Most of us know that our bodies create insulin to handle the sugary treats we eat. And most of us know we get diabetes if our insulin can’t get the job done.
What few of us know is what happens when insulin does its job too well. It’s hypoglycemia, low blood sugar, and it’s the pits. I’ve been there and done that, and there’s nothing I can say to recommend it.
Here’s what happens: You eat some kind of starch, which your body converts to sugar. Your pancreas says, “You want insulin, do ya? Well, take this!” and dumps out about a carload of insulin. And your body has not idea what to do with it.
At first, you feel fine. Maybe even get a little energy boost from what you ate. An hour or so later, though, you feel like a truck hit you. Tired like you can’t believe. Brain asleep for the duration. Feeling less energetic than a wet noodle. To top it all off, you may even pass out. And the whole mess lasts six to eight hours–unless you eat something sweet to get some energy, in which case it lasts a lot longer.
What causes hypoglycemia?
- A high-carb diet–lots of bread, pasta, bagels, desserts–a pretty standard diet nowadays
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Not giving our bodies the ammunition they need to fight the good fight takes us down a lot of dead ends, including hypoglycemia.
- Alcohol. Our bodies see alcohol as a poison–and a high-carb poison at that.
- Prescription drugs such as those given to treat infections.
- But most of all, endocrine problems. If your thyroid and/or adrenal glands get in a tizzy, you’re kind of a sitting duck. That’s how I ended up in hypoglycemic hell.
Testing for hypoglycemia:
Diagnosis comes via a fasting-blood-sugar test. First thing in the morning, after fasting for at least twelve hours, you give a blood sample, then chug down a big glass of what tasted to me like 7-Up syrup. Then for the next four or six hours, depending on the test ordered, you give regular blood samples so they can track your body’s reaction.
Normal blood fasting blood sugar ranges from 80 to 100, although they’re monkeying around with the numbers of late. My blood sugar, at its lowest, was 46, so it’s no wonder I slept through the whole thing, sprawled on a hard couch in the waiting room. They roused me enough to stick my arm out for another blood taking as needed, but I don’t think World War III could have awakened me.
- Give up simple carbohydrates and limit all carbohydrates. My doctor put me on a diet of no more than 20 grams of carbohydrate a day–about half a peach, as I remember.
- Start (or continue) treatment for your thyroid and adrenals.
- Put together a good vitamin/mineral program for yourself. The endocrine system pretty much controls what happens in your body, and it’s a nutrition hog. Most vitamins and minerals have specific functions in the endocrine system, and you need to help as much as you can.
- Don’t fight yourself. Do what you can and get plenty of rest.
More about a hypoglycemic diet:
I went on a diet of five, small, high-protein “feedings” a day. High protein, high fat and almost no carbs–to give my system a rest. Determined to get out of the pit as quickly as possible, I never exceeded my carb limit.
Of course, I was eating steak and all sorts of great stuff, which made maintaining my motivation relatively easy.
With treatment for my thyroid and adrenals, the diet and starting down the vitamin/mineral path, I beat hypoglycemia in three months.
I knew a woman, diagnosed with hypoglycemia the same time as I, but without the thyroid and adrenal complications. She decided she absolutely could simply not start her day without a large glass of orange juice–liquid sugar. She spent a couple of years passing out at work on more days than not before I lost track of her.
I will never understand such an attitude. I don’t find anything to enjoy about bad health, and I much prefer praise for a job well done than sympathy because I’m too sick to do much of anything. Spending two years feeling like death warmed over because of orange juice baffles me.
Some doctors treat hypoglycemia with a recommendation that you eat and drink carbs to “give your body what it needs.” Run–do not walk–away from advice like that. Simply put, it’s malpractice, and it’s guaranteed to make things worse.
Every time your body reacts with too much insulin is a “hypoglycemic event.” Research strongly suggests that each hypoglycemic event–which this misguided advice will cause–brings you closer to diabetes, aka hyperglycemia, with all its complications.
Don’t go there.
A drunk driver damaged Bette Dowdell's pituitary gland shortly before her first birthday. Although doctors insisted for years that she was fine, her health drifted to a crash-and-burn event, and she realized her health was up to her.
Now she's happy to report she has energy all day, every day. She sleeps well. Colds, flu and headaches are all in the past. Optimism moved back in. Life is good.
Now Bette's sharing what she knows with others to help them take control of their health, too. People who become their own health advocate enjoy far better health than those that don't.
Bette grew up in The Salvation Army, where her parents were officers. Like the military, this Army life involved a lot of moving, and she attended ten schools, in nine cities, in three states before graduating from high school.
After college, Bette worked as an IBM Systems engineer, a small-company consultant and software company owner. She wrote the books How to be a Christian Without Being Annoying, On We March: A memoir of growing up in The Salvation Army and the e-book Pep For The Pooped: Discovering the Vitamins and Minerals Your Body Is Starving For.
She lives in the Phoenix area.