Someone with diabetes often experiences three main signs or symptoms, often referred to as the triad of symptoms.
These signs include polyphagia (excessive hunger), polydipsia (increased thirst), and polyuria (frequent or excessive urination). While the other symptoms can also be serious, today we focus on polyphagia or the excessive hunger that often occurs.
We will take a closer look at why diabetics are always hungry, what that may mean, and how to combat it.
Why Does Diabetes Cause Hunger?
In a healthy body, insulin works to turn what you eat into energy. When you eat a meal, your blood sugar levels rise. This triggers the pancreas to produce insulin and release it into the bloodstream, where it helps the glucose enter the cells in your muscles, fat, and liver. This energy is either used or stored until needed.
Unfortunately, with diabetes, insulin either does not work correctly, or the body does not produce enough or any at all. Without the necessary insulin, the blood sugar remains in the bloodstream, leaving the muscles and other cells in the body starved for the energy they need. This stimulates cravings for food and the feelings of hunger you may experience.
Hyperglycemia and Hunger
Hyperglycemia refers to high blood glucose levels in the body. This occurs when the body produces too little, or no insulin or the insulin the body produces does not perform properly.
As mentioned above, when this occurs, the body is unable to take the food you eat and convert it to energy. Because of this, your body still craves food in order to meet energy demands. Your body continues to tell you it is hungry, and, in many cases, you may give in to these cravings.
Unfortunately, no matter how much you eat, simply eating will not eliminate the feelings of hunger. Continued eating, however, will continue to increase your blood sugar levels.
Hypoglycemia and Hunger
Unfortunately, hyperglycemia is not the only cause of excess hunger in people with diabetes.
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can also increase your appetite and contribute to hunger cravings when low blood sugar occurs in a healthy individual, the body releases stored glucose from the liver in order to balance the glucose levels.
However, those with diabetes that take medications such as insulin and sulfonylureas are unable to regulate their blood sugar levels in a normal way, greatly increasing their risk of hypoglycemia. When these hunger cravings occur, it is essential to eat in order to raise your blood sugar levels.
The Importance of Checking If You Need Food or Insulin
As a diabetic, it is important to understand why you are experiencing excessive hunger. It is important to talk with your doctor and explain your symptoms and your regular diet. They may advise dietary changes, changes in your medications, and increased daily blood sugar testing.
Because excessive hunger can come with high blood sugar levels as well as low blood sugar levels, knowing your blood sugar levels throughout the day is essential. When you experience excessive hunger, it is a good idea to go ahead and check your blood sugar levels. Are they high? Are they low? Your results will determine what the truth really is.
When You Find High Blood Glucose Levels
If your blood sugar levels are high, chances are your hunger is due to the fact your insulin levels are not working to feed the cells in your body. If this is the case, talk with your doctor about the possible need for increased insulin. Adjusting your daily diet and increasing your physical activity can also help your body process the glucose into your cells more efficiently.
In this case, listening to your hunger cravings is not about eating more, but adjusting your lifestyles and medications. Eating with these hunger cravings will likely increase your blood sugar to dangerous levels. In addition, regular high levels of blood sugar due to excessive eating from hunger cravings can lead to unhealthy weight loss in diabetes.
While weight loss is often advised for diabetics, this unhealthy weight loss can be dangerous to your body as well as a result of severe hyperglycemia.
When You Discover Your Blood Glucose Levels are Low
If your hunger cravings come at a time when you experience low blood sugar levels, your body is telling you it needs food, and you should eat in order to increase those levels.
In these cases, fast-acting carbohydrates, such as fruit juice or crackers, is often enough to boost your blood sugar levels. If your levels remain low, you may need to eat more. If you experience low blood sugar levels on a regular basis, you need to meet with your doctor and work to create a better diabetic management plan.
Because hunger can mean different things for different people, it is essential to work with your doctor and nutritionist to create a balanced treatment and management plan to help regulate your blood sugar levels. When this is in place, excessive hunger periods should reduce or stop altogether.