by Kristin Daniels
January 4, 2002
by Kristin Daniels
Low blood sugar-a blood sugar recession-can make the good
times recede. While you can't live without blood sugar, too
much or too little wreaks havoc on your body and mind. And
when blood sugar dips low enough to cause hypoglycemia you
may feel like your emotions have been shredded.
Knowing how the body regulates blood sugar allows you a
measure of control in keeping blood sugar in the proper
groove, and makes life a little sweeter.
Hypoglycemia occurs when you feel dragged out because of low
blood sugar. Ironically, this low blood sugar syndrome may
be caused by an overabundance of sugar in your meals and
snacks. Those who point to hypoglycemia as a widespread
problem claim that up to two of three women in America
suffer from hypoglycemia. That would make it an epidemic of
In a survey of 1000 folks complaining of hypoglycemia,
published in the Hypoglycemia Support Foundation's winter
2000 edition, researchers found that low blood sugar
sufferers complained of hypoglycemic discomforts in several
main categories: 94% of the people in the study reported
nervousness, 89% mentioned irritability, exhaustion affected
87%, depression struck 86% and drowsiness hit 73%. Other
miseries included fatigue, cold sweats, tinnitus (ringing of
the ears), rapid heart rate, blurry or double vision,
confusion, sudden hunger, convulsions, sweating, sleeping
problems, paleness, muscle pain, memory loss, crying jags,
fainting and dizziness.
Body of Evidence
Hypoglycemia may result from munching endless sweets and
never exercising (physical activity improves your body's
handling of sugar). Many sufferers of hypoglycemia may view
it as a disease, but the experts pigeonhole it, technically,
as a condition or syndrome. R. Paul St. Amand, MD, Professor
of Endocrinology at UCLA, points out that "in certain
people, the body is unable to process carbohydrates without
adverse consequences. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is
the name often used to denote a whole disease. But more
accurately it is only one of a cluster of symptoms that
together make up a syndrome." According to herbalist Cynthia
Hartson, ND, at Better Health Chiropractic and Natural
Family Health Care in Mission Viejo, California, when you
eat too many processed foods you set yourself up for a big
fall in blood sugar. "...As with many conditions out there,
you don't catch diseases, this one or any; you create an
environment in your body that allows these symptoms (and
conditions) to occur." Your body breaks down carbohydrates,
including those in vegetables, fruits, breads and grains,
into simpler sugars. As these carbohydrates pour into the
blood in the form of glucose, cells in the pancreas secrete
the hormone-like substance insulin. Insulin is supposed to
persuade cells to take up this in-flow of glucose and use it
But if, during this process, blood sugar drops too low, the
pancreas releases glucagon, which stimulates the release of
glucose into the blood to bring blood sugar levels back up.
Overindulging in sweets and processed foods may upset this
blood sugar balancing act. Americans consume about 120
pounds of sugar per person annually, a voluminous avalanche
compared to preindustrial times when we only took in about
seven pounds a year.
When you eat your way through this much sugar, Dr. St. Amand
claims, your body's "...excess amounts of carbohydrates
(generate) an overproduction of insulin. As your blood sugar
drops, your brain tunes out. Because a massive amount of
carbohydrates drives your insulin and glucagon down, the
fats (stored as carbohydrates) in your body can't be
released (for energy) and you crave more carbohydrates." As
you continue to consume large amounts of carbohydrates, the
pancreas secretes greater amounts of insulin to properly
transport the excesses of circulating blood sugar.
Eventually, every time you eat sugar, your pancreas may
release excessive insulin, which drives and keeps your blood
sugar low enough to make you feel like lying down in a
corner and telling the world to go away.
And there's more bad physiological news: Your adrenal glands
respond to this stress by producing adrenaline and dumping
it into the bloodstream in overabundance, causing anxiety,
trembling and panic attacks: frequent signs of a
hypoglycemic reaction. Adrenaline is supposed to stimulate
the liver to release glycogen (stored sugar) to get your
blood sugar back to a functioning level.
But once again, as your sugar cycle degenerates, the
pancreas increasingly produces more insulin to drive down
your blood sugar level. Your blood sugar may drop and stay
Many conventional doctors dismiss hypoglycemia as an
illusion. But Dr. St. Amand states that doctors are "hung up
on numbers." The glucose tolerance test, typically used to
diagnose hypoglycemia, is based on numbers and the numbers
often don't add up. Signs of hypoglycemia typically show up
to two to three hours after a meal or snack containing lots
of processed foods, when there is a rapid release of sugar
into the small intestine, followed by rapid glucose
absorption into the bloodstream and the consequent
production of a large amount of insulin. These reactions
occur so rapidly and unpredictably that catching them in a
glucose tolerance test is often impossible.
(Of course, see your health practitioner if you suffer
persistent health problems that may be caused by a serious
underlying condition or disease.)
Diary of a Maddening Condition
Keeping a food diary can help you discover what foods set
off your hypoglycemia. Be honest, and record everything:
your food, drinks, even breath mints! Note the time you eat,
the time you sleep, the exercise you do, and your moods to
see what triggers low blood sugar.
Once you identify your triggers, remove them.
When recommending ways to dodge hypoglycemia, Dr. St. Amand
says, "It is not what you add but what you remove" that's
Items that often cause problems include:
* Sugar (obviously) of all kinds: table sugar, corn syrup,
honey, sucrose, glucose, dextrose or maltose.
* Starches such as potatoes, rice, pasta and processed white
* Fruit juices.
* Caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate and soft drinks), which
intensifies the action of insulin.
The National Hypoglycemia Association says that foods which
many hypoglycemia sufferers find to be helpful are those
high in soluble dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates:
whole grains, legumes and vegetables, which may be absorbed
more gradually than processed items. Slower carbohydrate
absorption may help prevent the major swings in blood sugar
levels that foments hypoglycemia.
Eating smaller meals and snacking often may ease blood sugar
fluctuations. Incorporate fats into your snacks to decrease
the flow of carbohydrates into your bloodstream and decrease
carbohydrate cravings. Whole-wheat crackers with natural
peanut butter, vegetables dipped in organic olive oil,
packaged nuts and seeds, rice cakes, and soy cheese may slow
Your food diary should also record your activity level, the
amount of water you drink, and indicate the times you feel
While your diary may show that the stresses and lifestyle
items that most frequently trigger your hypoglycemia are
different than those that cause problems in others, you will
probably discover that exercise significantly helps to
dispel low blood sugar discomforts.
Exercise tones your muscles, improves circulation and aids
in digestion. It increases circulation and helps your
muscles metabolize sugars more effectively.
Ask your relatives to find others in your family who suffer
diabetes, hyperinsulism or hypoglycemia. Roberta Ruggiero,
president of the Hypoglycemia Support Foundation, Inc., and
author of the book The Dos and Don'ts of Low Blood Sugar
(Lifetime), notes that genetics plays a large role in
reactive hypoglycemia. "In a survey of confirmed
hypoglycemics," she states, "it was found that approximately
64 percent of them had one or more family members who had
been diagnosed with diabetes." If you know someone in your
family suffers this kind of problem, you can find it helpful
to see what works for them to relieve the discomforts of low
blood sugar. And you can share with them what works for you.
Together, you can slip the shackles of hypoglycemia and
sweeten your days.