Hypoglycemia is a condition characterized by low blood sugar, usually happening 3 to 5 hours after a meal. Typical symptoms may include; headache, mood changes, irritability, nervousness, excessive sweating, mental confusion, and blurred vision.
There can be a few different causes, but far and away the most common cause is from the over-stressing of the normal control mechanisms of glucose storage and release in the body. This happens for 2 main reasons – consistently eating foods that raise blood sugar too quickly alternating with periods of not eating and the biochemical result of chronic stress.
It is also important to note that hypoglycemia, although seemingly the opposite of diabetes, is a precursor to diabetes, and as such, needs to be seen as a serious potential health risk, as opposed to just an inconvenience.
There are numerous diagnostic tests that may be used to identify hypoglycemia, however, the easiest and maybe most accurate way is through a simple questionnaire. It must be understood that every one of these “symptoms” can occur for other reasons, so other causes should be ruled out before assuming that hypoglycemia is the issue. And yet, when most of these symptoms are present, there is a strong likelihood that blood sugar control is a root cause.
Because blood sugar is the only source of energy that the brain can use (as opposed to the rest of the body being able to break down muscle for an energy source if needed), low blood sugar can result in all manner of brain dysfunction issues, including confusion, aggression, anxiety, depression, etc. Additionally, chronic headaches, attention issues and even PMS symptoms may all be linked to hypoglycemia. Blood sugar regulation problems should be evaluated and considered much more than it does in medicine today.
Diet and other lifestyle factors are usually the cause of hypoglycemia. This fact gives us the means to make this problem go away without medical intervention.
Understanding the mechanics of blood sugar management in the body and which foods cause rapid increases in blood sugar are the foundations needed to reverse hypoglycemia.
When blood sugar rises quickly, the body responds by equally quickly releasing insulin to “do something” with that sugar. Instantly raised sugar levels is an indication to the body that sugar will keep coming, and the result is actually an over-production of insulin. The result is actually an “over-clearing” of sugar from the blood. Remember that the brain can only use blood sugar as fuel, so when this happens it is brain function that suffers – thus the hypoglycemia symptoms. Another result of this cascade of chemical events is that the body is instructed to go out and eat more sugar.
The glycemic index (GI) of a food is a measure of the property of how quickly it causes blood sugar to rise. The higher the GI is, the worse it is for blood sugar control. There is another index used to better measure the effect of a serving of a food – glycemic load (GL). This takes into account the “density” of particular foods and how a serving would affect blood sugar. Keeping the foods under a GL of 15 would be tremendously helpful for helping to control hypoglycemia. For instance, even though the GI of watermelon is 72 (pretty high) the GL of watermelon is only 4. So a serving of watermelon is actually fine. Of course, eating an entire watermelon would be a problem.
The fiber content of food is also very important in controlling rapid rises in blood sugar for 3 reasons. First, it slows down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, thereby preventing rapid rises in blood sugar. Second, it increases cell sensitivity to insulin, thereby preventing the excessive secretion of insulin. And third, fiber improves the uptake of glucose by the liver and other tissues, thereby preventing a sustained elevation of blood sugar. This is why most processed and refined carbohydrates (bread, pasta, cereal, most grains) are bad for hypoglycemia; processing = removed or poor fiber.
The best diet strategy for the hypoglycemic is to replace processed and refined carbohydrates in the diet with more fresh fruits, vegetables and quality proteins. Furthermore, the person suffering with hypoglycemia should never, ever go more than 3 hours without eating something. In between meals, a handful of nuts, a low GI protein bar, or a piece of whole fruit will all work well to keep to eating something every 2-3 hours. More details are in this article, A Therapeutic Lifestyle Change.
The biggest lifestyle consideration, other than diet, is consistent exercise. Exercise actually helps to normalize blood sugar by enhancing insulin sensitivity. The best way to go is to dedicate half of whatever time to have for exercise to building muscle and the other half to some sort of aerobic activity. And the aerobic part should be interval training.
Alcohol consumption also needs to be curtailed for the hypoglycemic. Alcohol induces reactive hypoglycemia by interfering with normal glucose utilization, as well as increasing the secretion of insulin.
There are numerous supplements to choose from for help with sugar control. Here are the basics and also supplements for being more aggressive.
The basics for everyone:
For when being more aggressive is warranted: