Are Your Blood Glucose Levels Putting You at Risk for Autoimmune Issues?

Science by Dr. Ben Bikman

We live in a dirty world. Whether through our lungs, intestines, or skin, infectious pathogens are constantly trying to invade our bodies. And sometimes they do. Thankfully, when such invasions occur, the body’s immune system is present and prepared (hopefully) to wage war on the invaders and defend the body.

As a part of this defense, the immune system alters its metabolism – not only do immune cells have a much greater metabolic need (no surprise, they are MUCH more active at this phase), but the metabolic fuel shifts, as well. Macrophages, perhaps the poster child immune cell, go from relying on anything for fuel when they’re not fighting infections (e.g., fats, glucose, lactate, etc.) to relying heavily on glucose [1]. This is part of the metabolism of immunity. However, this paradigm presents a “pulling” phenomenon–in other words, when the immune system is activated, it relies on glucose. However, recent evidence suggests there’s also a “push” effect when it comes to glucose and immunity.

In 2019, scientists detailed through a series of experiments that high glucose levels activate immune cells, even when there is no pathogen to fight [2]. Unfortunately, when the immune system is activated without a known enemy, the body itself becomes the enemy – the immune system begins attacking innocent tissues. This is known as autoimmunity.


You’ve heard of autoimmune disorders before, of course. Problems like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, crohn’s disease, and many more, are all examples of the immune system turning its weapons on the body. In this study, they found that high glucose levels force (i.e., “push”) immune cells into activity…even when there’s no pathogen to fight. As a result, the high glucose levels triggered autoimmune reactions in an experimental model of colitis (an autoimmune problem of the large intestine). Interestingly, this appears to happen with oxidative stress in the middle of it all.

Essentially, when immune cells are inundated with glucose, their ability to metabolize it all is overwhelmed. This results in the mitochondria (“powerhouse of the cell”) creating excess oxidative stress molecules. This oxidative stress, in turn, triggers the immune cells to “lash out” and begin hurting the body, rather than hurting infectious pathogens. In other words: autoimmunity.

This interplay between metabolism and immunity is just one more reason to control carbohydrates in the diet. Avoid refined starches and sugars in an effort to prevent dramatic (and often sustained) spikes in blood glucose. In doing so, you’ll know that you’re helping keep your immune system in check – only turning on when being invaded by infectious pathogens (rather than being invaded by harmful elevations in blood glucose).




This article is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.