Logically, one would think that the body’s blood sugar levels would be at their lowest upon rising after a long night of undisturbed, midnight-snack-less sleep.
Surprisingly, many folks find that their blood sugars are at their highest in the morning hours, from dawn until breakfast.
This is a common occurrence and has been termed the “Dawn Phenomenon.”
This is actually an early sign that the body is struggling to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
I have long been an advocate of self-testing blood sugar levels as a precautionary measure to ward off imbalance. I wrote an entire free eBook dedicated to healthy blood sugar levels, Blood Sugar Secrets for Health & Longevity – enjoy!
In this article, I will describe natural health strategies to combat the early stages of dawn phenomenon.
When blood sugar levels rise to even within the high-normal range (between 90-100ng/mL), there is an increased risk of the degenerative process known as glycation.
Glycation occurs when excess sugar molecules in the blood clump with proteins in the blood. This triggers a chemical chain reaction that significantly increases oxidation (free radical damage), plaque formation, and a host of other degenerative processes in the body.
Advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) are toxic compounds found at the site of almost every degenerative health concern in the body. Harmful AGEs are one of the major reasons why early blood sugar regulation is so important. (4)
The dawn phenomenon (higher morning blood sugar levels) has been linked to a 30-70 percent increase in hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c)—which is a routine blood test that determines one’s 3-month blood sugar average—but more precisely, it is a measure of the actual glycation of the red blood cells.
Literally, the lab technician counts the number of hemoglobin molecules that have glycated and stuck to a protein. The percentage of these glycated cells is called one’s hemoglobin A1C level.
The healthiest percentages of glycation or HbA1c are below 5%. Unhealthy is over 6%.
One of the most effective strategies to support healthy A1C levels is to address surging morning blood sugar levels.
Strategies to Combat Dawn Phenomenon
The first approach to addressing this issue is with diet. Particularly, what you eat and when you eat it.
The body does most of its digesting at breakfast and lunch, and most of its detoxifying after sunset through until dawn. (3) Disturbing this circadian rhythm over time could contribute to an alteration of blood sugar rhythms and an early stage dawn phenomenon.
Five Dietary Strategies for Healthy Morning Blood Sugar Levels:
- Finish your dinner as early as possible, preferably before 6pm.
- Avoid any carbohydrates, sugars, or sweeteners with dinner or after dinner.
- Try a high-protein, high-fat snack before bed, such as a stick of celery and a nut butter.
- Avoid all processed and packaged foods as best you can. Never after sunset!
- Have an evening snack of resistant starch that resists absorption through the small intestine and this lower blood sugars. Some examples are oats, green bananas, cooled potatoes or rice, seeds, and some whole grains. (5)
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For many of you, these dietary strategies may solve your dawn phenomenon concern—but give it some time! Remember, the goal is to have fasting morning blood sugar levels to be in the 80s, rather than 90s or low 100s.
For a more detailed understanding of how to use food, diet, herbs, lifestyle, and exercise to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, download my blood sugar eBook.
For those who have unsuccessfully tried everything to address those pesky high morning blood sugar numbers, it may not be 100 percent related to your diet. The dawn phenomenon may be the liver overshooting the early morning energy runway in order to make sure we wake up on time.
After around 3am, the body starts secreting wake-up hormones such as the cortisol stress hormone, growth hormone, and glucagon—all of which raise blood sugar levels. The liver, also in preparation for the day, starts dumping sugar into the blood from its sugar or glycogen stores through a process called gluconeogenesis. When the body is balanced, this symphony of hormone release, liver gluconeogenesis and insulin secretion is tightly regulated in an attempt to control blood sugar.
When the body’s blood sugar regulation is altered due to circadian stress or liver congestion from processed foods and pesticides that alter intestinal microbiology, digestive strength breaks down, resulting in the liver over-secreting morning glucose and higher levels of cortisol, growth hormone, and glucagon.
Diving deeper into the cause of the dawn phenomenon, slowing down the liver’s production of sugar through gluconeogenesis would be an intelligent start. It is not the complete answer however, as this is exactly what the drug Metformin does, which is not extremely effective in addressing the dawn phenomenon.
There are many herbs that block gluconeogenesis, but few seem to work in my clinical experience. To effectively break the dawn phenomenon cycle, we need to both balance gluconeogenesis and address the hormonal surge of cortisol, growth hormone, and glucagon.
Apple Cider Vinegar to the Rescue
In an Arizona State University study, participants with blood sugar concerns who drank apple cider vinegar (ACV) in water with saccharin with each meal (we will use stevia instead—see why it makes all the difference below!) had 34% lower after-meal glucose compared to study participants that did not ingest ACV. (1)
The researchers believe that the acetic acid (vinegar) in ACV slows the absorption of carbohydrates into the bloodstream while increasing the body’s sensitivity to the blood sugar-lowering effect of insulin. (1)
In another study, ACV significantly lowered morning blood sugar levels, suggesting a slowing of the liver’s production of early morning glucose and a balancing of gluconeogenesis.
This study also suggests that ACV offers a supportive effect on insulin production and the body’s resistance to the effects of insulin. (2)
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Addressing Glucagon – The Blood Sugar-Raising Hormone
Glucagon is the sister hormone of insulin. Both are produced by the pancreas, insulin from the beta cells and glucagon from the alpha cells. Insulin’s job is to escort glucose from the blood into the cells, thus lowering blood sugar. Glucagon’s job is to raise blood sugar when it drops too low. Both insulin and glucagon are tightly regulated to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
For years, the holy grail of supporting healthy blood sugar was only focused on insulin, with little or no attention on glucagon. According to new research, glucagon may play a more important role in healthy blood sugar regulation than previously thought. (7)
In fact, balancing the production of insulin and glucagon is an up-and-coming pharmaceutical strategy for blood sugar regulation.
If insulin is being under-secreted (a blood sugar-lowering effect) and glucagon over-secreted (a blood sugar-raising effect), this becomes the perfect storm for the dawn phenomenon and unhealthy blood sugar control.
Stevia – The Glucagon Inhibitor
Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana bertoni), a common sugar alternative, has long been heralded as natural support for healthy blood sugar levels. The steviosides in stevia are powerful antioxidants while both boosting insulin production and lowering glucagon levels. (6,7,8)
Stevia supports the body’s nutrient-sensing ability to deliver more accurate feedback to the alpha (glucagon-producing) and beta (insulin-producing) pancreatic cells. As mentioned, stevia delivers a significant glucagonostatic (glucagon blocking) and insulinotropic (insulin boosting) effect. (6) Steviosides may also amplify the expressions of glucose-responsive genes.
To address the dawn phenomenon, we need a combination of these factors:
- Slow liver’s morning production of glucose (gluconeogenesis) – Apple Cider Vinegar
- Stimulate better insulin production – Stevia and Apple Cider Vinegar
- Inhibit glucagon – Stevia
- Increase nutrient sensitivity – Stevia
Dawn Phenomenon Tonic
Try this little tonic before bed to address the dawn phenomenon. If you are really serious about tackling this issue, try this in combination with the five dietary strategies mentioned above.
- 2-3 tablespoons of raw, organic Apple Cider Vinegar
- 1 teaspoon 100% stevia (Stevia sweetener packets are commonly blended with another sugar alternatives. To get 100% stevia, look in the herbal section at your natural foods store or ask a store rep.)
- 4-6 ounces of water
Directions: Mix and drink before bed. Regularly self-check your morning blood sugar levels and continue for two weeks to see results. Look for glucometers (blood sugar tests) in my online store.