Hypoglycemia - scroll down for glycemic Index resources last updated 8.25.05

Hypoglycemia which means low blood sugar. This is an often overlooked situation that can be improved with some simple attention to the diet. This situation can sneak in at times with eating issues and digestive problems.

Glucose is a type of sugar found in the blood, and is the food for the brain. When we eat and digest food, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is absorbed into the blood stream. The blood stream carries the glucose to every cell in the body. Unused glucose is stored in the liver as glycogen. As the amounts of glucose in the blood stream rise after eating, the pancreas is signaled to release a hormone called insulin (as well as digestive enzymes). The insulin causes the body cells to absorb the glucose out of the blood stream which drops the level of sugar in the blood. If too much insulin is produced, the amount of glucose leaving the blood is greater than the amount coming in. The net effect is the blood sugar level becomes too low. If this level of low blood sugar persists, then the brain does not get the food it needs and the other parts of the body do not get the energy they need. The brain depends on glucose as its only source of fuel.

The body adjusts to constant low blood sugar eventually by breaking down muscle protein to feed glucose to brain cells, and breaking down fat to fuel the other cells in the body.

When blood glucose falls, it needs to be replaced by having a meal or a snack. The person may just feel hungry, or experience an intense sugar craving triggered by the body's attempt to raise the brain's glucose level. If you eat a source of "quick energy," such as a candy bar, a cola beverage, or other "junk" food, your blood glucose concentration may rise too high too fast. The pancreas overreacts and secretes too much insulin, which has the net effect of pushing even more blood sugar out of the blood. Eating a complex carbohydrate food (cracker, bagel, cereal, fruit, vegetable, starch or grain product) is recommended because complex carbohydrates deliver less glucose over a longer period of time. This reduces the more intense swings in insulin production. Adding protein or fat along with the carbohydrate is even a better choice. Protein or fat slows down the digestion of the carbohydrate. Something as simple as giving a little protein along with all snacks and meals can reduce hyperness and moodiness in sensitive children and adults.

Eating smaller meals more frequently (about every 3 hours) help maintain a consistent level of blood sugar. Avoid sugar and sugar- containing foods and beverages, especially on an empty stomach. Try to eat at the same time every day and avoid skipping meals. People with very sensitive nervous systems may react to smaller changes in blood sugar level. My neurologist made a point at our very first meeting for us to ALWAYS try to eat at the same time, go to sleep at the same, and get up at the same time every day because it helps calm and stabilize the nervous system.

During episodes of low blood sugar, the individual may have symptoms such as anxiety, hunger, dizziness, irritability, weakness, shaking muscles, concentration problems, moodiness, hyperactivity, vomiting and racing heart. There may be marked personality changes and may even seem intoxicated. You can also expect any of the classical
symptoms of depression. Symptoms usually appear 2 to 5 hours after eating foods high in glucose or carbohydrates. Usually, these symptoms can be relieved by eating quickly with a properly balanced meal or snack.

In diabetes, the pancreas either does not secrete insulin, or not enough insulin, or the insulin produced is not used effectively by the body. The glucose sugar levels in the blood remain high because there isn't sufficient insulin to move the glucose out of the blood and into the cells to be used. Some people need to give themselves insulin to assist this process. If the amount of insulin isn't regulated correctly, too much glucose can be removed from the blood and result in hypoglycemia. This is why a person with diabetes must constantly monitor their diet, food intake levels and blood sugar levels throughout each day.

A diet or lifestyle high in refined sugars, highly processed foods, caffeine, emotional stress or a combination of these factors can cause reactive hypoglycemia. Refining foods strips them of the necessary nutrients and enzymes for their digestion and metabolism. These things stimulate the production of insulin without contributing to nutrition for the body. The net effect is that generally blood sugar levels are kept lower than normal (except right after eating). Eventually any sugar from any source will trigger the pancreas to secrete excessive amounts of insulin. This is how some forms of diabetes develop over time.

If you think hypoglycemia is a factor, you may want to look at a glycemic index. This is a list which shows how certain carbohydrates affect blood glucose. A higher glycemic index number indicates a greater rise in blood sugar.


Searchable Glycemic Index - rather fun

Basic Glycemic Index List

Downloadable List of 750 foods



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