Hypoglycemia, literally translated as “low blood sugar”, was first described in 1924, though it was called hyperinsuliism at that time. It can be definitively diagnosed by a 4 hour Glucose-Insulin Tolerance Test (GITT), which consists of giving a fasting patient a prescribed amount of glucose, then measuring blood sugar and insulin levels at specified intervals. A 4 hour GITT is considered the state-of-the-art method for early detection of glucose/insulin regulation abnormalities. The condition can be diagnosed clinically through a high degree of suspicion by a knowledgeable physician obtained through careful history taking and response to an appropriate trial of treatment. Symptoms characteristic of hypoglycemia include, but are not limited to: weakness, irritability, internal trembling, palpitations, mental confusion, perspiration, mood swings, ravenous hunger, faintness, obesity, feelings of going crazy and sweet cravings. Hyperinsulinemia is a preferred term to hypoglycemia, inasmuch as the term “low blood sugar” brings to mind the possibility that one needs more sugar, while hyperinsulinemia brings to mind the possibility that one needs to make less insulin. The latter is more appropriate as it addresses the cause of low blood sugar.
The inability of the body to maintain a more constant blood sugar level without fluctuating highs and lows is caused by many influences. Over-processing of foods and the resulting excess amount of refined carbohydrates (all refined sugars. corn syrups. white flour, white rice. sodas. etc.) and the resulting nutrient depletion in the diet is the major cause of hypoglycemia in the United States. This denatured diet contributes to a fluctuating blood sugar by overtaxing the pancreas, which is then stimulated to produce more and more insulin in response to rising blood sugar levels. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas which allows the blood sugar glucose to be used as energy in our cells. Complex carbohydrates such as whole wheat, brown rice, oats, potatoes–foods that have not had the nutrients and fiber stripped out of them by refining–are converted into glucose more slowly than refined carbohydrates, but nonetheless are all converted to glucose. The resulting roller coaster of high and low blood sugar is in motion, and you can’t get off until you figure out how to break this vicious cycle.
Other factors contributing to hypoglycemia are:
- Stress. Stress, whether physical, emotional, or environmental, results in a physiological response from your body which utilizes nutrients and can deplete our stores of vitamins and minerals quite quickly. Adrenalin is the “fight or flight” hormone secreted by the cortex of the adrenal gland and is secreted when our blood sugar gets too low as adrenalin mobilizes a stored form of glucose called glycogen as an emergency measure to correct low blood sugar. Adrenalin is responsible for many of the symptoms of hypoglycemia–tremors, rapid heart beat, hunger, etc. Insulin and adrenalin are both stress hormones, and thus are elevated during increased stress.
- Nutrient deficiencies contribute to hypoglycemia. We especially see chromium, pyridoxine, zinc, magnesium, niacin and Pantothenic acid deficiencies contribute to the likelihood of low or fluctuating blood sugars. Dimethylglycine (DMG) taken sublingually can be of great help in dealing with symptoms of low blood sugar quickly. Brewer’s yeast is an excellent source of trace minerals which help one’s body cope with hypoglycemia
- Drugs and beverages containing caffeine (coffee and sodas mainly) contribute greatly to hypoglycemia, by stimulating the adrenal glands, thereby encouraging the liver to release glycogen, the body’s stored form of glucose, into the circulation. (Note that the symptoms listed above are very similar to caffeine overdose.)
- Undiagnosed allergies to any food, but especially to corn and its by-products, can contribute to hypoglycemia also.
- Alcohol can contain significant carbohydrate such as beer or wine and is often served with fruit juices, sodas or ice cream and can thus cause rapid rising (and subsequent falling) of blood sugar. Those who use alcohol to excess chronically often suffer from severe nutritional deficiencies.
As one might speculate from reading about the causes of hypoglycemia, it is a nutritional illness and its treatment is thus nutritionally based. Choices in diet exist which are palatable and very effective in managing the symptoms of hypoglycemia, at the same time reducing the stress on the body and allowing it to heal. Generally, one can follow the diet recommended in the handout Pro-Metabolic Nutrition available from the Medical Center. Some additions, clarifications and comments will be made here to aid in your understanding and success in reclaiming your health.
The frequency of eating needs to be increased. You are advised to initially eat several small “meals” daily. This avoids drops in blood sugar and the symptoms resulting from it. Generally five meals per day are indicated, although some may consider three of these meals to be snacks. Skipping meals is experienced by a person with low blood sugar as fasting and greatly increases symptoms. Avoid fasting.
The key to success in treating hypoglycemia is to avoid all refined or simple carbohydrates and the foods they are in–candies, cakes, cookies, ice cream, white breads, white rice, sodas, etc., and a reduction of complex carbohydrates such as bread, potatoes, pasta, biscuits, cereals, etc. All forms of sugar, including honey, corn syrup, fructose, glucose, mannitol, sorbitol, molasses, dextrose, malt, cane sugar, beet sugar, lactose, sorghum, maple syrup, syrups, date sugar, brown sugar, turbinado, etc. are prohibited. Avoid processed foods which contain these forms of sugar. Eat these foods and you win a non-stop ticket on the roller coaster of rising and falling blood sugars. Avoidance means you will have to read food labels. For instance, “100% natural” is not reassuring to someone who must avoid sugars–most sugars are refined from natural sources. If you return to a diet high in refined or complex carbohydrates, you can expect to recreate the same situation from which you once sought relief.
Artificial sweeteners may aggravate symptoms of hypoglycemia due to the fact that a sweet taste on the tongue, and not only a high blood sugar level, can cause the pancreas to secrete insulin into the bloodstream, and due to the fact that they are chemical stressors that need detoxification. Detoxification requires the presence many nutrients, so can deplete nutrients over time. The pancreas can be tricked by the mere taste of sugar and reacts in the way it is programmed to, and that leaves some sensitive persons plummeting on that roller coaster once again. Avoid foods and beverages that are artificially sweetened. Read the supplemental information on Nutrasweet available from the Medical Center. Stevia is a natural sweetener which is available at the Medical Center and health food stores. Once you get off the roller coaster, your taste and cravings for that sweet taste will likely lessen and “real” food without refined sugars can taste unbelievably sweet and flavorful.
Avoid overeating. Overeating, regardless of the content of the food, stimulates the production of insulin, as a result of stretching the stomach. Continued overstimulation of any gland or tissue leads to eventual inability of that gland or tissue to function at normal levels-inability to function.
Although fresh fruits are a source of fiber and nutrients, they simply contain too much sugar for those trying to find relief from hypoglycemia. Fruit juices are prohibited as they contain too much sugar and will undermine success. Initially avoid all fruit which trying to rest the pancreas and adrenal glands. After symptom relief is attained, you may try introducing very small quantities of less sweet fruits. Eat only fresh and whole fruit. Slightly green fruits don’t contain as much sugar as rip or overripe fruits. Cranberries, limes, lemons, cherries, and berries in general are not as sweet as others. Avoid dried fruits, as their sugars are concentrated through drying.
Protein either from animal or vegetarian sources needs be eaten as a beneficial part of a diet for hypoglycemia, inasmuch as protein does not contribute greatly to excess blood sugar. Protein is necessary for the maintenance and repair of our tissues. Balance this animal protein with ample amounts of “leaner” vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, romaine, spinach, bok choy, green beans, radishes, mushrooms, turnips, etc. These are nutrient dense foods needed to compensate for the nutritional deficiencies characteristic of the Standard American Diet (SAD).
Fat is an essential part of the diet necessary to heal from hypoglycemia, inasmuch as it is a source of calories that does not contribute to insulin or adrenalin excess. Essential fatty acid depletion is characteristic of the SAD and its repletion is necessary to recover from hypoglycemia Refer to Pro-Metabolic Nutrition available from the Medical Center for further information on the avoidance of “bad” fats and definition of healthful fats.
Lastly, don’t think of yourself as having a disease. Your body is simply doing what it is designed to do, miraculously so, and it is not the problem. The problem is that your body is receiving a low octane fuel (sugar), when it is designed to run on high octane (fat). This situation is more similar to a poisoning than a disease. Remove the cause and enjoy improved health.
If you would like to find out more schedule a 15 minute health advisor call or contact us to schedule an appointment with our providers at our Asheville office.