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Quinn on Nutrition: When blood sugar gets too low

October 24, 2016

Hunger, weakness, headache, sweating, shakiness, confusion. While these may be symptoms of watching the presidential debates, they are most commonly associated with a condition called hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. 

Glucose (blood sugar derived from the digestion of food) is a vital source of energy for our bodies, especially for our brains. Deprived of glucose, brain cells short circuit and die. 

Our bodies work best when the glucose in our blood is at a normal level, not too high or too low. One hormone that helps this happen is insulin. Insulin helps deliver glucose from our blood into our cells. When insulin is absent (a condition called type 1 diabetes) or is resisted by body cells (type 2 diabetes), glucose accumulates to dangerous levels in the blood…what doctors call hyperglycemia or high blood sugar.

Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar is the other extreme. For various reasons, if too much insulin enters the blood stream, glucose leaves the blood too quickly. That’s when symptoms such as weakness, sweating and confusion happen.

For people with diabetes, hypoglycemia can happen if a person takes too much insulin or certain types of diabetes medications, exercises excessively or skips a meal. A blood sugar level less than 70 mg/ml is generally defined as hypoglycemia, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). 

Another type of low blood sugar called "reactive hypoglycemia" can occur in people who do not have diabetes. For one reason or the other, these folks excrete too much insulin after eating, especially when they eat foods high in sugar or other refined carbohydrates. They too, get symptoms of weakness, sweating and shakiness. People who are overweight or who have had gastric surgery for weight loss seem to be especially vulnerable to this type of low blood sugar reaction.

Interestingly, the best diet to avoid reactive hypoglycemia is similar to the eating pattern advised for people with diabetes. That includes regular meals (or a snack if a meal is going to be delayed) and a source of protein with meals such as eggs, meat, fish, poultry, nuts, cheese, soy or milk products. Highly concentrated sources of sugar such as soft drinks should be avoided. Alcohol is only advised if your doc says it’s OK and never, never drink alcohol on an empty stomach.

Best bet if you are having symptoms that feel like low blood sugar? Tell your medical provider who can help you sort out the cause. Physicians may also refer you to a dietitian and/or diabetes educator to fine tune a diet plan best suited to your particular medical condition. One resource is the Diabetes and Nutrition Therapy Program at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. Call (831) 236-4964 for information. 

 

 





 


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