Low Blood Sugar
Definition and Symptoms:
Hypoglycemia is a condition in which the sugar level in the blood falls below normal levels (hypo=under and glycemia=blood sugar/glucose). Many people suffer from hypoglycaemia today and not surprisingly so, since most of the foods that are freely available and consumed by the general public, are high in fat and have a high GI value. The most common form of hypoglycemia occurs after a meal is eaten. This is called reactive hypoglycemia. High GI foods, except when eaten during, or after exercise, cause most people’s blood glucose to surge upwards within a short period of time i.e. 30-60 minutes after ingestion. The human body then reacts, or overreacts in the case of a person suffering from hypoglycaemia, by releasing insulin to counteract the threat of a sustained high blood glucose. This causes a rapid fall in blood glucose resulting in the typical stress-like symptoms of low blood sugar i.e. tremor, heart palpitations, sweating, anxiety, sleepiness, weakness and the very common feeling of chronic fatigue. Hypoglycemia can also affect mental function and lead to restlessness, irritability, poor concentration, lethargy and drowsiness. These symptoms are noticed very clearly in non-diabetics in GI research done by scientists, especially if high GI foods are eaten.
There seems to be the general opinion that, if one suffers from hypoglycemia, one should eat a lot of sweets (or rather according to modern day thinking, high GI foods), since there is a lack of glucose in the blood. This is entirely untrue, since it is actually the high GI foods that bring on the hypoglycemia as explained above. If on top of eating high GI foods, one consumes a lot of fat (which causes the body’s insulin to work less effectively), it is only a question of time before impaired glucose tolerance (the forerunner of type 2 diabetes) or type 2 diabetes develops. The reason for this is that the body’s insulin gets worn out by a high GI diet, and the insulin which is left cannot work properly due to the high fat diet. This can lead to a relative or absolute insulin shortage, hyperinsulinemia and consequently insulin resistance. The latter causes the body’s cells to shut down, since they do not like being drowned in insulin. Other factors that can contribute to insulin resistance are genetic factors, inactivity, obesity and age. Hyperinsulinemia in turn can lead to diabetes, hyperlipidemia, hypertension and heart disease. This whole vicious cycle needs to be broken before the body will start functioning properly again.
The main aim of the treatment of hypoglycemia is to prevent sudden large increases in blood glucose levels. If blood glucose levels can be prevented from increasing quickly, then excessive amounts of insulin will not be produced and blood glucose levels will not plunge abnormally low. This should greatly improve your feeling of well-being, since big swings in blood glucose levels are hereby prevented. Irregular eating habits and eating the wrong types of food are the main causes of hypoglycemia. Eating low GI food when not exercising, or 1-2 hours before exercising, causes a steady release of glucose into the bloodstream, preventing an insulin surge ( hyperinsulinemia). This is especially true if carbohydrate foods are eaten by themselves. Thus the body’s insulin is not wasted and, if a low fat diet is followed and regular exercise is done the insulin is also able to function as it should. It is now believed that diabetes, insulin resistance and most of the lifestyle diseases mentioned above, can actually be prevented by following a low fat, low GI, low sodium diet, since this type of diet prevents hyperinsulinemia.
It is better to prevent hypoglycemia than to try and cure it once present. Follow these simple guidelines to prevent it from occurring:
- Eat regular meals and snacks, preferably every three hours.
- Include low GI carbohydrates at every meal or snack, since the blood glucose is sustained by carbohydrates and therefore the nutrient that gives us energy.
- Avoid eating high GI carbohydrates alone. Preferably avoid them altogether (see GI list at end of Introduction), but if you have to eat them, always combine with low GI carbohydrates or at least some protein. Eating high and low GI foods together yields an overall Intermediate GI as explained under the section: Healthy Eating.
Sport induced Hypoglycemia:
This occurs when a person does not eat low GI food before exercise and either eats nothing after exercise or eats low GI foods after exercise. In order to prevent this, one should take low GI carbohydrates about an hour before exercise, Intermediate GI carbohydrate during and within the first 30-60 minutes after exercise if you’re diabetic (high GI if non-diabetic). By doing this you will perform and feel a lot better.