Everyone knows about high blood sugar and the devastating effects it can have on one's health and longevity. But low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can be just as dangerous-and it does not get nearly the attention that it should.
Simply put, hypoglycemia occurs when the body does not have enough glucose to use as fuel. It most commonly affects people with type 2 diabetes who take medication that sometimes works too well, resulting in low blood sugar.
Who gets overlooked: In other people, hypoglycemia can be precursor to diabetes that is often downplayed by doctors and/or missed by tests. Having low blood sugar might even make you think that you are far from having diabetes...when, in fact, the opposite is true.
Hypoglycemia can also be an underlying cause of anxiety that gets mistakenly treated with psychiatric drugs rather than the simple steps (see next page) that can stabilize blood sugar levels. That's why anyone who seems to be suffering from an anxiety disorder needs to be seen by a doctor who takes a complete medical history and orders blood tests. When a patient comes to me complaining of anxiety, hypoglycemia is one of the first things I test for.
What's the link between hypoglycemia and anxiety? A sudden drop in blood sugar deprives the brain of oxygen. This, in turn, causes the adrenal glands to release adrenaline, the 'emergency" hormone, which may lead to agitation, or anxiety, as the body's fight-or-flight mechanism kicks in.
The Dangers of Hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia has sometimes been called carbohydrate intolerance, because the body's insulin-releasing mechanism is impaired in a manner similar to what occurs in diabetics. In people without diabetes, hypoglycemia is usually the result of eating too many simple carbohydrates (such as sugar and white flour). The pancreas then overreacts and releases too much insulin, thereby excessively lowering blood sugar.
The good news is that hypoglycemia-if it's identified-is not that difficult to control through diet and the use of specific supplements. Hypoglycemia should be considered a warning sign that you must adjust your carbohydrate intake or risk developing type 2 diabetes.
Caution: An episode of hypoglycemia in a person who already has diabetes can be life threatening and requires prompt care, including the immediate' intake of sugar-a glass of orange juice or even a sugar cube can be used.
Common symptoms of hypoglycemia include: Fatigue, dizziness, shakiness and faintness .. .irritability and depression .. . weakness or cramps in the feet and legs... numbness or tingling in the hands, feet or face... ringing in the ears...swollen feet or legs... tightness in the chest... heart palpitations... nightmares and panic attacks... "drenching" night sweats (not menopausal or perimenopausal hot flashes)...constant hunger... headaches and migraines... impaired memory and concentration... blurred vision...nasal congestion... abdominal cramps, loose stools and diarrhea.
A Tricky Diagnosis
Under-the-radar hypoglycemia (known as "subclinical hypoglycemia") is difficult to diagnose because symptoms may be subtle and irregular, and test results can be within normal ranges. Technically, if your blood sugar drops below 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), you are considered hypoglycemic. But people without diabetes do not check their blood sugar levels on their own, so it is important to be aware of hypoglycemia symptoms.
If you suspect that you may have hypoglycemia, talk to your physician. Ideally, you should arrange to have your blood glucose levels tested when you are experiencing symptoms. You will then be asked to eat food so that your blood glucose can be tested again. If this approach is impractical for you, however, talk to your doctor about other testing methods.
The Right Treatment
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, hypoglycemia may indicate that your diabetes medication dose needs to be adjusted. The sugar treatment described earlier can work in an emergency but is not recommended as a long-term treatment for hypoglycemia. Left untreated, hypoglycemia in a person with diabetes can lead to loss of consciousness and even death.
In addition to getting their medication adjusted, people with diabetes-and those who are at risk for it due to hypoglycemia-can benefit from the following...
· A high-protein diet and healthful fats. To keep your blood sugar levels stabilized, consume slowly absorbed, unrefined carbohydrates, such as brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal and sweet potatoes. Also, get moderate amounts of healthful fats, such as those found in avocado, olive oil and fatty fish, including salmon... and protein, such as fish, meat, chicken, soy and eggs.
Recommended protein intake: 10% to 35% of daily calories. If you have kidney disease, get your doctor's advice on protein intake.
· Eat several small meals daily. Start with breakfast to give your body fuel for the day (if you don't, stored blood sugar will be released into your bloodstream) and then have a small "meal" every three to four waking hours.
· Avoid tobacco and limit your use of alcohol and caffeine. They cause an excessive release of neurotransmitters that, in tum, trigger the pancreas to deliver insulin inappropriately.
The supplements below also help stabilize blood sugar levels (and can be used in addition to a daily multivitamin)...*
· Chromium and vitamin B-6. Chromium helps release accumulated sugars in the liver, which can lead to a dangerous condition called fatty liver. Vitamin B-6 supports chromium's function and helps stabilize glucose levels.
Typical daily dose: 200 micrograms (mcg) of chromium with 100 milligrams (mg) of vitamin B-6.
· Glutamine. As the most common amino acid found in muscle tissue, glutamine plays a vital role in controlling blood sugar. Glutamine is easily converted to glucose when blood sugar is low.
Typical daily dose: Up to four 500-mg capsules daily... or add glutamine powder to a protein drink or a smoothie that does not contain added sugar-these drinks are good options for your morning routine. Glutamine is best taken 30 minutes before a meal to cut your appetite by balancing your blood sugar.