Naturopaths and mainstream medicine regard hypoglycaemia quite differently. This is due to a confusion in terminology.
Hypoglycaemia cited in medical texts literally means ‘low (hypo) blood (aemia) sugar (glyc)’, where the circulating blood sugars stay below normal levels for a prolonged period. This can be life-threatening and is usually drug or alcohol induced. On the other hand, the hypoglycaemia that natural therapists frequently diagnose is a condition of fluctuating or see-sawing blood sugar levels. Here and elsewhere in this book, hypoglycaemia means fluctuating blood sugar levels, or ‘see-saw glycaemia’.
Blood sugars normally rise and fall within certain parameters. After a meal sugars rise as the nutrients, particularly carbohydrate, are digested and move from the intestine into the bloodstream. At a certain level of blood sugar, the hormone insulin is released. Insulin allows the glucose molecule to move from the blood into cells. This makes the blood sugar levels drop. Normally there are counters and checks to stop too sudden a rise or fall in blood sugars, but a fault in this balancing mechanism causes hypoglycaemia.
One of the most common conditions in industrial countries is mature-onset diabetes. Many people go through years of hypoglycaemia before the body becomes exhausted from juggling excessively high and low blood sugars, and the end result is mature-onset diabetes. By treating hypoglycaemia, you may help to prevent it. (See also Diabetes.)
The symptoms of hypoglycaemia include: exhaustion, depression, anxiety, irritability, mood changes, headaches, dizziness, sweating, tremor, fast heart beat (tachycardia), muscle pain and weakness, confusion, forgetfulness, sweet craving, reduced libido, excessive hunger between meals, waking exhausted, nausea before meals, tired after lunch, craving sweets, coffee, cigarettes and alcohol. A telling sign is if symptoms improve after eating, reflecting an increase in blood sugar.
Why certain people are ultra-sensitive to blood sugar fluctuations is probably genetically determined. However, the following factors contribute to hypoglycaemia:
- Missing meals, especially breakfast. By the time you eat lunch it could be 16 or 17 hours since last night’s dinner. You have effectively entered a fasting state.
- A chronic sweet tooth.
- High glycaemic index foods eaten on their own. The Glycaemic Index (GI) ranks foods according to how quickly they raise blood sugar levels. Foods with a high GI, between 70 and 100, will increase blood sugars faster, higher and for longer than foods with a low GI. See the Index below.
Some Foods With High GI Factor
- 97 Parsnip
- 89 Rice bubbles
- 77 Cornflakes
- 83 Rice, white
- 76 Rice, brown
- 79 Biscuit, sweet (Morning Coffee)
- 70 Biscuit, plain (Sao)
(Note: these foods will cause an unacceptable increase in blood sugar levels if eaten on their own. They are not ‘bad’ foods, but need to be eaten in conjunction with other foods such as milk, meat or beans.)
Some Foods With Low GI Factor
- 42 Porridge
- 18 Soya beans
- 29 Lentils
- 33 Chickpeas
- 48 Baked beans
- 43 Orange
- 53 Banana
- 27 Milk (whole)
Adapted with permission from The G.I. Factor by Jenny Brand-Miller, et al, Hodder & Stoughton Australia 1996, p. 24.
- Substances that cause a rapid and unsustained rise in blood sugar levels are caffeine (coffee, cola and guarana), nicotine and alcohol.
- Stress causes an increase in the hormones adrenalin and cortisol – both involved in sugar levels.
- Deficiencies in the vitamins and minerals which are necessary for sugar metabolism are bound to cause problems with sugar metabolism. The nutrients in question include zinc, calcium, chromium, magnesium, manganese and vitamins B1 and B3.
What To Do
The treatment of hypoglycaemia is easy, and results can be felt within a few days.
- Eat small meals, regularly; breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and supper.
- Each meal should contain a little protein and high fibre carbohydrate, for example cheese and bread, rice and dhal, beans on toast, peanut or almond butter on toast, egg and toast, tuna and rice, fish and salad, fruit and yoghurt.
- Eat plenty of fibre. Fibre slows down the rate at which sugar is absorbed.
- Avoid the triggers sugar, alcohol, coffee, cigarettes.
- Foods which are particularly good for stabilising blood sugar levels include apples, blueberries, rye, oats, fenugreek, green beans and other legumes.
Herbs and Supplements
- Take a vitamin B complex each morning or a tablespoon of brewer’s yeast. Brewer’s yeast has the advantage of containing chromium, an important mineral in sugar metabolism.
- Three times daily take a supplement containing zinc, chromium, calcium, magnesium, manganese and vitamins B1 and B3. All necessary for the regulation of sugar levels. (There are specialised sugar regulating tablets available.)
- Take one teaspoon of herbal bitters in water before dinner.
- Herbal bitters also help take away sweet cravings. Take 15 drops in water whenever you crave sweets.
- The stress hormones, plays a major role in sugar levels. Stress management is vital. See Stress.
At a glance
- Good food
- Small meals frequently. Low GI foods. Carbohydrates and protein. High fibre. Blueberries, apples, rye, oats, green beans, fenugreek and legumes.
- Food to avoid
- Sugar, high GI foods, coffee, alcohol, nicotine.
- Remedies to begin
- Herbal bitters, brewer’s yeast, zinc, chromium, calcium, magnesium, manganese and vitamins B1 and B3.
- Stress management.
- Take time and love to steady unstable emotions.