By Chad Krier, N.D., D.C.
What do these symptoms have in common: weakness, sweet cravings, trembling, irritability, headaches, fatigue, heart palpitations, blurred vision, excess sweating, anxiety, light-headedness, personality changes, depression, fits of anger, hunger, and a foggy mind? The answer is that all of these symptoms can be related to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Is hypoglycemia always the cause for these symptoms? No! However, a good deal of the time low blood sugar turns out to be a culprit.
The average American takes in around 130 pounds of added refined sugar each year.
Normal fasting blood sugar generally runs around 70-110 mg/dl. Hypoglycemia is commonly defined as any blood glucose level below 60 mg/dl. Hypoglycemia can be diagnosed through the use of the infamous GTT (glucose tolerance test). This is where you swallow a big ole nasty glob of syrupy goop and watch how your blood and hormones respond on repeated blood draws. This test generally lasts 3-6 hours and involves multiple blood draws, so it can be a real hoot. During the test, blood sugar, urine glucose, and often insulin are measured. The doctor is looking for peaks and valleys associated with taking in a large sugar bolus which is meant to mimic a meal loaded with sugar. (Bring on the Ben and Jerry’s.) Causes for low blood sugar are varied. Something as simple as not eating for long periods of time can drop your blood sugar (duh!). However, over consumption of snoogy snacks (sugar foods), as my buddy Chris likes to say, can also lead to sugar drops. Allergic reactions, alcohol, and nutrient imbalances also play a role. We know that various endocrine gland hormones, nutrients, and the nervous system are also involved in the regulation of carbohydrate metabolism. The hormones and nervous system provide a system of checks and balances to keep our blood sugar stable. Insulin (from the pancreas) helps get glucose into the cells and promotes glucose storage in the liver in the form of glycogen. Insulin’s net effect is to lower blood sugar.
On the other side of the coin we have glucagon (pancreas), adrenaline, cortisol (adrenal), and growth hormone. Their role is just the opposite of insulin. These hormones play a role in helping the body to manufacture blood sugar, and so they tend to increase the blood
concentration of glucose. Our blood glucose levels then are based on food intake, how tissues are utilizing sugar, our body’s own production of glucose, and the health of the glands and nervous system that regulate hormonal responses to sugar.
In the good old days, our ancestors weren’t exposed to nearly as much pure junk as we are today. The average American takes in around 130 pounds of added refined sugar (can you say CORN
syrup) each year. Our hormones go into conniptions, spiking our insulin levels and dropping our blood sugar. Chronic consumption of refined sugars leads to chronic high levels of insulin. The
prolonged high levels of insulin cause our cells to quit responding to insulin (like the boy who cried wolf). Insulin resistance develops and poof, like magic, we start to get high blood sugar. All
that sugar has to go somewhere. After all our liver and muscles can only store so much. Our bodies generally store the leftovers as fat (yippee). The elevated fat (triglycerides and cholesterol to be quite proper) gets stored on our sticky buns, thighs, abdomen, and blood vessels, or wherever we can find room to stuff it. This, of course, leads to heart problems, obesity, and high blood pressure -you know, all the good stuff. (I feel like subsidizing com and sugar growers more and more each sentence.) Hypoglycemia basically sets the stage for eventually developing hyperglycemia, which leads to a whole host of other problems.
What do we do about all this?
• First, throw out all the refined, devoid of nutrients sugars -like white sugar, brown sugar, com syrup, dextrose, fructose, sucrose, pop, candy, jam, ice cream, white flour, white rice, and most
grocery store breakfast cereals. Shop the periphery at the stores and choose whole foods (vegetables, dried beans, peas, whole fruits, and whole grains). The whole foods noted contain fiber,
which is needed to slow the absorption of sugars, increase insulin sensitivity, and promote blood sugar stabilization.
• Second, choose foods with beneficial dietary fats that support cell membrane fluidity while promoting the health of the cellular insulin receptors. Beneficial unsaturated fatty acids come
from cold ocean fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and plants. Limit intake of animal fats, hydrogenated fats, fried foods, and fast foods. These foods contain saturated and trans fats that promote
insulin receptor problems.
• Third, it may be wise to eat 3 moderate meals with 2-3 snack times in-between to stabilize blood sugar.
• Fourth, limit alcohol and food allergies as they can stress blood sugar control mechanisms.
Beyond diet, there are several nutrient options to consider for promoting blood sugar regulation. Chromium is a component of glucose tolerance factor (a biologically active complex of chromium and nicotinic acid that facilitates the reaction of insulin with receptor sites on tissues) and promotes insulin sensitivity. Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) supports the health of the adrenal glands. Vitamin B3 (niacin) is another component of the glucose tolerance factor. Magnesium is known to improve glucose handling. Biotin improves the metabolism and utilization of glucose.
Many botanical options for regulating blood sugar also exist. Cinnamon may enhance insulin signaling. The botanical Gymnema suppresses sugar cravings while making sugar taste bad for some time after ingestion of the liquid.