LOW BLOOD SUGAR is caused, paradoxically, by eating too much sugar. When the sugar reaches the blood, which happens within seconds after you eat it, the body produces insulin to normalize the blood-sugar level. In a person suffering from hypoglycemia, the body produces too much insulin. The blood-sugar level is decreased so rapidly and thoroughly that the person suffers distressing symptoms including headaches, fatigue, depression, anxiety, dizziness, lack of mental alertness, and rapid mood swings.
A number of years ago hypoglycemia became "popular," and many people decided that they suffered from it. Reacting to this fad, many doctors have dismissed the disorder entirely, claiming it doesn't exist. I believe the truth is somewhere in between: Not everyone who claims to have hypoglycemia suffers from it, but many people have some degree of difficulty in handling refined sugar in their diet and they commonly experience symptoms.
In my practice I see many people with blood-sugar problems. They may be chronically fatigued, headachy, or depressed; feel tired in the morning; have trouble concentrating; and suffer late afternoon fatigue. And their symptoms are exacerbated by not eating. Many of them have been to doctors and have been told that they had no specific medical problem, yet when they follow the program for hypoglycemia outlined here, their symptoms disappear. If you suspect that your vague symptoms as described are caused by low blood sugar, it is well worth following the recommendations to see if you feel better. You can get a good indication of whether you could have an adverse reaction to sugar, if you suffer any of the above symptoms shortly after eating simple sugar or two to four hours after an all-carbohydrate meal.
How can too much sugar cause so many symptoms? Sugar gives your body a temporary lift, but over the long haul it puts the body under great stress. When you eat too much of it, refined or otherwise, the sugar levels in your blood rise to abnormal heights. In an effort to return things to normal, your pancreas produces insulin, the hormone that regulates sugar levels. If you don't have hypoglycemia--or if you don't regularly eat too much sugar--your pancreas can easily handle isolated overdoses of sugar. But if you are a virtual sugar addict, your pancreas goes into overdrive at every rise in blood-sugar levels: It overreacts, flooding your body with insulin, which makes your blood-sugar level take a nosedive. In response, the adrenal glands release anti-stress hormones that in turn release the sugar stored in the liver for emergencies. The result? Everything gets worn out--the pancreas, the adrenal glands, and the liver. And your symptoms are nervousness, palpitations, anxiety, headaches, butterflies in the stomach, and so on.
Eventually, someone who has experienced this pattern will find that their symptoms are constant. They complain of chronic irritability and constant fatigue, unrelieved by sleep. By this time, they notice they cannot go very long without eating or their symptoms get worse.
Why do blood-sugar fluctuations seem to affect the brain, causing the symptoms associated with anxiety? The brain requires a constant adequate level of blood sugar to function properly. It is more dependent on blood sugar, or glucose, than any other organ. Low glucose levels resulting from the severe dip after a high sugar intake tax the brain and cause the headaches and other symptoms that plague sugar addicts.
Americans consume more than eighty pounds of sugar per person a year or about thirty teaspoons a day. In addition, we eat large quantities of refined carbohydrates--white flour, for example, which is turned into glucose in the body. Even if you don't own a sugar bowl, half of your sugar intake is probably hidden in the foods you buy. Cookies and ice cream are obvious sources of sugar, but most people are unaware that catsup, prepared frozen meals, and salad dressings also contain sugar.
Simple changes in your diet plus a few supplements can make an enormous difference in how you feel. Many of my patients have found that by following this program for hypoglycemia they not only are relieved of their symptoms but also have more energy and enthusiasm for life and, in many cases, they've lost weight.
I recommend that all my patients--not only those suffering from hypoglycemia--eliminate or cut way down on their sugar intake. Sugar has so many negative effects on the body that you don't need to feel the symptoms of hypoglycemia to be suffering on some level from overconsumption of sweets.
To fight hypoglycemia you must of course cut out the obvious: sugar, honey, cakes, candies, cookies, ice cream, sodas, sweetened cereal, canned fruit, frozen desserts, honey, and other sweetened foods. You must also learn to read labels carefully. Here are the most common sugar additives you'll find listed on a food label: corn syrup, glucose, molasses, sucrose, lactose, maple syrup, fructose, maltose, sorghum
Ingredients on a label are listed in descending order of amounts used; a product that counts sugar as its second ingredient probably has an enormous amount of sugar in it. Just as bad are products where two or three types of sugar are listed. Though they may be near the bottom of the list, leading you to think that there isn't a great deal of sugar in the product, if you could add up all the different types of sugar as a percentage of total ingredients you may find that sugar is in fact the main ingredient! Look carefully and you'll find that many brands of soup, spaghetti sauce, catsup, mayonnaise, cranberry sauce, and peanut butter contain sugar. You can find comparable products that don't contain sugar, but you may have to search for them.
Avoid simple carbohydrates and refined and processed foods such as instant rice and potatoes, white flour, soft drinks, and alcohol. Instead stick to a diet high in complex carbohydrates and fiber, both of which help to stabilize blood sugar. Whole grain products should be a large part of your diet. Stick to the most natural, unprocessed form of a food: An apple is better than apple juice.
Eat regular meals at regular times. You would be amazed at how many of my patients, who should certainly have known better, used to skip meals. Regular meals are especially important for people with hypoglycemia because regular food intake keeps the blood sugar stable. If you miss a meal you're much more likely to crave a sweet snack to relieve your symptoms. Don't skip breakfast. Don't have a late lunch. Don't have a late dinner. Try to eat your meals at nearly the same time each day if at all possible.
It's important to have protein at both lunch and dinner. Protein tends to produce much less of an insulin response than do carbohydrates. Don't have just a salad at lunch. I suggest fish (water-packed tuna is good), chicken, or turkey as the best choices for protein.
Some doctors recommend that people who suffer from hypoglycemia have frequent small meals--six to eight meals throughout the day. Most of my patients find that this is too difficult to arrange, so I recommend that in addition to your regular meals, you routinely eat midmorning, midafternoon, and bedtime snacks such as a piece of fruit. Some of my patients like to have a piece of whole-wheat toast with fruit butter at bedtime. A few whole-wheat crackers (check to be sure they don't contain sugar), popcorn (of course without butter), and rice cakes can also make handy snacks.
It's important for people with blood-sugar problems to avoid caffeine, alcohol, and smoking. All of these cause precipitous changes in bloodsugar levels. I've found that caffeine, alcohol, and smoking also make it more difficult for my patients to give up sugar. Because they cause rapid fluctuations in blood-sugar levels, they create cravings for sweets and/or more caffeine, tobacco, or alcohol. I do think that it's acceptable to have one caffeinated beverage a day. (Remember to watch out for caffeine in soft drinks and in over-the-counter medicines.) Many of my patients' have a cup of coffee in the morning, but I tell them that they should have some food in their stomach before that first sip and, of course, they don't continue to drink coffee throughout the day. Most people find this a relatively easy change to make, even those who were drinking up to six or seven cups of coffee daily.
Many patients ask me about artificial sweeteners. I'm against them, particularly for people with blood-sugar problems. There are a variety of health problems associated with artificial sweeteners. While the risk for most people is low, I think the more important issue is that they encourage people with a sweet tooth to continue having sweet cravings. Many of my patients have been surprised to find that when they eliminate sugar from their diet, even if they were heavy sugar users, within a few weeks their taste for sugar diminishes. If you continue to use artificial sweeteners, you prevent this from happening.
There is a nutrient that I use with hypoglycemic patients and it has proven to be something of a miracle in controlling blood sugar and reducing sweet cravings. Chromium, a trace mineral, is essential to the proper functioning of insulin. Unfortunately, the average American diet is deficient in chromium. I've found that the trivalent form of chromium taken three times a day before meals is most effective for controlling sweet cravings, reducing appetite, and keeping energy levels up between meals.
NATURAL TREATMENTS FOR HYPOGLYCEMIA:
- Eliminate sugar from the diet. This also means no cakes, candies, cookies, ice cream, sweetened cereal, canned fruit, and frozen desserts. In addition, you must learn to read food labels to find hidden sources of sugar. See text on how to assess a food label.
- Avoid simple carbohydrates and refined and processed foods such as instant rice and potatoes, white flour, soft drinks, and alcohol.
- Eat a diet high in complex carbohydrates and fiber, both of which help to stabilize blood sugar. Try to stick to the most natural, unprocessed form of a food.
- Eat regular meals at regular times. Don't skip meals. Don't eat late meals. Have protein at both lunch and dinner.
- Eliminate alcohol and smoking.
- Limit your caffeine intake to one caffeinated beverage--coffee or tea --daily. Watch out for caffeinated soft drinks and over-the-counter drugs.
- Eliminate the use of artificial sweeteners.
IN ADDITION TO YOUR DALLY SUPPLEMENTS, TAKE:
- Chromium: the trivalent form in dosages of 100 mcg. three times a clay before meals.