Blood sugar balance
The amount of glucose in the blood is called the glycaemic level and when the stomach is empty this has been found to be about 1g of glucose for every litre of blood. When the glycaemic level falls below 1g, the pancreas secretes a hormone called glucagon which has the effect of releasing stored glucose from the liver and muscles to bring the level of glucose back to normal. When we eat carbohydrates, the glucose we absorb into the bloodstream causes the glycaemic level to rise and reach its peak. As the glucose level rises, the pancreas is triggered to release another hormone called insulin, which ensures excess glucose is removed from the blood and stored in the liver and muscles for future use, bringing the level of glucose to its normal level. This whole process takes about three hours to complete.
Normal Glucose Curve: Approximately one hour after eating a balanced meal consisting of complex carbohydrates, protein and some fats, blood glucose levels peak at about 170mg/100ml of blood. Two hours after the meal blood glucose levels drop back to the the starting point and level out. If we miss meal, the hormone glucagons breaks down stored glucose in the liver, helping us to maintain blood sugar levels.
Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar): Refined carbohydrates and sugars are rapidly digested and raise blood sugar levels very quickly, well above the safe range. Abnormally high blood glucose is toxic to cells and can damage tissues – such as the retina of the eye. To protect cells from damage, the pancreas secretes extra amounts of insulin to restore blood sugar balance. However, when the pattern of high blood glucose continues, the pancreas over-reacts and excessive amounts of insulin are secreted and an excessive amount of glucose is taken from the blood into the cells or stored as fat in adipose tissue (fat cells) once the cells are saturated with glucose. This results in hypoglycaemia. Rapid drops in blood glucose levels starve the brain of its primary fuel, glucose, and we experience symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, panic attacks, depression, poor concentration etc. To restore the blood glucose balance, we start craving sugary and starchy carbohydrates that will raise blood glucose levels quickly and the cycle of extreme highs and lows of glucose levels starts all over again.
Also, stimulants and stress can raise blood glucose levels via adrenaline, a hormone which prepares the body for the fight or flight response - excess glucose is released from stores in the liver and muscles in response to a perceived emergency situation. As the ‘stressors’ (alcohol, tea, coffee, chocolate, fizzy drinks etc) are false alarms, the excess blood glucose is not used up by activity and levels remain high causing the cycle of hypoglycaemia to start all over again.
Hypoglycaemia and Diabetes: Research has shown that over the years of eating a poor diet two things may happen – or a combination of both:
1.the pancreas is no longer able to secrete sufficient amounts of insulin to lower blood sugar levels.
2.the cell receptors become insensitive to insulin so that even though sufficient levels of insulin have been released into the blood, it cannot get into the cells in order to lower blood glucose levels.
Most frequently, there is a combination of both, resulting in constantly elevated blood glucose levels – Type II Diabetes!
The diagnosis of hypoglycaemia is usually based on a person’s history. Symptoms typically include fluctuating energy (with fatigue usually being worse in the afternoon). Sufferers often feel tired when they wake up as their blood sugar level tends to drop considerably overnight. Another common symptom is craving for sweet or starchy foods, which reflects the body’s natural desire for foods which will restore blood sugar levels quickly. Because the brain is a very glucose-dependent organ, hypoglycaemia will often precipitate mental symptoms such as irritability and poor concentration.
Frequent signs and symptoms:
Weakness or fainting
Craving for sweets
Feeling tired if a meal is missed
Feeling tired an hour or so after eating
Dizziness when standing suddenly
Occasional blurry vision
Frequent anxiety, nervousness,
Depression or mood swings
Atherosclerosis (furring of the arteries
Intermittent claudication (painful cramp in the calf muscle due to lack of oxygen)
Elevated cholesterol levels
Heart palpitations or irregularities
Excessive intake of carbohydrates – this is the most common cause and triggers the pancreas to secrete too much insulin.
Heavy exercise – can rapidly deplete available energy stores
Pregnancy – providing for the needs of the foetus places additional demands on sugar control mechanisms
Drugs such as tobacco, caffeine, alcohol, aspirin, and several prescription drugs.
Diseases such as kidney failure.
Consume a diet high in fibre and complex carbohydrates (blood sugar disorders have been conclusively shown to be related to inadequate dietary fibre intake. Water-soluble fibre slows digestion, increases cell sensitivity to insulin, and improves the uptake of glucose by the liver and other tissues, preventing a sustained elevation in blood sugar. High fibre foods include most vegetables (eaten raw or lightly steamed), beans, brown rice, oats, lentils, potatoes, soy products, fruits – especially apples, apricots, bananas, avocados, cantaloupe melon, grapefruits and lemons.
Remove or limit from the diet all alcohol, canned and packaged foods, refined and processed foods, dried fruits, salt, sugar, saturated fats, soft drinks and white flour. Also avoid foods containing artificial colours and preservatives. Avoiding alcohol is also beneficial because it interferes with normal glucose utilisation and increasing insulin secretion. The resulting drop in blood sugar produces a craving for foods that quickly elevate blood sugar, as well as a craving for more alcohol.
Avoid sweet fruits and juices such as prune and grape. If you drink these, mix with an equal amount of water.
For protein, eat low fat cottage cheese, fish, grains, nuts, seeds, skinless white turkey or chicken breast, and low fat yogurt.
Don’t go without food or consume large, heavy meals. Eat six to eight small meals throughout the day.
Use a rotation diet – food allergies and intolerances are often linked to hypoglycaemia and can make the symptoms more pronounced.
Stress is a major factor in hypoglycaemia, as it affects the adrenal glands and blood sugar levels.
Avoid tea and coffee or any drinks containing caffeine as these affect adrenal function leading to a rise in blood sugar levels.
Drink at least 1.5 litres of good quality water a day.
Take a high potency multivitamin and mineral supplement, with at least 400ui of folic acid, 400iu of vitamin B12, and 50-100mg of vitamin B6. A good daily multiple providing all of the known vitamins and minerals serves as a foundation upon which to build an individualised health-promoting programme.
Chromium – a key constituent of glucose tolerance factor, chromium functions as a co-factor in all insulin-regulating activities and plays a major role in the sensitivity of the cells to insulin. Chromium supplementation (200-400iu a day) should be combined with a regular exercise programme for maximum effect.
Milk thistle – protects the liver from toxins, including drugs and chemicals, reduces damage from excessive alcohol intake, helps to clear psoriasis. 200mg a day.