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Do I have low blood sugar? Why do I have it and what can I do about it?

Updated: Jul 9, 2019

Do I have low blood sugar? Why do I have it and what can I do about it?

Let’s break it down. ‘Hypo’ means ‘low’. ‘Glyc’ refers to sugar (as in ‘glucose’), and ‘aemia’ is to do with the blood, so hypoglycaemia literally means ‘low sugar in the blood’. Low blood sugar levels is another way to put it. Some people simply call this ‘having a hypo’.

We’ll mention here that the strict medical definition of hypoglycaemia tends to differ from its more common usage. When most people talk of hypoglycaemia, they are referring to reactive or functional hypoglycaemia. Here’s how it works.

Suppose you eat a typical lunch, such as a noodle soup, or a wrap filled with salad, or a sandwich of some sort. Chances are your meal was pretty heavy on the carbs, and not enough protein or fat to balance this out. When you consume a carbohydrate-rich meal, a large amount of glucose enters your bloodstream, so your blood sugar levels go up. We need to keep our blood glucose in the Goldilocks zone – not too little, not too much, just right. Eat too many carbs in one sitting, and your blood sugar levels may get a little too high a little too quickly. The body reacts by rapidly pumping out insulin to bring your blood sugar levels back down.

Since our ancestral diet did not include such massive carbohydrate meals, our bodies simply aren’t used to this experience. As a result, we tend to have an over-reaction to the rise in blood glucose, with the flood of insulin being more than is needed. This means that what goes up, must come down and down it comes, et voila! Your meal that contained plenty of sugar, ironically leads to a state of not having enough sugar in the blood.

How do you know if you have this? The most apparent symptom is wanting to eat something, and eat it NOW! Since the brain is heavily dependent on a steady supply of glucose, common symptoms include difficulty concentrating, blurry vision, headaches, and mood changes. Feeling flat or low is one such change. Irritability is another. We even have a 21st century word for it: Hangry. Other symptoms include being shaky, sweaty, and light-headed.

So what can you do, if this is you? The first step is to look at what you’re eating. Make sure that your meal – every meal – is balanced, containing a mixture of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. The more carbs there are, the more you’re going to get these symptoms. The more refined and sweet the carbs are, the worse it gets. For example, broccoli is more carbohydrate than protein or fat, but it’s not going to be as much of a problem as anything that tastes sweeter. The sweeter the food, and the more of it, the faster and higher your blood sugar levels will rise, and the faster and harder they will come crashing back down again.

Some people recommend small meals spaced throughout the day, instead of 2 or 3 large ones. The principle is the same. A large meal typically means a higher amount of glucose entering the blood stream.

You may wish to consult a Naturopath or Nutritionist for expert advice if you need help with symptoms such as these. This article only scratches the surface, and they’ll have plenty more tools to be able to help you. You can also learn how to help yourself by furthering your nutritional education.

Afterword: Funnily enough there is an advert on TV that says “you’re not you when you’re hungry.” What do they recommend? (Hint: it’s not broccoli). Consuming a sugary snack when you’re hungry (or hangry) means a quick rise in blood sugar levels, followed by a crash, followed by reaching for another sugary snack….. Quite clever advertising, isn’t it?

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