Hypoglycaemia is a condition of low blood sugar that is not necessarily related to diabetes. There are two forms of non-diabetic hypoglycaemia and these are becoming much more common. These form the focus of this article; you can read more about Diabetes on this link. The two types are:
- Reactive or postprandial hypoglycaemia which occurs after food, usually within 4 hours of a meal.
- Fasting hypoglycaemia, which is a reaction to no food or irregular food intake and is often related to an underlying disease, hormone imbalance and/or stress.
The symptoms of both types are similar to diabetes-related hypoglycaemia. These include hunger, sweating, shakiness, dizziness, light-headedness, sleepiness, confusion, difficulty speaking and anxiety. Severe and chronic forms of low blood sugar can include violent behaviour, seizures and coma.
Hypoglycaemia is thought to be due to complex interactions between different hormones. It is important to understand that hormones work together and not in isolation from each other. Insulin plays a subtle role in many body systems although its major function is dealing with metabolism, energy and blood sugar control.
A diagnosis is reached by assessment. Blood is taken at the time when symptoms occur (some hours after eating a meal so this is NOT a fasting blood test). A blood glucose level below 70 mg/dL will confirm the diagnosis. The causes of reactive hypoglycaemia are still being debated but it appears to be a mix of events such as an abnormal reaction or sensitivity to hormones such as glucagon and epinephrine. This condition is characterised by an abnormally low level of glucose in the blood, often associated with neurological side effects and arousal of the sympathetic nervous system. Many people today suffer from this condition. Those with a genetically weakened pancreas, and those with low adrenal or low thyroid conditions will particularly suffer; women with pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) can also frequently become hypoglycaemic. Symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, restlessness and sudden onset of hunger, unusual and sudden irritability only satisfied by food, spontaneous sweating, palpitations and nausea. Lifestyle changes are very effective and form the basis of natural healing. They are emphasised below.
This is less common than reactive hypoglycaemia, but is becoming much more common than in the past with an ageing population and excessive alcohol consumption. It is diagnosed by a fasting blood sample that shows a blood glucose level below 50 mg/dL after an overnight fast or after intense activity. Causes include certain medications, alcohol, critical illnesses and hormonal deficiencies. The most common medicines that cause hypoglycaemia include those that treat diabetes. Others are aspirin and sulfa-based medicines which are used to treat bacterial infections. Alcohol is becoming a major cause especially with binge drinking: the liver cannot break down alcohol and raise blood glucose at the same time. This type of hypoglycaemia is becoming a common cause of death in serious drinkers. Critical illness, starvation and anorexia, and overwhelming infection can also lead to fatal hypoglycaemic attacks. Particular attention is needed for the elderly who may be particularly at risk: they may eat very little, suffer with dehydration, have extensive medication for pre-existing disease and drink alcohol quietly and alone. Any episode of confusion and aggression needs to be evaluated with an acknowledgement that fasting hypoglycaemia may be the cause. This is often ignored.
Foods & herbs for the home
- Move to a whole food diet and include sources of healthy fats such as coconut oil, olive oil or avocado with meals. Healthy protein foods such as beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, organic white meats, organic eggs and fish should also be included with every meal. Healthy fats and proteins slow down the exit of food from the stomach and avoid a sudden sugar rush. Whole foods in general (as opposed to processed foods) have a slow burn time and over time will better balance low blood sugar.
- Eat little and often – six small meals a day may be better than three large ones as this keeps blood sugar levels steady and places less pressure on weak digestive abilities.
- Avoid refined sugars – and foods that contain them – but also refined grains such as white flour (and products made from it) which have an equally disastrous effect because they so rapidly elevate blood sugar levels, which can then cause a 'rebound' dip in blood sugar. Focus on whole foods as described above.
- The glycaemic index (GI) of foods can help people understand their individual triggers. Foods that cause a rapid rise in blood glucose will have a high GI. These are often foods that are quickly broken down during digestion; sugar and alcohol are two examples. Medium and high-GI whole foods such as carrots, potato, pumpkins and parsnips, although nutritious, should only be used in small quantities and combined with low-starch vegetables and protein foods; they should not form the main carbohydrate portion of the meal. Low GI foods which are beneficial include peas, beans, lentils, citric fruits, whole grain rice, oats, rye and Pot Barley, and healthy protein foods including those described in the first point, above.
- Sugar cravings are common and a little very dark chocolate can be eaten – this is high in antioxidants and healthy fats but lower in sugar than most other 'treats'. Try grating a square of 80 percent cocoa solid chocolate onto a sugar-free dessert. White and milk chocolate are to be avoided due to the low cocoa content and high sugar levels.
- Cinnamon is gaining a good reputation for helping blood sugar levels to normalise and provides much needed sweetness. Add to baked apples, breakfast oats, wholemeal toast and wholemeal crumbles.
- Oats are rich in many vitamins and minerals; they are generally very nourishing. They can slow the rate of sugar metabolism, thus aiding the work of the pancreas. Organic oats are best; they can be soaked overnight in spring water and cinnamon powder, and eaten for breakfast.
- Blue green algae are also good at normalising blood sugar levels. Seaweeds especially hijiki can help. Cook seaweeds with whole grains and add to salads and soups.
- Try Superfood Plus which contains both the above plant ingredients and thus can help to balance blood sugar levels while being deeply nourishing to other body systems. Ask us for a free sample.
- When eating fruit, make sure you combine it with a low-GI or protein-containing food such as a small handful of raw nuts or seeds. This slows down absorption of sugars into the blood. Apples are one of the best fruits to choose, but avoid hybrids that have been bred for extra sugar. A good old fashioned English apple is sweet/sour on the taste buds. Other choices are wild fruits like blackberries, bilberries and pomegranate, grapefruit and greenish pears. Fruit juices, however, are too high in sugar and do not benefit from the fibre in the fruit to slow down absorption – they should be avoided. Grapes and bananas are among the highest-sugar fruits and should generally be avoided.
- Instead of snacking in between meals drink Nettle Herbal Tea to provide a tonic and lift flagging energy; ask for a sample of EnergiRevive Powder as well.
- Organic Hibiscus Herbal Tea is rich in compounds that help to balance blood sugar.
- All low-starch vegetables raw or steamed are helpful, particularly those that have an opposite taste to sweet. Try sour and bitter tastes in small quantities such as chicory, dandelion leaves, artichokes and olives. They are an acquired taste for some but have beneficial effects on the liver. Similarly the use of Lemon & Artichoke Concentrate can assist the liver and overall digestion.
- Energy dips take time to balance out because of the interactions of other hormones. Rather than reaching for food and gaining weight try EnergiRevive Powder powder to sustain energy levels.
- Eat 4 or 5 juniper berries a day as they can help to release insulin from the pancreas and balance blood sugar fluctuations.
- Work on underlying issues with a qualified practitioner. PMS, menopause and adrenal overload and fatigue as well as lowered thyroid function can be underlying causes and potential reasons for quite severe attacks of hypoglycaemia. You can contact a practitioner at The Association of Master Herbalists and The College of Naturopathic Medicine.
- Stress and shock (past and present) may be a contributing factor in hypoglycaemia and diabetes. Certainly food cravings and overeating are more likely with unmanaged stress. Find an enjoyable exercise and try relaxation techniques including yoga/meditation.
- Deeply relaxing Lavender Essential Oil can be added to your bath water or to massage oil.
- Read more about ways to manage your condition using natural healing techniques by downloading the free book by Jill Davies’ “Complete Home Guide to Herbs, Natural Healing and Nutrition” .
- Sleep must be adequate as this will repair and rejuvenate the whole body and allow the digestive system, the pancreas, the adrenal glands and the nervous system to work better. Because of adrenal depletion it is better to avoid caffeine especially after midday. Replace your afternoon and evening beverages with Evening Peace Herbal Tea which assists the nervous system to unwind and relax.
- Try to keep weight steady and in balance for your height, age and gender. Obesity creates inflammation and is now a significant cause of hypoglycaemic episodes.
- Be aware that hard exercise or rigorous activity will increase the risk for hypoglycaemia. These forms of sport should be planned around food, ensuring that some food is eaten during and after exercise. Light food such as Superfood Plus is ideal because it provides instant fuel and high nutrition with low digestion requirements.
- Moderate daily exercise, especially outside, has been shown to be most effective for stress management. It will produce a good level of endorphins and help to diffuse an excessive build-up of adrenaline.
- Meditation has many proven benefits for managing stress.
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