converted into T3. When a person is fasting, at first the liver’s glycogen stores will provide glucose to maintain T3 production. When the glycogen is depleted, the body resorts to the dissolution of tissue to provide energy. The mobilized fatty acids interfere with the use of glucose, and certain amino acids suppress the thyroid gland. Eating carbohydrate (especially fruits) can allow the liver to resume its production of T3.”

“Stress and starvation lead to a relative reliance on the fats stored in the tissues, and the mobilization of these as circulating free fatty acids contributes to a slowing of metabolism and a shift away from the use of glucose for energy. This is adaptive in the short term, since relatively little glucose is stored in the tissues (as glycogen), and the proteins making up the body would be rapidly consumed for energy, if it were not for the reduced energy demands resulting from the effects of the free fatty acids.”

“When our glucose (glycogen) stores have been depleted, we convert our own tissue into free amino acids, some of which are used to produce new glucose. The amino acids cysteine and tryptophan, released in large quantities during stress, have antimetabolic (thyroid-suppressing) and, eventually, toxic effects.”

“Insulin release is also stimulated by amino acids such as leucine, and insulin stimulates cells to absorb amino acids and to synthesize proteins. Since insulin lowers blood sugar as it disposes of amino acids, eating a large amount of protein without carbohydrate can cause a sharp decrease in blood sugar. This leads to the release of adrenalin and cortisol, which raise the blood sugar. Adrenalin causes fatty acids to be drawn into the blood from fat stores, especially if the liver’s glycogen stores are depleted, and cortisol causes tissue protein to be broken down into amino acids, some of which are used in place of carbohydrate. Unsaturated fatty acids, adrenaline, and cortisol cause insulin resistance.”

“When sugar isn’t available in the diet, stored glycogen will provide some glucose (usually for a few hours, up to a day), but as that is depleted, protein will be metabolized to provide sugar. If protein is eaten without carbohydrate, it will stimulate insulin secretion, lowering blood sugar and activating the stress response, leading to the secretion of adrenalin, cortisol, growth hormone, prolactin, and other hormones. The adrenalin will mobilize glycogen from the liver, and (along with other hormones) will mobilize fatty acids, mainly from fat cells. Cortisol will activate the conversion of protein to amino acids, and then to fat and sugar, for use as energy. (If the diet doesn’t contain enough protein to maintain the essential organs, especially the heart, lungs, and brain, they are supplied with protein from the skeletal muscles. Because of the amino acid composition of the muscle proteins, their destruction stimulates the formation of additional cortisol, to accelerate the movement of amino acids from the less important tissues to the essential ones.)”

“In the excessively sensitive condition produced by hypoglycemia, several things happen that contribute to the maladaptive exaggerated inflammatory response.

Adrenaline increases in hypoglycemia, and, if the adrenaline fails to convert glycogen into glucose, it will provide an alternative fuel by liberating free fatty acids from fat cells.

If the liberated fatty acids are unsaturated, they will cause serotonin to be secreted, and both serotonin and the unsaturated fatty acids will suppress mitochondrial respiration, exacerbating the hypoglycemia. They will stimulate the release of cytokines, activating a variety of immunological and inflammatory processes, and they will cause blood vessels to become leaky, creating edema and starting the first stages of fibrosis. Both adrenaline and serotonin will stimulate the release of cortisol, which mobilizes amino acids from tissues such as the large skeletal muscles. Those muscles contain a large amount of cysteine and tryptophan, which, among other effects, suppress the thyroid. The increased tryptophan, especially in the presence of free fatty acids, is likely to be converted into additional serotonin, since fatty acids release tryptophan from albumin, increasing its entry into the brain. Free fatty acids and increased serotonin reduce metabolic efficiency (leading to insulin resistance, for example) and promote an inflammatory state.”

“Blood sugar falls at night, and the body relies on the glucose stored in the liver as glycogen for energy, and hypothyroid people store very little sugar. As a result, adrenalin and cortisol begin to rise almost as soon as a person goes to bed, and in hypothyroid people, they rise very high, with the adrenalin usually peaking around 1 or 2 A.M., and the cortisol peaking around dawn; the high cortisol raises blood sugar as morning approaches, and allows adrenalin to decline. Some people wake up during the adrenalin peak with a pounding heart, and have trouble getting back to sleep unless they eat something. If the night-time stress is very high, the adrenalin will still be high until breakfast, increasing both temperature and pulse rate. The cortisol stimulates the breakdown of muscle tissue and its conversion to energy, so it is thermogenic, for some of the same reasons that food is thermogenic.

After eating breakfast, the cortisol (and adrenalin, if it stayed high despite the increased cortisol) will start returning to a more normal, lower level, as the blood sugar is sustained by food, instead of by the stress hormones. In some hypothyroid people, this is a good time to measure the temperature and pulse rate. In a normal person, both temperature and pulse rate rise after breakfast, but in very hypothyroid people either, or both, might fall.”

“At rest your brain and red blood cells needs sugar and they will keep burning sugar regardless of where they get it.

If you do not eat enough of the necessary nutrients your body will convert your muscles to sugar to keep feeding the brain what it needs and if you are eating enough sugar or things that will turn into sugar your body doesn’t have to break down its own tissues to make the necessary glucose for your blood cells and brains.

In that condition, your muscles at rest don’t require practically any glucose and they will do fine on a pure fat diet but that’s the resting muscle.”

“Saturated fatty acids terminate the stress reactions, polyunsaturated fatty acids amplify them.”

“My argument here will be that some of our adaptive, protective regulatory processes are overridden by the excessive supply of unsaturated fats–supported by a few other toxins–in our diet, acting as a false-signal system, and that cholesterol, pregnenolone, and progesterone which are our main long-range defenses, are overcome by the effects of the unsaturated fats, and that the resulting cascade of ineffective and defective reactions (including various estrogen-stimulated processes) leads to lower and lower energy production, reduced function, and death. At certain times, especially childhood and old age, iron (which also has important regulatory roles) accumulates to the point that its signal functions may be inappropriate.”

“Our innate immune system is perfectly competent for handling our normal stress induced exposures to bacterial endotoxin, but as we accumulate the unstable fats, each exposure to endotoxin creates additional inflammatory stress by liberating stored fats.”

“In a young person, good food, sunlight, and a high altitude can often overcome severe and progressive inflammatory conditions. In an older person, whose tissues contain larger amounts of polyunsaturated fats and their breakdown products, it takes more environmental support to get out of the inflammatory pattern.”

“The hypoglycemia and related events resulting from accelerated glycolysis provide a stimulus for increased activity of the adaptive hormones, including cortisol. Cortisol helps to maintain blood sugar by increasing the conversion of protein to amino acids, and mobilizing free fatty acids from fat stores. The free fatty acids inhibit the use of glucose, so the stress metabolism relies largely on the consumption of amino acids. This increases the formation of ammonia, yet the combination of glycolysis and fat oxidation provides less carbon dioxide, which is needed for the conversion of ammonia to urea. Ammonia stimulates the formation of lactate, while carbon dioxide inhibits it.

Starving an animal with a tumor increases the stress hormones, providing free fatty acids and amino acids, and accelerates the tumor’s growth (Sauer and Dauchy, 1987); it’s impossible to “starve a tumor,” by the methods often used. Preventing the excessive breakdown of protein and reducing the release of fatty acids from fat cells would probably cause many cancer cells to die, despite the availability of glucose, because of lactate’s toxic effects, combined with the energy deficit caused by the respiratory defect that causes their aerobic glycolysis. Recently, the intrinsically high rate of cell death in tumors has been recognized. The tumor is maintained and enlarged by the recruitment of “stem cells.” These cells normally would repair or regenerate the tissue, but under the existing metabolic conditions, they fail to differentiate properly.”

“Stress, even emotional stress, decreases the barrier function of the intestine, allowing bacterial endotoxin to be absorbed. Endotoxin activates a variety of enzymes, including those that liberate free fatty acids from the tissues. This is associated with systemic inflammation, and conditions including liver cirrhosis, Parkinson’s disease, and nerve inflammation (Garate, et al., 2013). This immediate direct effect of endotoxin, the lipolytic increase of free fatty acids in the circulation blocks insulin-stimulated glucose uptake (Buhl, et al, 2013; Wellhoener 2011). Despite this now well established role of stress and endotoxin in the production of hyperglycemia, the medical diagnosis of “diabetes” is universally made without measuring either cortisol or endotoxin.”

“If you’re really healthy, then you can meet challenges without experiencing something that Hans Selye would have called stress. For example, if you are not very healthy, just skipping a meal can put you in really serious stress. But a healthy person stores something like 7 or 8 ounces of glucose in the form of glycogen in the liver and the muscles and brain. And since at rest the muscles can burn primarily fatty acids, your brain is the main thing that consumes glucose.

If you’re inactive and relaxed, you can easily go 12-15 hours without eating or without any stress at all. But if you’re not able to store that much glycogen, (for example low thyroid people, or people with a history of severe stress aren’t able to store very much glycogen), and so when you run out of sugar, whether it’s from going all day without eating or because your liver isn’t very efficient, your body tries to increase the available glucose.

Normally, just being awake makes enough adrenaline to mobilize as much glucose from your stores as you need. But when you run out of that stored sugar, your brain still requires sugar to function properly. So, instead of just increasing the adrenaline more and more, when the adrenaline reaches a certain level and can’t get the blood sugar up from storage, then you turn on the cortisol. And that’s the classic stress that can be harmful, because the cortisol dissolves first tissues which are very fragile (like the thymus — that starts turning to sugar immediately when you run out of stored glycogen). And when the thymus is gone in just two or three hours of intense stress, that happens to be one of the reasons they think adults don’t have thymus glands, because by the time they’re dead and are analyzed, the thymus has been eaten up by stress; they might have had a perfectly normal thymus until they were sick and dead.

After the thymus is consumed and turned to sugar, the cortisol starts breaking down your muscles, then your skin. The brains, lungs and heart are spared from stress, partly because in a healthy person they are very saturated with androgens (testosterone and DHEA especially) which block the breakdown function of cortisol. If your brain, lungs and heart are short of those protective steroids then that’s where the stress really starts causing severe, deadly damage. The post-traumatic stress disorder is produced when someone has had such terrible stress, such as being tortured or being in terrific catastrophes, that they not only deplete their stored glycogen and breakdown the expendable tissues like thymus and liver, but then the cortisol starts damaging the brain and heart, and so on. So they get very severe chronic symptoms. Once the stress is completely resolved, then the brain can massively regenerate itself. For example they’ve seen MRIs of girls who have been in anorexia for months, their brain shrinks from living on the cortisol breaking down their tissues, but when they start eating the brain can rebuild itself in just a few weeks.”

“One of the reasons that the single meal eaters tend to get fat and diabetic, is that it triggers a great surge of insulin, and the insulin then triggers cortisol. If you can eat foods that don’t trigger insulin, that’s the ideal thing. And fruit happens to be the best single type of food for not triggering the stress reactions, because it combines very small amounts of protein, with large amounts of sugar and minerals. Potassium happens to handle sugar in place of insulin, and the fructose component of fruit doesn’t require insulin. So, eating a lot of fruit, even at one meal a day, produces much smaller amounts of insulin, obesity, and cortisol, than eating, for example, just one big meal of meat and potatoes. Meat powerfully stimulates insulin and cortisol. And starches are more stimulating to insulin than sugars.” (Effects of Stress and Trauma, KMUD)

“One of the things was reading John Yudkin’s book, the English guy who wrote a book saying that sugar causes heart disease, and he was very clear showing that sugar increases cholesterol and that was back in the time when everyone was saying cholesterol causes heart disease. And I was very impressed by his research but since I saw cholesterol as a protective factor from studying progesterone, I saw that if you’re deficient in progesterone or under stress, your body would increase production of cholesterol to make more progesterone to protect your systems. And so I believed Yudkin was on the right track but since I say cholesterol as protective rather than harmful, I took his evidence to mean that sugar would helped resist stress, so that started me. Along that line – and I have been a migrainer for all my life and I gradually came see that a change in my rhythm of eating in relation to activity was usually what brought on a migraine attack. And often I would have very odd food cravings just before the migraine appeared and even shortly after eating, I would get food cravings and I started trusting those cravings and eating again, and I found that if I ate enough sweet stuff like a quart of ice cream when I felt a migraine coming on, it wouldn’t come on. And I was also a sort of a problem sleeper if I stayed up just an hour or two after my normal bed time, then my sleep would be disturbed even for a couple following nights. And one night I was talking on the radio and that I wanted to keep going hour after hour and I had a friend to go out and buy me huge milkshakes about one an hour and I was able to keep talking until 1: 00 AM, and didn’t have any problem at all going to sleep. And so I recognized that I had a peculiar need for sugar when I was doing anything unusually stressful, and so that started me thinking more about the physiology of it. (email message)

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  1. Mary Wright says

    My husband has always had symptoms associated with low blood sugar. If he does not eat he gets anxiety, and muscle weakness.
    he has history of aura migraines that go after A few hows of lying down
    recently with work stress his aura he had two aura migraines and the new symptoms emerged i.e.
    now has had three episodes of nausea, vomiting, dizziness, unable to walk, which requires intramuscular injection of stemetil to releave symptoms plus lying down for 24 hours

    above episodes associated with low blood sugar, had not eaten for several hours
    this last episode resulted in an MRI brain scan which did not show any lesions , blood tests showed high cholesterol of 5. 6
    Dr said to what diet, and retest for cholesterol in 4 months, and stated the episodes were probably associated with migraine

    After reading this article, I will encourage him to take the coconut oil that I consume daily
    I am not sure what else to do for him as I think this article reflects some of the physiology he is experiencing
    can you give any thoughts to this please

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