Fire Fighting in Canada

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Well-Being: Stable sugars make firefighters soar

August 31, 2020
By Dr. Elias Markou

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In the last 20 years, the science of sugar (also known as glucose) and high performance has made great advances. Academically we know more about how sugar behaves in the body then at any time in history, yet all that great knowledge about how balancing blood sugar can excel your body’s performance has been largely ignored by many.

The body’s overall sense of balance is controlled by balanced blood sugar levels. During those busy days, when we are strapped for time, stressed and on the go, we forget to exercise and we all make quick unhealthy dietary choices that throw our sugars out of balance.

When in a state of hypoglycemia (a low blood sugar condition) or hyperglycemia (a high blood sugar condition), the human body experiences many negative physiological outcomes. There is evidence that during low sugar periods the immune system becomes weaker, the body loses its ability to deal with stress, the adrenal glands are thrown out of balance and most importantly for firefighter, there is a significant decline in athletic performance.

We know that exercise is key to balancing sugar in the body. For the sake of this article we will be looking at three nutritional things firefighters can do to maintain a favourable blood sugar balancing act.

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■ Dietary Fibre
Blood Sugar meet Fibre! Dietary fibre is by far the most importance aid in helping the body balance its blood sugar levels. Fibre acts like Velcro and delays the release of sugar contents crossing into the body via the blood. Many of you have seen how when water is added to fibre, it forms a gel like substance that causes slower absorption of sugar, vitamins, minerals and micronutrients at the gut level, therefore allowing for sugars to remain balance. No spikes and no dramatic drops in blood sugar means a steady demeanor.

An August 2016 study in the journal of Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine called the “Therapeutic effects of soluble dietary fiber consumption on type 2 diabetes mellitus”, showed how increased and regular consumption of soluble dietary fibre resulted in a significant improvement in blood glucose levels, helped with insulin resistance and balanced a type 2 diabetic patients glucose levels. If fibre can do this in an extreme case like a type 2 diabetic patient, we know in a healthy individual blood sugar levels can be balanced.

Did you know that Canadian women need on average 25 grams of dietary fibre per day and men require 38 grams of dietary fibre? Most Canadians on average get 15 grams of fibre which is about less than half of the daily required fibre intake per day.

There are two forms of fibre that are key for the body to balance blood sugar. They are soluble and insoluble fibre. You can remember the difference this way: soluble fibre dissolves in water and is found in plant pectins; insoluble fibre cannot be dissolved in water and is often found in plant cellulose. Most plants contain both these fibres in different amounts. Fibre can be found in greens, legumes, whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds, hemp, chia, ground flaxseeds and bulky vegetables like broccoli.

■ Chromium
Chromium is one of the most important minerals needed for balancing blood sugar in the body. Chromium plays an important role in glucose metabolism. It helps to enhance insulin activity on sugar making it instrumental in balancing sugar.

We know that diets high in simple sugars like muffins, cookies, white bread and white sugar have been shown to increase the amount of chromium you dump from your body by passing it through your urine. We also know a simple sugar diet can bring on early type 2 diabetes. Whether you are healthy or dealing with sugar balancing issues like insulin resistance, poor sugar metabolism or diabetes, I often recommend being on a chromium supplement. You should also make sure your multivitamin has some chromium.

Chromium is mineral required only in trace amounts, so we call it a trace mineral. Here are some great food sources for chromium, broccoli, organic eggs, grains, onions, beets, nuts, seeds, kale, rapini and brussel sprouts.

■ Magnesium
There are a number of studies that show a deficiency in magnesium has been linked to insulin resistance which is connected to the incidence of type 2 diabetes. In simple terms — poor sugar balancing.

Dr. Milagros and his research group from the University of Virginia Department of Pediatrics looked at magnesium deficiency associated with insulin resistance in obese children. They found “magnesium rich food or magnesium supplement may be an important tool in the prevention of type 2 diabetes in obese children and adults”. You can see how important magnesium is in balancing blood sugar.

We now know that dietary fibre, chromium and magnesium can help firefighters maintain a favourable blood sugar balancing act. A balanced blood sugar means a balanced life.


Dr. Elias Markou is one very busy naturopathic doctor. He is in private practice in Mississauga, Ont., and is the chief medical officer for the Halton Hills Fire Department. Dr. Markou was a firefighter for six years; he has a special interest in firefighter health and is a writer and blogger who is regularly featured on television, radio and in print. Contact him at drmarkou@mypurebalance.ca