Hypoglycemia describes a condition where a person’s blood sugar dips too low, to a point where they begin to feel symptoms.
But first, what does the term ‘blood sugar’ even mean?
Blood sugar refers to the levels of glucose (a type of sugar) in our bloodstream. Yes, we actually have sugar coursing through our blood vessels at all times. In fact, it’s our body’s primary source of energy. Therefore, levels of glucose (sugar) are kept within a very narrow range for our well being. Too high, and we’ve got problems. Too low, and we’ve got other problems!
How Does It Work?
Our body works to keep our blood sugars within a relatively tight range at all times. Very generally, blood sugar levels rise soon after eating and digestion have occurred; then, those levels go back down with the help of insulin, a hormone that comes from the pancreas.
A normal healthy range for blood sugar is considered to be between 70 and 99 mg/dl. Of course, if you’re on either far end of this range, that’s too close to be considered completely healthy and some action should be taken.
Hypoglycemia occurs when blood sugar levels become too low (for a number of reasons we’ll cover ) and a person starts to experience the symptoms of low blood sugar. These can include some, but not all of the following:
-Rapid heart rate
A person doesn’t have to have all of these symptoms as a part of hypoglycemia. They may only have 1 or 2. Regardless, having low blood sugar can be extremely uncomfortable.
Causes of Hypoglycemia
Now, there are several causes of hypoglycemia. Most often it’s the result of diabetes or other medicines. It can also be caused by hormonal issues, certain chronic diseases, or excess alcohol consumption.
However, most of the time low blood sugar is the result of what’s known as reactive hypoglycemia.
This is a situation wherein a person’s pancreas ‘overreacts’ to the presence of carbohydrates, and pulls the blood sugar levels down too low. (Remember the hormone insulin works to take sugar out of the blood stream and into the cells for energy production).
You can think of this as an overzealous reaction to the presence of elevated blood sugar - the pancreas senses this, releases either too much insulin or a person’s cells may be especially sensitive to the reaction of insulin - either way, the effect is that blood sugar dips too low - and symptoms ensue.
But, it’s important to note that this type of hypoglycemia isn’t a ‘condition’ as many people think. It’s a symptom of an underlying imbalance. People who experience this condition are especially sensitive the to the effects of insulin on their blood sugar, in the presence of carbohydrates. Put another way, the more carbohydrates a person consumes, the more insulin they’re producing and the more frequently their blood sugars get pulled down too low.
The best solution for this is to eat a diet that contains few to no simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates include things like bread, bagels, pasta, cookies, or basically anything made from processed flours. These foods have the greatest influence on insulin production.
Complex carbohydrates (veggies and fruits) will stimulate insulin production but at a lower rate. Additionally, foods that are rich in fat and protein have very little if any influence on insulin production, and when eaten in combination with complex carbohydrates, this will blunt the rise of blood sugar and insulin in response, thereby sparing the side effect of too-low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia.
A diet rich in healthy fats, lean proteins and only complex carbohydrates can help alleviate many instances of hypoglycemia. Initially, making this dietary shift can be uncomfortable as metabolism transfers from being so heavily carbohydrate dependent and blood sugars balance out.
Supplementing with nutrients like vanadium, magnesium and copper help to influence a more stable insulin release, while the botanical medicines Momordica charantia and Gymnema sylvestre slow the rate of sugar absorption from the stomach (decreasing the need for insulin).
These nutrients are found in combination in Glycemic Formula.
Omega-3 fats are another nutrient that help maintain a steady blood sugar and support the production of our body’s own anti-inflammatory chemicals.
Used in combination with a diet rich in lean proteins (animal and non-animal sources), healthy fats (nuts, seeds, avocado, fish, and liquid oils) and high-fiber foods (vegetables and fruits) this can minimize bouts of hypoglycemia and possibly even get rid of them.
Remember, reactive hypoglycemia is a symptom of excess insulin action combined with carbohydrate sensitivity and is often minimized with dietary and nutritional changes.
Here’s more information about reactive hypoglycemia and exercise.