Victoria Frankel

Understanding Your Glycemic Response and How It Affects Immunity

Nov 10, 2020

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What exactly is glycemic response? We hear a lot about it when we’re discussing the metabolic disease diabetes - but glycemic response is a normal process that affects every single person. 

You can feel it when you experience a sugar high, and you feel it when you haven’t eaten all day long. It’s a natural procedure our body uses to communicate glucose levels in your blood. And although you may not notice it - your glycemic response can say a lot about your health.


The Ups and Downs of Glycemic Response

Everything in life is about balance - and when something falls out of whack, nature has a way of re-establishing equilibrium. From the environment and the weather, down to the smallest living organism or molecule, there are ways to support this balance. Within us, our body has established complex balancing techniques for almost every biological process. 

You’d be right if the term ‘homeostasis’ or the ability to maintain a relatively stable internal state that persists despite changes in the world outside came to mind. 

Our glycemic response is another example of how our bodies are committed to homeostasis. To keep our body feeling balanced, we have a very closely monitored blood glucose system that is maintained at a very specific level. When we eat, this level spikes. And when we haven’t eaten for some time, this level drops. But under regular conditions, our body stabilizes it and brings it back to normal. 

Whenever we do eat, an orchestra of signals are produced all throughout the body. Some of these signals are meant to jumpstart digestion, but others are used to communicate that energy is coming. Once we have digested carbohydrate-rich foods, fuel in the form of glucose is entered into our bloodstream and spreads to various tissues for energy. 

To help drop levels back to normal, Insulin - produced in the pancreas - communicates to our cells to take in the circulating glucose. This is a very important part of the balancing equation. Dysregulation of insulin is a classic example of diabetes. With high circulating glucose, our body can experience very negative consequences - chronic issues with insulin production or interaction can result in heart disease, coma, a compromised immune system, and even death. 

Alternatively, when our body hasn’t eaten - we may experience low levels of glucose. Fatigue, lethargy, nausea, unsteadiness, and irritability are classic signs of hypoglycemia - or low blood glucose. Over time, these too can have significant effects on health. But to stabilize low blood glucose, the pancreas produces glucagon - insulin’s counterpart - to help raise blood glucose levels in times of fasting.

Together, insulin and glucagon practice the natural push/pull harmony required to keep our blood glucose at the goldilocks level.


But What Happens When Your Blood Glucose is Routinely High?

Despite our body’s best efforts, sometimes regulating blood glucose becomes more than it can handle. If you’re prone to a high-sugar diet, you might be flooding your system with glucose too often. The more glucose in your blood, the more you’re at risk for a hyper-glycemic event. Irregular heartbeat, thirst, and frequent urination are all signs of hyperglycemia - and often the same initial signs you might be at risk for diabetes. Pre-diabetes is a condition that predates the development of type 2 diabetes, and is usually indicative of a stressed or imbalanced glycemic response. 

Over time, the effects of high blood glucose can support an internal environment that favors inflammation. You could say that your immune cells have a bit of a sweet tooth and have a natural affinity for glucose. Researchers believe that high levels of circulating blood glucose may be perpetuating the transition from acute inflammation toward a more chronic condition. 

And as blood glucose levels continue to spike - and if insulin resistance becomes an issue - your body has created a perfect storm to promote inflammation. This storm has been coined as a ‘cytokine storm’ - named for the specialized proteins produced by immune cells, cytokines. These chemical messengers do a number of tasks that perpetuate the recruitment of even more immune cells


A Thunderous Problem

Interestingly, the damage of many illnesses that affect us don’t necessarily come from a specific pathogen, but from our own immune system’s defensive response. The overwhelming reaction of a cytokine storm is often a significant consequence of illnesses like the flu virus, and even what we now know as COVID-19 (the Sars-COV-2 virus).

Cytokine storms have been shown to be involved in many different infectious pathogens and non-infectious diseases. Indicative of an immune response gone awry, cytokine storms can have a disastrous impact on our body. From chronic inflammation to a full-blown immune-typhoon, this defensive response ends up destroying our own tissue and leaving significant damage in its wake.

In fact, novel research straight from this year identified that sometimes these pathogens can even exploit the cytokine storm dynamic. This research also complemented the growing understanding of the close relationship that occurs between our immune system and our blood glucose levels.

In this new study published just last April, researchers identified a previously undescribed mechanism of how the Influenza-A virus supports the development of a cytokine storm - by changing the way we metabolize glucose. In this way, it actually promotes an over-reactive immune response that causes damage and reduces the effectiveness of our immune system to fight it.

Studies have also supported this kind of trend in COVID-19 cases. High circulating blood glucose levels were shown to be supportive of cytokine storms. If a patient’s blood sugar was running high, they were more likely to have a higher level of inflammation and more severe symptoms of COVID-19.

This justifies monitoring your blood glucose levels even more. It may prove to be another opportunity for you to be better in tune with what’s happening inside your body.


Starting from Within

If you’re unsure of how stable your glycemic response is, consult your doctor. Your levels can also be easily tested with the help of a glucose monitor. Simple to use, you can measure and track your glucose trends and determine what steps you can take to help support your glycemic balance. 

And now determining where you’re at for a healthy system - and where your inflammation levels are - is even easier with Viome’s new Health Intelligence test. With a quick and easy blood sample, we can help you assess how your immune system is operating and provide the nutrition recommendations you need to help promote glycemic control.

Your Health Intelligence results and recommendations are formulated for your unique biology on a molecular level. In addition, we use your biology in conjunction with our robust AI platform to help predict foods that are likely to spike your blood glucose levels.  We tested this algorithm in one of our studies, and now we use this data to place high-glycemic response foods specific to you on your Avoid and Minimize lists. By removing them from your diet, you can also work to improve the balance of your gut microbiome. Moreover, they can reduce your instances of high blood glucose episodes.

And when we’re talking about reducing the impact of chronic disease, we believe every bit counts. Viome is changing the way we view health. From gut health, to immune health, we’re looking at the individual as a whole, and not the other way around.


Learn more about the 30+ health scores included in Health Intelligence that can help you on your journey to better health! 





The information on the Viome website is provided for informational purposes only and with the understanding that Viome is not engaged in rendering medical advice or recommendations. Viome provides this educational information to share the exciting developments being reported in the scientific literature about the human microbiome and your health. Viome products are not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease.


These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


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Understanding Your Glycemic Response and How It Affects Immunity

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