Not too long ago a patient came to see me complaining that she was always hungry, that all day her energy was up and down like a roller coaster and that she was not sleeping well.
From my point of view, this is a cluster of symptoms that can occur if your blood sugar is low – and low blood sugar indicates hypoglycemia.
The word hypoglycemia is derived from "hypo” meaning low and "glycemia”, which is sugar. Hypoglycemia is not a disease per se but a complex of symptoms stemming from faulty carbohydrate metabolism.
Hypoglycemia is really all too often in our fast food/junk food society. It is caused by a diet that is too high in refined carbohydrates or simple sugars such as honey, white sugar, molasses, maple syrup, fruit juice, white flour, white rice, and pasta and bread made from white flour.
When you eat too many simple sugars, your body instantly becomes high in simple blood sugars – the up side of the roller coaster ride. Two to three hours later the sugar high disappears and you become depleted – this is the low blood sugar phase – or the downward ride – that occurs when the body has been overwhelmed with too much sugar and is unable to process it effectively.
When you flood your body with sugar, the pancreas pumps out large amounts of insulin, the hormone that takes the sugar from the blood and distributes it to the cells where it is used as energy. If too much insulin is secreted, your blood sugar falls and you display the symptoms of hypoglycemia.
Long-term consequences to this up-and-down mechanism can occur. This wild ride eventually wears out the pancreas and makes you more susceptible to type two diabetes. This is a real threat to our aging population and, in fact, it is our fastest growing chronic disease.
In the early 1900’s we ate about 20 pounds of refined sugar per year. Today we are consuming approximately 140 pounds of refined sugar per year. This is a dramatic increase.
The symptoms of hypoglycemia are constant hunger, tiredness, irritability, insomnia, headaches and intermittent memory loss. Low blood sugar is also associated with aggressive behaviour in people of all ages. Children who eat too much sugar often become aggressive.
It’s a shame we don’t make the connection between our sugar intake and our moods. I often think it’s one of our body’s shortcomings that we remember how good we felt when we ate sugar but we don’t remember how we felt two hours later when we’re got tired and irritable.
Women are more responsive to insulin during the week before their period starts and that causes blood sugar irregularities. That’s why many women have sugar cravings that week.
So when I diagnosed my patient with hypoglycemia, the first thing I did was look at her diet. We switched her to whole grains and we made sure her simple sugars were kept to a minimum. If she did eat simple sugars, she made sure she ate them with a meal. I recommended five small meals spread throughout the day and if necessary, a snack before bed. It doesn’t mean increasing caloric intake – it means redistributing the calories.
Good snacks like trail mix, fruit, nut butters and unsweetened yogurt are just fine.
I also added supplements to my patient’s regime. The B complex has been shown to regulate blood sugar while chromium is a mineral that works with insulin to allow glucose to feed the cells. I gave her liver cleansing herbs because the liver is very important in carbohydrate metabolism. It stores sugar and releases sugar so we need to make sure it’s functioning well. Herbs such as milk thistle and dandelion are good. Licorice root can help to strengthen the adrenal glands, which help to contribute to a healthy sugar balance.
Stress also contributes to hypoglycemia. When you are experiencing high stress the pumping of the adrenaline – the stress hormone – releases more sugar into the blood. Many people notice that when they’re feeling highly stressed their sugar cravings go up.
We also looked at my patient’s exercise routine. It has been shown that people with hypoglycemia and diabetes can regulate their sugar metabolism dramatically by doing regular exercise and stress reduction techniques.
When she came back into the office two weeks after implementing this program, she was amazed at the difference in her overall energy, clarity and ability to function.
Paulette Roscoe is a naturopathic physician and welcomes your calls at 754-1733.