By Jurriaan Plesman BA(Psych), Post Grad Dip Clin Nutr
Hypoglycemia means low blood sugar level, although “unstable blood sugar levels” would have been more fitting. This is truly a silent disease (like diabetes), since most people would not be aware of having it. This term is used to describe a metabolic disorder, that may manifest itself in a variety of physical and ‘psychological’ symptoms. One must understand that glucose is a source of both physical (muscle) and mental (brain) energy. The brain, representing only 2 percent by weight of the body, has no energy stores of its own. It requires about 60 per cent percent of the all available glucose in the body and consumes about 120 grams per days regardless of whether we are asleep or awake (Source). About one teaspoon of glucose is available in the blood at any time. Most doctors believe that hypoglycemia is due to “insulin resistance”, which it shares with diabetes. see Robyn Cosford (1). It is estimated that in 2005-8 about 35 percent of US adult had pre-diabetes. See Research Evidence. See: for causes.
As in diabetes, when a patient injects excess insulin, it causes the blood glucose concentrations to crash. This happens in non-diabetic hypoglycemia when the body produces too much insulin called hyperinsulinism. Consequently any extreme fluctuation in the supply of glucose to the brain will inevitably affect our emotions, feelings and personality. References. Hypoglycemia (or pre-diabetic insulin resistance) is also an important factor in the metabolic syndrome and therefore if you want to avoid diabetes and/or the metabolic syndrome you need to treat the hypoglycemia by nutritional means. The symptoms of hypoglycemia may mimic and even cause many psychological and physical disorders some of which are shown in the following list in order of frequency and as reported by hypoglycemics;
Faintness, dizziness, tremors, cold sweats, heart palpitations,
mood swings, anxiety, aggression, violence, anti-social behaviour, low-self-esteem, perfectonism, Sugar addiction,
obesity, drug addiction and alcoholism, Mental confusion, limited attention span,learning disability, Lack of sex drive in women and men, lack of concentration, Itching and crawling sensation on skin,
For studies showing the connection between hypoglycemia and mood disorders: ➜ References for Mood Disorders and Nutrition.
As will be clear later on, hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar level, is only one form of what Dr. George Samra in his book THE HYPOGLYCEMIC CONNECTION II 2 describes as The Hypoglycemic Syndrome. He refers to the four most important symptoms: 1) Depression or moodiness, 2) tiredness, 3) memory impairment or poor concentration, and 4) history of sugar addiction. At least three of the symptoms should indicate the possibility of hypoglycemic syndrome.
The proper test for hypoglycemia is a special Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT) designed by Dr George Samra and described in his book The Hypoglycemic Connection II. See Hypoglycemic Test. See also below. Unlike a test for diabetes, Samra’s GTT records the measurements of glucose levels after a load of glucose over time, usually over four hours taken each half hour. He is interested in the rate of variations – the rise and fall of blood glucose during the test. This enables the doctor to discern six types of hypoglycemic reactions in a GTT as described in his book. This test should not be confused with a test for diabetes (a single blood test) which is different from a full GTT. You can also test yourself with a paper-and-pencil test for hypoglycemia with the NBI. Another useful test is: The Hypoglycemia Questionnaire.
There are several forms that the hypoglycemic syndrome can take and we will adopt Dr. Samra’s classification;
Vitamin B1 plays a role in the production of thyroxin, as does phenylalanine and tyrosine (the latter is the immediate forerunner of thyroxin). Thyroxin is also needed in the conversion of beta-carotene to vitamin A. Iodine deficiency may also be a factor in hypothyroidism. Also look up Hypothyroidism in Index.
Type 6, Cellular Level Hypoglycemia (Hypoglycia) This is energy starvation at the level of brain cells. Here, the person may have a normal GTT but presents the same hypoglycemic symptoms. This may be caused by a dysfunction in enzymes involved with glucose metabolism, usually as a result of an abnormal zinc/copper ratio or other type of heavy metal toxicity. Zinc is a coenzyme in the breakdown of glucose to simpler biochemical substances, before being used as energy inside brain cells. High copper levels depress zinc levels and vice versa. See also Hypoglycia Notes. Other coenzymes and vitamins are also involved in glucose metabolism inside the mitochondria.
For normal and Diabetic Blood Sugar levels see here.
So far we have shown the various forms of hypoglycemia, which can cause a multitude of negative psychological symptoms, but it needs to be realised that there are a host of other metabolic disorders in addition to or related to insulin resistance, that can trigger mood disorders.The ultimate solution is to get properly tested by a nutritional doctor for any metabolic disorders. Some of these have been covered in the article In Silent Diseases and Mood Disorders
ALLERGIES are closely related to the hypoglycemic syndrome. Many asthmatics have improved their condition by adopting the hypoglycemic diet to be discussed later. Very often, when we adopt the hypoglycemic diet – by eating natural food – hitherto hidden allergies may emerge. Common foods, causing allergic reactions are cows milk, eggs, fish, crustaceans, legumes, grains and various seeds. These may all result in hypoglycemic symptoms. Food allergies often interfere with the proper absorption of nutrients in the intestines, thus causing vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Others obstruct the synthesis of neurotransmitters in the brain (such as serotonin), often resulting in ‘psychiatric’ disorders. Allergic reactions can be overcome by either avoiding the offending foods and/or by supplementation with special enzymes, vitamins and minerals. Depending on the severity of allergic reactions, these should be treated in consultation with professional nutritionists.
Food, drug and allergy addiction – and even hypoglycemia – over a long period of time may cause adrenal exhaustion, as the body has relied on adrenaline production to raise the blood sugar level. Adrenaline is a defence hormone against all forms of stress.
1) Avoidance of sugar, coffee, strong tea, nicotine if possible, refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice, cakes and sugary drinks etc.
3) Supplementation of diet with Anti-stress vitamin B-Complex tablets, including chromium, zinc + Vitamin C, Omega-3 fatty acids (Fishoil), B12 and folic acid, vitamin D. See also Hypoglycemic diet.
Nevertheless, these unpleasant feelings can be alleviated, by taking a tablespoon of glycerine mixed in milk or diluted natural fruit juice or better still in a glass of water three times a day. When glycerine is metabolised into “energy” in the liver, it by-passes glucose, and is therefore not recognized by the pancreas as sugar.
Hypoglycemia is a stress symptom. This causes potassium to be excreted in the urine and salt to be retained, contributing to hypertension. Adelle Davis suggests that the unpleasant feelings of hypoglycemia may be relieved by taking potassium chloride tablets. Avocado contains an odd sugar called mannoheptulose, which may actually depress insulin production. Apart from avocado there are many other herbs that can help regulate blood sugar levels. See Herbal Remedies for Diabetes and Hypoglycemia.
An another plant-based supplement called Pycnogenol, derived from Pine Bark, has recently emerged in scientific literature that may help to ameliorate some of the medical conditions associated with pre- and/or diabetic insulin resistance such cardiovascular diseases or cognitive dysfunctions and many others. It is suggested to discuss this with your medical health professional. See: PubMed Studies.
What’s in a name?
As described previously, hypoglycemia means low blood sugar level. This is the common term used by people who suffer from the hypoglycemic symptoms. Unfortunately, this term causes immediate confusion for conventional doctors who understand hypoglycemia to be low blood sugar occurring in diabetic patients who have accidentally overdosed with their insulin injections. However, if we consider the condition in terms of insulin resistance the difference between diabetes and hypoglycemia is one of degree. In diabetes we have high blood sugar concentrations, whereas in hypoglycemia we see wildly fluctuating sugar levels, depending on the severity of insulin resistance. If you want to research hypoglycemia in the medical scientific literature, you have to look for terms like hyperinsulinism, hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, Syndrome X, diabetes and so on. Many nutritional doctors use the term Dysglycemia. It is possible that in the near future the medical fraternity may agree on a term. See also: Hypoglycemia: an unnamed medical condition There is no doubt that the impact of hypoglycemia is underestimated by the community. There are studies to show that hypoglycemia is associated with a vast array of modern degenerative diseases, from atherosclerosis, arthritis, various bone diseases, heart diseases, in fact every organ found in the body. And there is much evidence that hypoglycemia is a factor in mental illnesses, not generally recognized by conventional medicine or psychology. See Research Evidence.
This condition is one of sensitivity to yeast in the diet occurring in foods such as bread, alcohol, mushroom and malt, as well as to yeast germs which normally live in the intestines, particularly candida albicans. Approximately 25 percent of hypoglycemic patients suffer with candidiasis. The symptoms are almost identical and are mainly tiredness, vagueness, poor concentration, poor memory and depression. People with candidiasis need to follow the rules recommended for hypoglycemics but must also avoid yeast foods and in most cases do better with antifungal agents such as Nystatin prescribed by the doctor as well as acidophilus capsules obtainable from health food stores.
Other names include ME or myalgic encephalomyelitis or the yuppie flu. Severe fatigue is a common feature of CFS. This disease is becoming more common and many doctors regard it as predominantly a psychological condition. Some of the sufferers do have hypoglycemia and candidiasis and these can be treated mainly with diet and supplements. Dr Samra and other doctors regard this condition as a weakness of the immune system which has developed as a consequence of modern medicine as well as environmental pollution. Defying Darwin’s laws of nature, these days even people with weak constitutions live to become adults and do reproduce. This is one theory; others include the development of CFS as a result of exposure to antibiotics over some years. Again others believe the disorder has resulted from pollutants in the environment, including petrochemicals, lead, mercury and even fluoride in our drinking water.
One obvious reason for the development of hypoglycemia and diabetes is our modern lifestyle with easy access to manufactured foods laden with sugar. Our sugar consumption has increased exponentially over the last sixty years. See: World sugar Consumption and here and here. Much of it is promoted by the fast food industry. Sugar is addictive and helps to boost the sale of food products. See: The Serotonin Connection But there is another mechanism that may have contributed to excess sugar consumption. Studies have shown that psychological stress produces stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, that may interfere with the synthesis of a neurotransmitter, serotonin. This is called environmental depression. This is why we have included a self-help PSYCHOTHERAPYcourse, that will help people deal with stress in a more effective way. Serotonin is the main ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter in the brain. An imbalance of serotonin in the brain can cause endogenous depression. Doctors usually prescribe Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) for endogenous depression. These drugs are said to increase serotonin by blocking its reabsorption in the brain and so may reduce depression.
The nexus between hypoglycemia and mood disorders is that hypoglycemia interferes with the production of biological energy called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) that is essential in the synthesis of feel good neurotransmitters. Without that energy the body cannot produce these neurotransmitters.
The body produces serotonin from tryptophan, an essential amino acid (protein unit) found in food, such as soya protein, cottage cheese milk and many others. See Rich Sources of Nutrients at the web site. The absorption of tryptophan from food has to compete with the absorption and digestion of other amino acids – such as phenylalanine. Most amino acids (including glucose) – but not tryptophan – are transported into cells for utilization via the action of insulin! The absorption of tryptophan for conversion to serotonin can be sped up by consuming refined carbohydrates, such as sugar. Increased sugar consumption has the effect of triggering the release of insulin from the pancreas. This helps to absorb all the amino acids (including glucose) – but not tryptophan – leaving tryptophan free for absorption.
Unfortunately, people who are depressed may be inclined to increase their sugar consumption. This will speed up absorption of tryptophan for conversion to serotonin with the help of vitamin B6 and magnesium and presto they feel happy!!! But this may precisely lead to ‘sugar addiction’ and hypoglycemia! Many depressed people, including those with an addiction problem have been found to have a history of sugar-addiction. A high sugar diet, however, will cause the body to ‘down-regulate’ receptors for insulin in the membranes of cells. This means the cells will fail to respond to normal levels of insulin and eventually show “insulin resistance”. The body will try to compensate for this through what is called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (the HPA axis). This means in response to the perceived energy starvation by the hypothalamus in the brain, a message is sent to the adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline into the blood stream. This hormone functions to convert glycogen stores in the liver and muscles into glucose, so as to quickly raise blood glucose levels. But adrenaline is also the fight/flight hormone readying the body to face the dangers of life by pumping energy into muscles and the brain. This panic hormone is also responsible for the myriad of hypoglycemic symptoms, such as tremble, shakes, mood swings, depression and confusion. Some people have learned that taking sedating drugs such as alcohol, marijuana or benzodiazepines will temporarily give relief to these symptoms. But these can lead to addiction. See: The Serotonin Connection. So we see that there is more to hypoglycemia than meets the eye.
Hypoglycemia by Laurie Lynch ND
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