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17 Causes of Blood Sugar Swings and Fluctuations

December 6, 2021
Reviewed by
Katie Kissane MS, RD

Managing your blood sugar levels is essential when you're learning to live with diabetes. But having large swings in blood sugar can be harmful even if you don’t have a diabetes diagnosis. Whether you’re making necessary lifestyle modifications or not, there are other things to consider with or without a diagnosis. After all, high glucose levels are a direct indicator of a potential diabetes diagnosis. So, while watching what you eat is an effective way to control blood sugar, remember that there are various other factors that can also affect it. 

Keeping track of these is vital because ignoring them can potentially disrupt your efforts at managing your blood sugars. And even if you don’t have diabetes, your blood sugar still affects your sleep, how you feel throughout the day and may even determine how long you live. Of course, how, what, and when you eat is still a core component when measuring your blood sugar. But to make managing blood sugar levels easier, here’s a list of some other causes of fluctuations to watch for:

1. Morning Hormone Levels (aka "Dawn Phenomenon") 

You’ve probably heard the phrase “body clock.” If you don’t already know, this means that with or without an alarm to coax you out of bed, you will usually wake up around the same time every morning (save for that late night out partying!). This “dawn phenomenon” is the consequence of a measurable, chemical response within your body. In line with our diurnal lifestyles (in contrast to some animals’ nocturnal tendencies), the body produces certain hormones. These encourage you to wake up sometime after the sun rises to take advantage of all that beneficial daylight. 

These sleep/wake cycles result from those hormones inciting your body to produce extra blood sugar, giving you a much-needed shot of energy to start the day. While this is a welcome evolutionary edge, it can sometimes come at the cost of skewing your blood glucose levels, at least temporarily. Check out this article to learn more about this phenomenon and other blood sugar quirks you might experience after waking up.

2. Your Hydration 

It’s no secret drinking water is good for you. And human beings really are mostly water: the liquid portion of your blood (the plasma) is made of over 90 percent of water. With water’s tendency to dilute substances that it’s mixed into, the more water you drink, the more excess blood sugar is washed out of your blood through your urine and endocrine system. In contrast, the closer you are to dehydration, the more concentrated your blood sugar levels can become

3. Extreme Weather Conditions 

If dehydration can spike blood glucose, it’s no surprise that you should also be monitoring other conditions that cause water loss in your body. For example, you sweat when it’s hot, and when you sweat, you lose more water than usual. This can then put you at risk of blood sugar-related complications. An increase in glucose is often seen with heat exposure—this can be due to changes in fluid related to heat as well as stress responses to heat. 

4. Sugar-free Foods 

Particularly insidious is the effect of artificial sweeteners, often found in foods labeled as sugar-free (or “diet”), to provide a sweet kick without the guilt of natural sugar. It’s not yet clear why, but recent studies show that the body can react negatively to these sweeteners, paradoxically spiking blood sugar despite the absence of any actual sugar. 

Further damning these sweeteners are their measured effect on insulin resistance. Your body can be tricked into treating artificial sweeteners similarly to sugar, producing excess insulin in response and building insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. 

While sugar-free foods help you keep daily calorie counts low, manage diabetes, and maintain a healthy weight, it’s a good idea to eat foods containing artificial sweeteners in moderation.

5. Cold Medications 

Artificial sweeteners find themselves included in much more than sugar-free foods. It’s worth the time it may take to read ingredient labels to see if sweeteners have made their way into anything you consume regularly. This can include over-the-counter medicines, which may contain artificial sweeteners to mask their bitter taste and make them more palatable. Depending on how your body responds to artificial sweeteners, it may be better to select a pill that’s harder to swallow but easier on your blood sugar levels. 

6. Birth Control 

Evolving research has shown associations between contraceptives that affect the hormones relevant to reproduction (like birth control pills, rings, implants, and patches) and blood sugar levels. If you’re pre-diabetic or have diabetes, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor about what birth control is best for you. 

7. Steroids 

Medical conditions that demand taking anti-inflammatory medications may call for regular doses of steroids. No matter how they’re administered, many steroids are known to increase blood glucose levels. This is due to the hormones they encourage your body to release, causing your liver to subsequently release stored glucose. 

8. Lack of Sleep 

We’ve gone over the effects of sleep on blood sugar and vice versa. But here’s the most crucial role sleep plays in controlling blood sugar: the less consistent rest you get, the less your body can regulate the hormones it secretes. 

Certain hormones in your body can change how it reacts to insulin. If you become more insulin resistant, you’re less able to naturally regulate your blood sugar levels. Taken to an extreme, this can spiral into a cycle of further increasing insulin resistance, causing less and less blood glucose regulation, ultimately leading to diabetes complications. 

9. Caffeine Consumption

Besides potentially ruining a night of good sleep, caffeine may produce other measurable effects on blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, there’s no consensus on what factors are at play or whether diabetics are particularly sensitive to caffeine consumption. Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all here! So, there’s no consensus yet on who might see their blood sugar levels drop, instead of rise, from caffeine intake. Your best bet is to experiment to see how your body responds to caffeine. As with any new additions to your diet and lifestyle, approach this cautiously and consider getting personalized advice from a doctor or dietitian. 

10. Menstrual Cycles 

The pattern of hormones and their relation to blood sugar fluctuations continues with another significant influence on hormonal balance. Like birth control, your menstrual cycle can spike your blood glucose levels through the body’s natural reaction to the increased levels of the specific hormones released. 

Experts recommend caution when reacting to such spikes, so if you have diabetes and are on insulin, don’t go increasing your insulin in response. It may inadvertently leave you overly sensitive if your sugar levels return to normal more rapidly than you anticipate.

11. Alcohol Consumption 

Drinking excessively is always a bad idea, but remember that even a moderate amount can affect your blood sugar levels. When alcohol is broken down, much of the glucose management occurs in your liver. Instead of occupying itself with releasing glucose promptly, your liver can become distracted with breaking down any alcohol recently consumed, potentially leading to a drop in your sugar levels. It’s a good idea to drink in moderation and track and monitor how alcohol reacts to your body when you do. 

12. Exercise 

Exercise is part of the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. It has even been found to reverse the onset of prediabetes. So it might seem unfair that you still have to be mindful of your blood sugar levels when exercising as part of your diabetes management plan. The type and intensity of the exercise can play a role in whether your sugar levels rise or fall, but what may matter even more is if you’re exercising fasted or fed

If you’ve just eaten, your body has the energy to get through an exercise routine before your liver starts secreting more of its stored glucose to supplement it. At the end of the day, regular exercise has a net beneficial effect on your blood glucose, so there’s no reason to avoid it! If you have diabetes or want to know more about how exercise impacts your blood glucose, speak with a health professional to develop a safe and effective exercise plan. 

13. Stress 

Your body naturally responds to the demands of any extra exertion by producing hormones to tell itself to release its stored energy. When that energy source is glucose, it spikes your blood sugar levels. The signal to release that energy is your fight-or-flight response. It doesn’t discriminate between exertion through regular exercise or through other sources of stress. 

Humans developed this response as a way to exert a lot of energy really quickly if and when necessary. This is great if you’re being chased by a tiger but not always suitable for other sources of stress. Daily ups-and-downs and one-off instances of anxiety can trigger the same response, affecting your glucose levels in the same way. 

14. Depression 

Depression is a broad condition that can have elevated incidences among those with diabetes. Suffering from depression doesn’t necessarily affect your blood sugar on its own. Still, the correlations are well established and are likely consequential to how you react to a diabetes diagnosis. So, while stress and depression can affect everyone, managing diabetes can make everything more challenging. 

15. Gut Health 

Recent studies have shown promising correlations between your gut flora, the bacteria living within the gastrointestinal system, and secondary associations with your blood sugar. Certain bacteria (though it’s still uncertain which) can influence your liver to release its stored glucose

While this is still being explored, remember that balanced diets (including recommended amounts of fiber, prebiotics, and probiotics) may help regulate and feed the bacteria in your gut. This may be able to ensure blood sugar control and a balance of the types of bacteria that live within you. 

16. "Naked" Carbohydrates 

High-carb foods are a guilty pleasure for all of us, so don’t worry too much about the occasional craving. But a diet that’s primarily filled with high-carb foods may be cause for concern. If you have diabetes or have been working with a dietitian, you may already know the body breaks down carbohydrates into sugar. Naturally, more sugar will raise your blood sugar levels, so remember to monitor and moderate this.  

Things get more complicated when it comes to complex carbohydrates. A complex carb is a carb whose molecular structure is more complicated than those associated with simple or “naked” carbs. For example, when you eat whole grains, where the carbohydrates remain molecularly unbroken, your body takes longer to disassemble the molecules into their simple constituent sugars. In contrast, if you eat something that’s heavily milled and processed (like plain pasta or white bread), you may see a blood sugar spike in response to the carbs being so easily and rapidly broken down. 

17. Altitude 

High altitudes can put you at risk of both hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia. This doesn’t necessarily include air travel, where conditions are controlled to emulate surface conditions (though we still recommend speaking with your doctor before flying). If you have diabetes and you’re planning a high-altitude hike or a trip somewhere high above sea level, it’s a good idea to monitor your glucose levels.

Learn More About Your Blood Glucose Levels with NutriSense

Managing all of these factors can seem like a lot to handle when using a traditional glucometer or getting the occasional lab test to check your blood sugar levels. Instead of measuring your glucose levels when you anticipate a fluctuation, a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) helps you focus on preventive health by tracking blood sugar in real-time. 

Even if you don’t have prediabetes or diabetes, a CGM subscription from NutriSense can help you smooth out some of the bumps in your daily glucose variations. It can also help you optimize your health with a combination of leading CGM technology and personalized support from a team of registered dietitians. 

Click here to listen to the podcast.
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17 Causes of Blood Sugar Swings and Fluctuations
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Kara Collier, the Director of Nutrition at Nutrisense, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Support Clinician who specializes in glucose control and...

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42
min
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My Blood Sugar Trends!
My Blood Sugar Trends!

Nutrisense hooked up Shanna Hussin, RDN with continuous glucose monitoring as a tool to see trends in food response, stress, sleep, and exercise.

Podcast
57
min
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Continuous Glucose Monitors: Why They’re Not Just for Diabetics Anymore with Kara Collier
Continuous Glucose Monitors: Why They’re Not Just for Diabetics Anymore with Kara Collier

In this episode, Kara talks about blood sugar levels and explains why CGMs (continuous glucose monitors) are useful for everyone and not just diabetics.

Podcast
70
min
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Blood sugar balance, weight loss, metabolic health and continuous glucose monitoring
Blood sugar balance, weight loss, metabolic health and continuous glucose monitoring

In this episode, Ellie interviews Kara Collier is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Support Clinician with a background in clinical nutrition...

Podcast
53
min
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How Continuous Glucose Monitoring Can Lead to Health-Conscious Behavioral Change
How Continuous Glucose Monitoring Can Lead to Health-Conscious Behavioral Change

Curious how continuous glucose monitoring can lead to significant behavioral change? Kara Collier of NutriSense discusses how this happens with Heads Up founder Dave Korsunsky.

Podcast
58
min
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Continuous Glucose Monitors for Keto & Health Optimizations w/Kara Collier of NutriSense
Continuous Glucose Monitors for Keto & Health Optimizations w/Kara Collier of NutriSense

Learn how continuous glucose monitors can help you obtain metabolic flexibility and Ways to use CGM's to experiment.

Podcast
35
min
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Be your Healthiest Self
Be your Healthiest Self

Carlee Hayes is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Lead Nutritionist on a mission to help people become the healthiest version of themselves.

Podcast
45
min
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How Nutrisense Can Help You Personalize Your Diet
How Nutrisense Can Help You Personalize Your Diet

In this week’s episode, Nathalie talks to Carlee Hayes about how CGM’s and the Nutrisense app can support individuals to personalize their diet and reach their goals.

Podcast
42
min
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Improving Insulin Resistance, PCOS, and Overall Health with Continuous Glucose Monitors
Improving Insulin Resistance, PCOS, and Overall Health with Continuous Glucose Monitors

In today's episode, Amber talks with Molly, one of the dieticians at Nutrisense, a health technology company that specializes in Continuous Glucose Monitors.

Podcast
56
min
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How To Use A Continuous Glucose Monitor To Master Glucose Response and Avoid Disease: Carlee Hayes
How To Use A Continuous Glucose Monitor To Master Glucose Response and Avoid Disease: Carlee Hayes

We talk about tracking blood glucose and why it's important to see your individual glucose response to meals, stress, exercise, and even during sleep.

Podcast
74
min
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Understanding Blood Glucose Measuring For Fat Loss and More on Keto & Carnivore with Kara Collier
Understanding Blood Glucose Measuring For Fat Loss and More on Keto & Carnivore with Kara Collier

This episode is about how to understand blood glucose numbers for fat loss on Keto & Carnivore with Kara Collier, RDN, CNSC.

Podcast
73
min
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Hack Your Goals with Continuous Blood Glucose Monitoring (CGM)
Hack Your Goals with Continuous Blood Glucose Monitoring (CGM)

Achieve Your Goals with Continuous Blood Glucose Monitoring: Kara Collier, RDN, LDN, CNSC. Nutrisense Director of Nutrition.

Kara is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist (LDN), and Certified Nutrition Support Clinician (CNSC) who specializes in glucose control and metabolism. She graduated from Purdue University and previously worked at Memphis VA Medical Center, as a clinical dietitian at Providence Hospital, and in a management role at Nutritionix.

Podcast
76
min
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The Power of Monitoring Glucose Levels with Kara Collier
The Power of Monitoring Glucose Levels with Kara Collier

Kara Collier is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Support Clinician with a background in clinical nutrition, nutrition technology, and entrepreneurship.

Podcast
73
min
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The Power of Monitoring Glucose Levels
The Power of Monitoring Glucose Levels

Kara Collier is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Support Clinician with a background in clinical nutrition, nutrition technology, and entrepreneurship. After becoming frustrated with the traditional healthcare system, she helped start the company NutriSense where she is now the Director of Nutrition. Kara is the leading authority on the use of continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) technology, particularly in non-diabetics for the purposes of health optimization, disease prevention, and reversing metabolic dysfunction. Kara oversees the health team and product development and has personally interpreted thousands of complex glucose datasets.

Podcast
58
min
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Optimizing Health Through Continuous Glucose Monitoring
Optimizing Health Through Continuous Glucose Monitoring

Metabolic health involves staying within a controlled glucose level and avoiding repeated “swings” in your glucose levels.

Podcast
50
min
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Continuous Glucose Monitors for healthy individuals looking to improve their glucose stability
Continuous Glucose Monitors for healthy individuals looking to improve their glucose stability

Information from Kara Collier about glucose and sleep: how are those two things connected, and what can we glean from monitoring this area related to improving sleep?

Podcast
48
min
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Optimizing Your Health Using NutriSense Continuous Glucose Monitoring with Carlee Hayes
Optimizing Your Health Using NutriSense Continuous Glucose Monitoring with Carlee Hayes

In this episode, Dr. Renee is joined by Lead Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Nutrisense Continuous Glucose Monitoring, Carlee Hayes, as they take a deep dive into monitoring

Podcast
45
min
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The Lowdown on the NutriSense Continuous Glucose Monitor
The Lowdown on the NutriSense Continuous Glucose Monitor

Listen in to hear the breakdown on who this CGM is good for, who it’s NOT good for, and how it can be a beneficial step to help some who are looking to take their established healt

Podcast
42
min
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What Glucose Data Says About Your Health
What Glucose Data Says About Your Health

In this episode, we sit down with Kara Collier from NutriSense to discuss continuous glucose monitors (CGM).

Podcast
41
min
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The Change Maker! Kara Collier on The Surprising Benefits of Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
The Change Maker! Kara Collier on The Surprising Benefits of Healthy Blood Sugar Levels

The latest in nutrition, exercise, and dietary supplements. Guests include world record holders, documentary film makers, best selling authors, and health experts from all...

Podcast
34
min
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NutriSense Discusses CGMs on Nourish Balance Thrive Podcast
NutriSense Discusses CGMs on Nourish Balance Thrive Podcast

Kara from NutriSense joins the Nourish Balance Thrive Podcast with Christopher Kelly to explain why everyone should wear a CGM at least once

Podcast
27
min
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NutriSense is the very best
NutriSense is the very best

Dan and Kara from Nutrisense talk to Kyle Kingsbury about all things health and CGM technology.

Podcast
23
min
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Tips to Balance Blood Sugar and Optimize Metabolic Health - Part 2
Tips to Balance Blood Sugar and Optimize Metabolic Health - Part 2

Welcome to the second part of our metabolic health episode! Here you’ll learn more strategies to support your insulin and blood sugar levels.

Podcast
20
min
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Rusty Humphries Weight Loss - lessons learned
Rusty Humphries Weight Loss - lessons learned

On this episode of The Nisha Jackson Podcast, Nisha talks with co-host Rusty Humphries about his successful weight loss journey of 30+ pounds and improving.

Podcast
22
min
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NutraCast: NutriSense on glucose monitoring
NutraCast: NutriSense on glucose monitoring

NutraCast's Danielle Masterson speaks with NutriSense Director of Nutrition, Kara Collier, on the benefits of Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) technology and the NutriSense app.

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18
min
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NutriSense CEO Alex Skryl on Bootstrapping In America
NutriSense CEO Alex Skryl on Bootstrapping In America

Some of the most interesting stories around are from entrepreneurs willing to take an idea and turn it into a business...

Podcast
14
min
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STOP making losing weight so hard!
STOP making losing weight so hard!

We will dive into how to not make every attempt at weight loss so hard, it really shouldn't be… and you truly have the control over this.⠀

Podcast
24
min
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14 Weight loss tips
14 Weight loss tips

14 tips to help you get the weight loss momentum going and provide you with a guide to lose weight and keep it off.⠀

Podcast
54
min
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Can Continuous Glucose Monitoring Support Your Health Goals?
Can Continuous Glucose Monitoring Support Your Health Goals?

Blood glucose holds keys to many important health markers including metabolic health, insulin levels, and our risk for chronic disease.

Podcast
57
min
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Learn to Better Regulate Blood Sugar All Day Long
Learn to Better Regulate Blood Sugar All Day Long

We're back with a brand new interview on our Conversations with Cabral podcast that centers on the topic on of controlling blood sugar for maximum body transformation and wellness results!   I’ve invited Kara Collier, co-founder of NutriSense, to share what she has learned from thousands of customers’ data wearing continuous glucose monitors…   For all the details on learning how to better regulate blood sugar all day long tune into today’s #CabralConcept 2099 - Enjoy the show and let @KaraCollier1 and me know what you thought in the comments!