I frequently see patients complaining that they can get “spacey”, i.e., unable to concentrate, words a little jumbled, headachy, or a little dizzy and irritable if they haven’t eaten for several hours. These are the basic symptoms caused by blood sugar falling a little low, or hypoglycemia, and it occurs from having gone too long without eating.
Low blood sugar is a condition that can be remedied quickly with some orange juice, or raisins, right away, and then making sure you follow that with a more balanced nutritious meal. If it happens to you frequently, however, it may be a warning sign for other underlying conditions.
What is hypoglycemia?
There are, really, two types of hypoglycemia; that which occurs in insulin-dependent diabetics and that which occurs in non-diabetic people.
The symptoms can be:
you get very hungry, possibly a little jittery, and you may experience mild heart palpitations.
you may get blurry vision, become very irritable, or become confused.
you may have a seizure, pass out, or go into a coma.
As I explain to my patients with low blood sugar symptoms, we all can have a kind of mild to moderate, garden variety hypoglycemia where our blood sugar falls a little too low now and then. Usually, unless you’ve gone more than several hours without eating, and/or you are in a very hot or very cold environment, your symptoms shouldn’t be more bothersome than the mild, perhaps even moderate, ones mentioned above.
However, severe hypoglycemia almost always only occurs in insulin-dependent diabetics as a result of taking more insulin than is required to balance the amount of sugar in their blood.
To prevent this type of hypoglycemia, insulin-dependent diabetics should observe the following:
Monitor insulin closely:
Work with your doctor to fine tune this amount, always balancing it with the amount/type of food you eat, and blood sugar levels.
Plan your meals:
Never skip a meal.
Always carry a rescue kit:
Your rescue kit should include glucose tablets and glucagon.
Identify yourself as a diabetic:
Wear a medic alert bracelet or necklace. Always let someone around you know you are a diabetic if you start to feel poorly.
For non-insulin dependent diabetics, usually you have enough stored glucose in your liver that gets released by secreting the hormone glucagon when your blood sugar dips. This will release a little extra glucose into your blood to keep you from passing out until you can eat again. However, do not ignore these initial low blood sugar warning signs, get something to eat quickly!
What else can cause hypoglycemia?
As I tell my non-diabetic patients who seem to frequently be affected by hypoglycemic episodes, there are other factors and situations which can cause hypoglycemic events that you should be aware of.
Some antidepressants, i.e., MAO (monooxidase inhibitors), quinine, aspirin in general are sometimes linked to blood sugar drops. Also certain classes of antibiotics (fluoroquinolones such as Levaquin, Levofloxacin, Cipro, Avelox) have been associated with blood glucose abnormalities as well, mostly in elderly patients with type 2 diabetes.
Underlying medical conditions:
Certain conditions can cause moderate to severe hypoglycemic events. One of them is pheochromocytoma, a big medical word for a little tumor of the adrenal gland.
If you experience low blood sugar events frequently, your doctor will likely want to test you for pheo, as well as another condition called insulinoma, a tumor of the pancreas which causes you to secrete too much insulin and blood sugars to drop frequently. Also, hepatitis, as well as cancer, abnormalities of the adrenals or pituitary glands, or kidney conditions can create low blood sugar events.
Many of my patients experience low blood sugar after drinking too much alcohol. Be sure when you drink alcohol to also eat a good meal with it.
Some of my patients experience low blood sugar after eating a big meal because you release more insulin than you actually needed to process it. This can also occur in people who have had gastric bypass surgery or gastric banding for weight loss. Certain medical tests can determine this condition.
Blood sugar – Keep it normal
Obviously, the best way to prevent hypoglycemia episodes from occurring is to keep blood sugar normal through eating the proper combinations of nutritious foods evenly spaced throughout the day.
To do this, try to remember these nutritional guidelines:
- 4-6 oz of high quality protein at EVERY meal.
- Don’t be afraid of a little fat, like that from nuts and olive oil. Healthy fats help level out blood sugar longer.
- Add more low glycemic load foods to your meals such as vegetables and legumes (lentils, kidney beans, garbanzo beans), low glycemic fruits (a good glycemic index chart can help you choose).
- Take a quality all inclusive multivitamin including minerals like chromium, magnesium, zinc, and antioxidants like alpha-lipoic acid, bilberry, resveratrol.
As I tell my patients, hypoglycemia can have some uncomfortable symptoms. However, if you eat nutritious meals every day, and rule out any underlying medical conditions, you should be able to prevent low blood sugar, stay energetic and at the top of your game everyday!
“Hypoglycemia: Causes,” mayoclinic.com, Jan 12, 2010.
“Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar) in People Without Diabetes – Topic Overview,” MSN.com Health, April 6, 2009
“Fatal Hypoglycemia in Levofloxacin,” medscape.com
Mark Rosenberg, M.D. is director and founder of the Institute for Anti-Aging in South Florida. For the past 15 years he has combined modern medicine with nutrition, exercise, and physiology to create a natural program for healthier living.
Dr. Rosenberg received his undergraduate degree from University of Pennsylvania and graduated from Georgetown University School of Medicine. He then completed his residency in emergency medicine in San Antonio, Texas at Brooke Army Medical Center, where he won the award of “Teacher and Resident of the Year.”
In 1997, Dr. Rosenberg became a diplomate of the American College of Anti-Aging Medicine. He has since become a highly sought-after speaker and lectures frequently on topics such as integrative cancer therapy and anti-aging medicine. In 2009, Dr. Rosenberg will be regularly lecturing in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
Dr. Rosenberg has published a physician’s guide to the treatment of drug toxicities and served as a consultant to several hospitals for the treatment of drug overdoses. In addition to drug research, he is avidly involved in supplement research, and has served as the Chief Science Officer for several supplement companies including VitalMax Vitamins.
Dr. Rosenberg has spent much of his time over the past few years studying cancer. He has developed a novel protocol that integrates standard chemotherapeutic regimens with non-toxic natural supplemental regimens. Dr. Rosenberg was featured on Fox News for inducing remission in a patient with cancer that had spread from the lungs to the liver and spine. Wake Forest University is now studying this protocol.
Dr. Rosenberg is a regular contributor, and one of the experts that can be found on HealthyAnswers.com.
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