THE IMPORTANCE OF TIGHTLY REGULATING BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS
It is vitally important for the body to maintain blood sugar levels within a narrow range. If the blood sugar level falls too low, energy supply to all tissues, and particularly the brain, is impaired. If the blood sugar level is too high, this is damaging to arteries and the long term effect of arterial disease is heart attack and stroke. Eating excessive sugar at one meal or excessive refined carbohydrate (white bread, cakes, pasta, rice etc), which is rapidly digested into sugar, can suddenly overwhelm the body’s normal control of blood sugar levels. The effect of this is further compounded if we do not exercise enough to burn off those “quick” calories. It is linked to insulin resistance, and can be a pre-cursor to diabetes.
WHAT DOES HYPOGLYCEMIA MEAN?
Hypoglycemia literally means “low blood sugar”. A person who suffers from hypoglycemia may experience a high blood sugar “spike” after ingesting sugar or caffeine (or some prescription or illegal drugs), and then a subsequent “low” around two hours later (this time can vary from person to person). During the “low”, the brain is not receiving enough energy to function correctly and this affects energy and mood (and can lead to more serious long term problems such as anxiety, fatigue and depression). A key symptom of hypoglycemia is quite often disturbed sleep, typically occurring between 2am and 3am, when the blood sugar drops too low and the adrenal reaction to bring the blood sugar level back to normal causes the person to wake.
HOW IS HYPOGLYCEMIA DIAGNOSED?
Testing for hypoglycemia involves a four hour (or longer) glucose tolerance test with blood sugar readings taken every half hour. This determines up to 6 different types of hypoglycemia and is discussed in detail on the hypoglycemic website at www.hypoglycemia.asn.au. Hypoglycemia is also discussed in detail in one of Dr George Samra’s books: “The Hypoglycemic Connection II”. This book is available at One Stop Allergies Kogarah NSW (Fax: 02 9588 5290, Ph: 9553 0084).
SYMPTOMS OF HYPOGLYCEMIA
Some of the symptoms of hypoglycemia can include:
- Dizziness or feeling “spaced out”
- Tremors or feeling “shaky”
- Cold sweats
- Migraine headaches
- Digestive disturbances
- Mood swings
- Anti-social behaviour
- Sugar addiction
- Suddenly feeling weak or lethargic
- 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 the skin
- Blurred vision
- Nervous breakdown
- “foggy” brain (such as in chronic fatigue syndrome)
- Blurred vision
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ear)
- Bedwetting and hyperactivity (ADHD or ADD) in children
WHAT ELSE CAUSES HYPOGLYCEMIA SYMPTOMS?
Some persons suffering from hypoglycemia may not experience very high or low blood sugar levels but still may have the symptoms of hypoglycemia after ingesting sugar. These people may have a thyroid problem (such as hypothyroidism) as the main cause of their hypoglycemia, or a metabolic disorder caused by a dysfunction in enzymes involved with glucose metabolism (usually as a result of abnormal zinc/copper levels – the ratio of these is important as higher than normal levels of either suppresses the other, and zinc is required as a coenzyme in the breakdown of glucose). In addition, any type of anaemia can mimic hypoglycemia.
HOW DOES STRESS AFFECT HYPOGLYCEMIA
Stress can also be a major factor in hypoglycemia. When a person becomes stressed for whatever reason, their body releases stress hormones in order to cope with the stress. Adrenaline is such a stress hormone and has the effect of rapidly raising sugar in the blood stream. This triggers an insulin surge which produces a drop in blood sugar levels and also causes hypoglycemia, explaining why we often “fall in a heap” after a stressful situation. Hypoglycemia can therefore be both a cause of stress and the result of stress, and this vicious circle explains why stress can be so damaging to our bodies in the long term.
THE LINK BETWEEN HYPOGLYCEMIA AND OTHER HEALTH CONDITIONS
Hypoglycemia is also a precursor to diabetes and some mental illnesses, and may be responsible for low energy periods during the day (as are food allergies and intolerances/sensitivities). Food allergies or sensitivities and candidiasis (thrush, tinea etc) are often associated with hypoglycemia.
HOW IS HYPOGLYCEMIA TREATED
Treatment for hypoglycemia is to avoid all foods containing sugar and also refined carbohydrate. It can takes several weeks or months for the body to regain control of blood sugar while on the correct diet and there could be some withdrawal symptoms (possibly fatigue, depression and a worsening of the hypoglycemic symptoms) for several weeks, similar to what a smoker or alcoholic suffer when they quit their habits.
HYPOGLYCEMIA DIET RULES
The main rules for the hypoglycemic diet are:
- Eat a large high protein breakfast, preferably containing some form of meat (chicken or fish is the best, or at least two eggs);
- Eat a low GI snack every 2 to 2.5 hours (you need to determine which is the best time break for you, and generally two and a half hours is the maximum time between meals);
- No sugar. Also avoid refined carbohydrates such as white bread and rice, cakes, sugary biscuits and sugary drinks (soft drinks, cordials and some fruit juices). Avoid sugary fruits initially including melons, dates and bananas, and also honey. Limit consumption of potato, pumpkin and sweet potato as these can substantially affect blood sugar levels – once the hypoglycemia is under control, small amounts of sugary fruits and starchy vegetables may be reintroduced;
- Avoid coffee, strong tea and nicotine;
- Avoid alcohol, most of which is high in sugar – the lower sugar varieties are vodka and scotch which, when consumed moderately, are less likely to affect your blood sugar. (If you are drinking alcohol, you should also be eating low GI snacks or protein to buffer the effects.).
WHAT ARE THE BEST FOODS FOR PEOPLE WITH HYPOGLYCEMIA?
(no more than 2 pieces per day, consumed with other low GI food such as protein, due to the fructose content – not to be consumed on its own);
(as much as you want, although potatoes, sweet potato and pumpkin should be sparing);
- Meats and eggs;
- Nuts and seeds
(preferably raw and unsalted. These are not sufficient as a meal on their own);
- Low GI breads and cereals;
- Milk products such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, butter
(only if you are not allergic or sensitive to them – if you are, try sheep’s or goat’s milk, soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, hazelnut milk, quinoa milk as alternatives);
- Brown rice cakes, basmati or wholegrain brown rice; and
- Good oils (raw, not used for cooking, preferably cold pressed and organic).
DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS RECOMMENDED FOR HYPOGLYCEMIA
Most people with hypoglycemia will require some vitamin supplementation initially and should include a multi-B complex, chromium (to assist with food cravings), zinc, magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin C. If withdrawal symptoms from the high sugar diet are unpleasant, 2 teaspoons of glycerine, mixed in a glass of milk, or mixed with water and a dash of lemon juice, can be taken three times a day until the symptoms have passed. Glycerine is a vegetable extract which does not affect insulin levels or the pancreas, and is a fast supply of energy for the brain. Note: Gylcerol is the same as glycerine.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HYPOGLYCEMIA AND FOOD ALLERGIES/INTOLERANCES
Allergies, including food allergies, food intolerances and food sensitivities, can be closely related to hypoglycemia due to the effect they can have on blood sugar (ie, from adrenaline surges after eating) and vitamin and mineral levels. For this purpose we will put them under the one “umbrella” and call them food allergies, even though they may not be, in the true sense, an allergy (which may result in the constriction of airways or anaphylactic shock).
EFFECTS OF FOOD ALLERGIES
Food allergies can cause a great variety of symptoms including major vitamin and mineral deficiencies, including osteoporosis. An example of this is coeliac disease which may affect about one in sixty of the general population (>1%). Coeliac disease is an allergy to the gluten protein in wheat, oats, barley, rye, triticale, spelt etc. Many manufactured foods also contain wheat starch and further information can be obtained from your state Coeliac society. Coeliac disease has been linked to many auto-immune diseases and there is a much higher rate of celiac disease in the diabetic community. Coeliac NSW and ACT have a website address at www.coeliac.org.au/nsw-act/ or they can be contacted by phoning (02) 9487 5088.
Food allergies can also result in arthritis, rheumatism, eczema, skin conditions, itch, irritable bowel, colitis, asthma and other airways diseases, headaches and migraines, depression and fatigue, cancer, bladder problems, recurrent cystitis and bedwetting, hypertension (high blood pressure), multiple sclerosis, Parkinsons disease and nerve tissue damage.
WHAT FOODS TRIGGER ALLERGIES?
Many foods may trigger the above symptoms. Research has revealed the most common allergies found to date are cows milk products, yeast and gluten. In addition to these common allergens, things like peanuts chocolate, eggs, soy and potato are most commonly associated with eczema. Asthma is most likely caused by an allergy to dust and dust mite, and also cow’s milk products, including beef and veal.
Migraines and headaches are mostly caused by chocolate and cola drinks, oranges and other citrus fruits, peanuts and peanut paste, green beans and peas, cow’s milk products and the food additive MSG (code 621). They can also be caused by dehydration, particularly on a hot day where not enough water has been consumed to replace the fluid loss. Fructose malabsorption (the natural sugar in fruit) has recently been found to cause zinc and iron deficiencies in some people. And lets not forget that there are many food additives, colourings and preservatives that can cause all sorts of gut and brain symptoms.
HOW ARE FOOD ALLERGIES DIAGNOSED?
There are many ways to determine food allergies, and some of these are not 100% reliable. The best way is to undertake an “elimination diet” over a two week period. Dr. Samra’s book ‘The Allergy Connection’ describes the Baseline Diet, consisting of specially chosen low-allergy foods which are the least likely to cause an allergic response. The usual protocol is to only eat foods included in the Baseline diet for two weeks, and after that foods are gradually re-introduced to the diet one at a time. Any symptom, such as wind, bloating, pain, nausea or headache is recorded for the new food, and this food needs to be withdrawn from the diet. Foods that do not cause problems can remain in the diet.
When adding foods back to the diet, do the grains (including cereals) last. It is preferable to undertake this diet with the help of an experienced nutritionist or specialist nutritional doctor. In some cases, adding digestive enzymes, or reducing consumption of questionable foods to once every four or five days, may help eliminate the problem if the foods only cause problems due to excessive consumption. This is not the case for any really allergic symptoms such as peanut allergies which can be fatal. Also, if you have coeliac disease, and you consume bread every four days, the damage caused to the small intestine will not heal, so it is important to distinguish coeliac disease from an intolerance to gluten.
Cytotoxic food allergy testing is most useful for diagnosing food allergies. However, an experienced kinesiologist can test individual foods allergies by using muscle testing. When the food is placed on the body or in the mouth, the muscle being tested will go weak if there is a food allergy present. This may also be a good way to test for allergies if the person does not want to do the elimination diet, or undergo blood tests. Skin prick tests can be unreliable in determining food allergies and are better at testing airborne allergens.
WHERE CAN I GET FURTHER INFORMATION ON FOOD ALLERGIES?
Food allergies, and diseases caused by food allergies, are discussed in detail in Dr. George Samra’s book “The Allergy Connection, Featuring the Food and Disease Paradigm”. This book is available at One Stop Allergies PO Box 394 Kogarah NSW 2217 (Fax: 02 9588 5290).
(This article was prepared by Susan Ridge and Nicole Samra using information from Dr Samra’s food allergy and hypoglycemic books, and also from an article published on the website of Dr Sarah Myhill of the United Kingdom – www.myhill.co.uk)
Dr Samra is a medical graduate of Sydney University, Australia. He also holds a Fellowship with the Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine (ACNEM). He has written up-to-date books on hypoglycemia and food allergies, and has successfully treated thousands of patients with his sensible and simple approach to diet. He is currently a medical practitioner at Total Therapies Medical Centre in Kogarah NSW (Phone: 02 9553 0084, Fax: 02 9588 5290).