Hypoglycaemia
(low blood sugar)

There are many different sugars in nature. However the only sugar in the bloodstream is glucose which is also the most plentiful and most important sugar in the whole of biology. It is stored as glycogen in the liver (and also in muscle) and released as needed to keep the blood level fairly constant.
As the most important source of energy, this blood glucose has to be 'taken up' by the cells; this requires the help of insulin - a hormone produced by the pancreas (a large gland lying behind the stomach). When this fails - as in childhood diabetes - the patient cannot move glucose into his cells and - quite literally - would starve to death without insulin injections.
The diabetes of adults is quite different; there is plenty of insulin around, but, often because of obesity, it is simply ineffective at driving glucose into the cells and so the blood glucose rises.
The brain is very sensitive to low levels of glucose in the bloodstream and so if a diabetic takes too large a dose of insulin they may become confused and even go unconscious.
However, many non-diabetics can develop symptoms of low blood sugar. These include: tiredness, weakness, faintness, dizziness, sleepiness, poor concentration, trembling, mood changes and a craving for sweet things.


What Causes Hypoglycaemia?
Dieting can use up all our glycogen stores and such enthusiasts often report feeling 'dizzy' and 'light-headed' when these stores are depleted; similarly marathon runners report "hitting the wall" - a feeling of muscle weakness when their muscle glycogen is exhausted, and "the bonks" - dizzy and light-headed when the liver glycogen has been used up. However, it can occur in non-dieters and non-exercisers as a result of excess refined carbohydrates (i.e. sugar and sugar complexes) in the diet. Over millions of years, our ancestors never had access to sugar, flour, sweets, cakes, biscuits etc; all naturally occurring carbohydrates were enmeshed in fibrous material and hence were harder to get at and digest in the intestine....hence the sugars were released only slowly into the bloodstream. When we do eat these 'refined' carbohydrates, they are digested very rapidly and send the blood sugar far higher and far more quickly than would occur in nature. The body's response to this is a huge release of insulin which drives the blood glucose too low, resulting in some of the symptoms listed above.

If you think you may suffer from hypoglycaemia, here are some tips:

1. Eat only those carbohydrate foods which are harder to digest. In simple terms this means avoiding anything which contains sugar or flour - sweets, chocolate, cakes biscuits, pastry, bread etc. All vegetables (especially 'in their skins') are wonderful (especially legumes - peas, beans, lentils and co); fruit (in skins where possible and never pureed or sweetened) is also excellent. Oddly oats and pasta are also excellent.

2. You may 'cheat' sometimes by adding extra fibre to your refined carbohydrate foods! I personally have had most succes with 'Guar' but this became unavailable on prescription a few years ago.

3. Nibblers do better than Gorgers! You are far better to eat lots of small snacks than to 'pig out' on one large meal.

You may need to follow this advice only at certain times when you are more vulnerable to these symptoms - e.g. when under stress, women just before their periods.

If you do have symptoms of low blood sugar, then by all means eat some refined carbohydrate - a Mars Bar or whatever you have handy; do, however, resolve to avoid this situation next time by following these simple rules.

Good Luck!

 

Doctor Bernard Shevlin