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Hypoglycaemia

Hypoglycaemia is low blood sugar.  Normally, the body maintains blood sugar levels within a narrow range through the work of several glands and their hormones.  When these finely balanced control mechanisms are disrupted, hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) or diabetes (high blood sugar) may result.  Normally, as food is digested, levels of bloods sugar rise gradually, signalling the pancreas to secrete insulin, a hormone which lowers blood sugar levels by increasing the rate at which our cells recognise glucose (blood sugar) and lets it into the cells themselves.

When blood sugar levels drop (eg overnight), or because our energy needs are increased (eg exercise), another hormone is released by the pancreas called glucagon.  Glucagon stimulates the release of glucose that has been stored in the liver and muscles whenever our blood sugar drops.  A rapid drop in blood sugar can be caused by anger, fright or stress, and this stimulates the adrenals to release adrenaline (the fight-or-flight hormone) so that stored glucose is broken down quickly and released into the bloodstream for emergency needs.    The term ‘Syndrome X’ has been coined to describe changes in blood sugar levels, leading to hypoglycaemia, excessive insulin secretion, and glucose intolerance, followed by diminished insulin sensitivity, which in turn leads to high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, obesity, and ultimately to type II diabetes.  In hypoglycaemia, the brain is the first organ affected as almost all of the energy used by the brain is supplied by glucose.  Mental symptoms can include headache, depression, anxiety, irritability, confusion, bizarre behaviour, and convulsions.

Frequent signs and symptoms:

  • Weakness or fainting
  • Sweating
  • Excessive hunger
  • Craving for sweets
  • Feeling tired if a meal is missed
  • Feeling tired an hour or so after eating
  • Dizziness when standing suddenly
  • Occasional shakiness
  • Afternoon fatigue
  • Occasional blurry vision
  • Overweight
  • Frequent headaches
  • Poor memory
  • Confusion
  • Frequent anxiety, nervousness,
  • Trembling hands
  • Depression or mood swings
  • Premenstrual syndrome
  • 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

Causes:

  • 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.

Diet:

  • 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.

Supplements:

  • 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.

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