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Q&A: Low Blood Sugar

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Q: You mentioned in one of your tips that low blood sugar was a controversial diagnosis. Would you explain why?

A: To my thinking, the controversy over low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) got started when the book Sugar Blues came out 30 years ago and doctors couldn’t cope with patients asking questions about a condition they knew little about.

Doctors don’t argue that low blood sugar occurs during certain conditions, and they’re taught that by far the most common cause is when a diabetic takes too much medicine (either insulin or pills) for lowering blood sugar.

What happens when blood sugar drops is this: your body responds as if a major emergency were occurring. This is because we humans literally exist to keep our brains well nourished and glucose (sugar) is the primary brain nutrient. When your body senses low blood sugar, it responds with a fight-or-flight adrenalin rush in order to mobilize sugar that’s been stored in reserve in your liver and muscles.

Diabetics who’ve experienced hypoglycemia report rapid heart rate, mental confusion, sweating, and shakiness–in fact all the symptoms of a surge of adrenalin (or a panic attack).

So what’s the controversy?

Sugar Blues reported that a person didn’t need sugar-lowering medicines to experience low blood sugar. Susceptible people could experience low blood sugar symptoms throughout the day, especially if they were eating sugary or high-glycemic foods. High-glycemic foods rapidly convert to sugar–foods like potato chips and refined white-flour bread, pastries, and pasta.

This makes a lot of sense. Let’s say you eat something sugar-rich like a bag of chips and a Mountain Dew. The sugar pours into your bloodstream and your blood sugar rises rapidly. Your glucose-sensor sends an alert to your pancreas to release the hormone insulin to drive this sugar down. Your pancreas pours out insulin, and your blood sugar plunges, overshooting into the hypoglycemic range.

Then you start feeling the symptoms of low blood sugar: shakiness, sweating, confusion, snarkiness, fatigue, and depression (and ultimately weight gain from all that sugar). A routine blood test looking for illness is normal because there’s no disease here. Your body is just doing its job. You’re the one who’s bollixing up the works. After a while these hypoglycemic periods flog your adrenal gland into exhaustion (a condition called adrenal fatigue). The main symptom of adrenal fatigue is…fatigue.

Treating hypoglycemia is simple. Dramatically reduce all sources of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and high-glycemic foods. Replace these foods with complex carbohydrates (like kidney beans, raw veggies, and whole grains) and protein, both of which you absorb more slowly, thus keeping blood sugar stable.

While changing your diet is best, the supplement Gluco-Mend contains several ingredients that help prevent blood sugar swings. If you need a hand with all this and live near Chicago, our WholeHealth Chicago nutritionist Marla Feingold has an excellent program for resolving hypoglycemia.

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