Hypoglycemia is a fancy word for low blood sugar. The concepts of low and high blood sugar can be confusing at times, because they are so closely related and both indicate a diet too high in sugars and carbohydrates. So what distinguishes one from the other?
We all have a pancreas. Right after we eat a meal or snack, the pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin. Insulin’s main job is to take the glucose (sugar) from the foods we eat and put it into our cells. Once inside our cells, that sugar is stored for future energy production.
In a healthy body, insulin lowers blood levels of sugar after a meal by increasing the rate at which cells absorb this sugar. When we are exercising our haven’t eaten in a while, our body helps us regulate our blood sugar levels by releasing some of this stored sugar back into the blood, providing us with the energy we need to go about our lives.
However, poor dietary and lifestyle choices can interrupt this careful balance of sugar in our blood. A diet high in refined sugars, trans fats, and other processed foods, and low in fiber and fresh fruits and vegetables, can lead to hypoglycemia. When a lot of sugar is consumed, it is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream, leading to a hyperglycemic state. Due to the rapid increase of sugar in the blood, the pancreas secretes large amounts of insulin and that insulin works to put this sugar into cells. This then causes blood sugar levels to drop very quickly, leading to a hypoglycemic state. As this cycle continues with each meal or snack a person eats, the insulin eventually becomes tired and worn out, leading to poor function and eventually more serious diseases, such as diabetes.
Symptoms of Hypoglycemia
- Cravings for sweets or carbohydrates
- Irritability if a meal is missed
- Tired or weak when a meal is missed
- Dizziness when going from sitting to standing suddenly
- Frequent headaches or migraines
- Forgetfulness or low concentration
- Tiredness an hour or two after eating
- Heart palpitations
- Occasional shakiness
- Afternoon fatigue
- Occasional blurry vision
- Depression or mood swings
- Being overweight
- Frequent anxiety or nervousness
What Can You Do About It?
Exercise can help prevent the onset of hypoglycemia and type II diabetes, and can also help to control these issues. Exercise enhances the sensitivity of insulin, making it more efficient inside the body. In addition, it strengthens the body so it can function at a higher level. It makes sense if you think about it. When you have excess sugar in the body, it is just sitting there waiting to be used as energy (or, to be stored as fat). When we exercise, we demand more energy from our cells, utilizing all that excess sugar.
Avoiding alcohol can really help people with hypoglycemia, as alcohol interferes with normal glucose utilization and increases the secretion of insulin. Smoking increases free radicals and contributes to symptoms of hypoglycemia and diabetes, so quitting smoking is very important (for a thousand other reasons too!). Finally, as usual, focus on a whole foods diet – eliminate or reduce refined sugars and fats, excess caffeine, and all processed foods. Increase dietary fiber in the form of vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, and drink plenty of water each day.
As I have said in the past, blood sugar issues are at the root of many of our health problems (I know this from personal experience!) and it is very important to choose wisely for proper blood sugar control!