The signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia (also known as low blood sugar) are easy to recognize once you become aware of what they are. They are often at the root of many physiological and psychological conditions, syndromes, or symptoms, but mainstream medicine fails to recognize its prevalence. Low blood sugar is a very common occurrence in our society but often goes undiagnosed because of a lack of awareness. It can imitate practically every medical condition we know of and is often misdiagnosed or labeled as hypochondriasis.
In lay terms, hypoglycemia is when your blood glucose levels drop too low and your body and brain can’t function properly. Glucose is one of your body’s sources of energy. It is absorbed from the foods you eat and distributed to the cells in your body. The brain is very sensitive to the levels of blood sugar and needs glucose to function adequately. It is fuel for the brain. The brain doesn’t have the ability to store glucose so it needs a continuous supply from the blood. It extracts it from the blood as it does oxygen. If the brain does not have enough oxygen or glucose it can result in coma. The first signs of hypoglycemia to occur are often shaking or trembling in between meals, weakness, and ravenous hunger.
Causes of Hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia occurs when the body does not metabolize blood glucose properly. Abnormal metabolism can be caused by a variety of factors such as:
- Excess refined sugar and white flour in your diet
- Pancreatic or adrenal underactivity or overactivity
- Excessive use of alcohol, tobacco, and coffee or other products with caffeine
- Overeating of refined carbohydrates
- Severe or chronic stress that doesn’t go away
- Overconsumption of starchy carbohydrates like grains and potatoes
- Genetic polymorphisms
Probably one of the biggest causes of hypoglycemia is the consumption of excess refined sugar, white flour, and other refined carbohydrates. Our bodies were not designed genetically or physiologically equipped to metabolize the mass amount of refined food, which is stripped of any nutritional value, found in the typical diet of this day and age. This creates a continuous strain and abuse on your body’s organs, such as the pancreas, the liver, the adrenals, and other endocrine glands. The continuous ingestion of empty refined foods leads to malfunctioning of the glandular and metabolic systems. However, even complex carbohydrates contribute to low blood sugar when too many are eaten.
Glucagon is a hormone produced in the pancreas that regulates blood sugar. People with true hypoglycemia have lost their ability to make this hormone. But we can experience symptoms that mimic true hypoglycemia simply because we are not eating enough animal protein and fat or with the consumption of too many carbs.
Another common contributor to hypoglycemia is adrenal fatigue. Adrenal glands that are functioning poorly don’t convert glycogen to sugar properly. After insulin has been released, the adrenal glands must inform the pancreas to stop secreting insulin. When the adrenal glands are fatigued, they are slow or late in performing this duty, which allows the overproduction of insulin and results in blood sugar levels that are too low.
Hypoglycemia symptoms can be mild, moderate, or severe and may consist of any of the following:
- Shaking between meals
- Inability to concentrate
- Pounding/racing heart
- Speech difficulties
- Fuzzy head
- Mood swings
- Feeling faint
- Obsessive/compulsive behavior
- Slurred speech
- Poor coordination
- Glassy eyes
- Ravenous hunger
Severe hypoglycemia symptoms, which require immediate medical attention would include:
- Highly agitated
Hypoglycemia also plays a major role in alcoholism. If we look over the list of hypoglycemia symptoms, we see many common symptoms that recovering alcoholics struggle with every day. That’s because even though they’ve given up the alcohol, they are still eating sugar, caffeine, refined foods, and lots of carbs and caught in the vicious cycle of hypoglycemia. The so-called “dry drunk syndrome” is really nothing more than low blood sugar.
This is important because it is these uncomfortable and sometimes unbearable symptoms that are a frequent cause of relapse. When blood sugar drops, the alcoholic will have a continuous desire to self-medicate, which often leads to a drink or a drug. Additionally, hypoglycemia makes you crave sweets to bring your blood sugar up again. The alcoholic’s body is accustomed to receiving its sugar in an ultra-fast and concentrated dose – through alcohol – so sugar alone often doesn’t do the trick and instead of craving sugar when the blood sugar drops, they crave alcohol.
What happens when we eat sugar and other high-carb foods? They are absorbed into the bloodstream very quickly and raise the blood glucose level to abnormally high levels at a very fast pace, which gives us a boost in neurotransmitters we often feel when eating sweets. These are critical neurotransmitters that are involved in the reward pathway and at the root of addiction, as well as the governor of our mood states and most other body functions. This causes the pancreas to overreact with an emergency response and releases an excessive amount of insulin into the bloodstream to try and bring the blood sugar back to normal. The excessive amount of insulin brings the blood sugar down, but it brings it down too low and it brings it down too fast. This is when hypoglycemia symptoms occur.
The body then calls on the adrenal glands to help bring the blood sugar levels back to normal. Too much demand is placed on the adrenal glands and pancreas as they must go through this scenario each and every time you eat refined foods and sugar. Over time, this vicious cycle wears away at the adrenal glands and they no longer produce cortisol in sufficient amounts or perform their duties adequately. This causes blood sugar levels to remain at a sub-optimal state constantly, which perpetuates hypoglycemia further and leads to adrenal fatigue as well as contributing to neurotransmitter deficiencies or imbalances and insulin resistance.
When we provide our body with the nutrients it needs from whole food sources rather than sugar or other simple carbohydrates and eat adequate amounts of animal protein and fat, then this cycle does not ensue. Everything functions as it should in the body, the blood sugar stays balanced and hypoglycemia symptoms don’t occur.
You may feel a little confused by the fact that we’re talking about the body needing sugar to keep the blood sugar stable since we already established that sugar is bad for you, but the difference is we’re not talking about refined white sugar. White refined sugar contains no nutritional value for the body and is not really a food. It’s a chemical that damages the body in many ways. However, natural sugar from whole food in “limited amounts”, provides the brain and body with nutrients it needs to function adequately and the signs of hypoglycemia will not appear. Additionally, the body can actually get most of the glucose it needs through protein and a process called gluconeogenesis and a byproduct of fat called glycerol. Fat is actually the body’s preferred source of fuel. Many organs and systems in the body actually run better on ketones, which are byproducts of fat.
Most people are under the impression that complex carbohydrates like potatoes and whole grains are healthy for them and do not contribute to hypoglycemia, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart disease, etc., but that is not the case. Grains, potatoes, and any high-starch food have almost the exact same effect on the endocrine system as refined foods and thus contribute to all these conditions. Take a look at the whole grain lie to understand this issue more completely.
Hypoglycemia can also occur due to the overgrowth of Candida yeast in two different ways. On one hand, the yeast is continually releasing toxins that trigger the stress response system in the body. When the body is under stress, it releases its stored sugar into the bloodstream, and the pancreas releases insulin to bring it back down. On the other hand, Candida eats your glucose, thus your levels drop. You can read more about this aspect on my how does candida cause hypoglycemia page.
To keep blood sugar stable and avoid hypoglycemia symptoms, it’s necessary to avoid eating refined sugars or any food that easily converts to sugar. Your hypoglycemia diet should consist of foods that take a while to digest so there won’t be a rapid rise in blood sugar and then the plummet that causes hypoglycemia symptoms. It should be rich in animal protein, moderate in fat, and low in carb. It was discovered way back in 1936, that one of the best ways to control hypoglycemia is with a diet that is rich in protein and low in carbohydrates. Animal protein and fat are what keep blood sugar stable, not carbohydrates.
No alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine, because all three of these perpetuate the cycle of hypoglycemia by dumping excess sugar in the bloodstream that is stored in the liver. Reduce emotional stress as much as possible. Stress releases sugar into the bloodstream; so if you have excessive stress, your body will repeatedly be putting out too much sugar. For stress that can’t be eliminated, find ways to cope effectively with the use of mild and gentle exercise, mindfulness-based meditation, deep breathing, massage, counseling, etc.
On the hypoglycemia diet, meals must be eaten consistently at regular intervals. If you go too long without food, then your blood sugar levels drop. Meals should be eaten three times a day no more than five hours apart. Many people with hypoglycemia find that it is easier to maintain their blood sugar levels if they have four or five small meals a day instead of just three. Alternatively, you can have a healthy snack such as a chicken leg, hamburger, jerky, or hard-boiled egg in-between meals. This keeps a steady stream of sugar flowing in the body. This is especially helpful for people who are just beginning to address their hypoglycemia issues. Over time, as your body begins to repair, you may then be able to go back to three meals daily. Snacks are not typically needed if one consumes adequate levels of animal protein and fat and reduces carb intake to at least 60 to 70 total carbs per day.
Once metabolic damage has developed and you have difficulty metabolizing sugars and carbohydrates, it can then spread to not only refined white sugar and simple carbohydrates, but the body can have difficulty with any carbohydrate whether it is whole food or not. So, initially, you may have to limit even wholesome carbohydrates like nuts and fruits. Some people never do well with complex carbohydrates and must limit them forever. It’s also important for women to know that hormonal fluctuations that occur with the menstrual period can also cause the blood sugar levels to drop, so you may have to be extra careful with your hypoglycemia diet during these days.
When I first started working on my hypoglycemia decades ago, I had to eat every couple of hours to keep my blood sugar stable, but after a couple of years, I was able to shift to three meals daily with an occasional snack in between. Now I eat every five hours. However, I must eat every five hours like clockwork, or I will have hypoglycemia symptoms.
Most people do best on a diet that is high in animal protein and low in carbohydrates because we don’t metabolize sugar properly. Even complex carbohydrates break down into sugar in the body, so they need to be minimized. I encourage you to consider a low-carb Paleo diet, for not only hypoglycemia but to encourage good health all around. This is the diet I feel is best.
For example, in my own life, I have found that I must eat a balanced meal that consists of a large portion of meat, a moderate amount of fat, and a very small portion of low-starch vegetables. I tried being a vegetarian once, but I couldn’t function. It must be animal protein; any other form of protein will not balance my blood sugar. If I don’t eat meat with each meal, and it must be at least six ounces and preferably eight, of meat for each meal, as well as a small number of vegetables, I will have severe hypoglycemia. My head will spin, I’ll be dizzy, shake uncontrollably, won’t be able to concentrate, irritable, want to cry, and be fuzzy-headed. I’ll be so weak I can’t stand up, feel like I’ll pass out and I get a migraine. It must be actual meat–eggs, cheese, yogurt, etc., will not balance my blood sugar.
Additionally, supplementing the diet with a variety of vitamins and minerals like B vitamins, magnesium, chromium, amino acids, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), glutamine, glycine, and vitamin B3 also known as niacin, and Vitamin C might aid in the maintenance of blood sugar stability, with special emphasis on chromium. Glutamine is often recommended because it can be used for providing immediate relief from low blood sugar. It provides the brain with an alternative source of fuel, suppresses insulin, and triggers the release of glycogen. Some people can bring their blood sugar up instantly by taking a dose of glutamine. However, glutamine also increases glutamate, which is an excitatory neurotransmitter that is toxic to the brain when in excess. So this should be avoided by the high glutamate individual. Many people tend to lean towards excess glutamate so must restrict glutamate in the diet. The amino acid, glycine, is also important for blood sugar control. The supplements that will stabilize blood sugar may vary from person to person, depending on your unique biochemical needs, so ideally it is best to assess your nutritional status before supplementation to know what your body needs and improve efficacy.
There are a number of illnesses and conditions that produce similar symptoms and signs of hypoglycemia, so it is necessary to consult with a health care professional that is knowledgeable in this area. Perhaps a sound nutritionist or alternative health doctor capable of diagnosing and treating hypoglycemia. The key word here is “knowledgeable” because the average mainstream medical professional has a very limited education and understanding of the complex issues surrounding hypoglycemia.
Additionally, I am available for phone consultations, and I can help you stabilize your blood sugar with proper diet and lifestyle changes and overcome many of the symptoms that are disrupting your life.
Jerome W. Conn. The Advantage of a High Protein Diet in the Treatment of Spontaneous Hypoglycemia: Preliminary Report. Journal of Clinical Investigation 15.6 (1936). http://www.jci.org/articles/view/100819/pdf