Metabolic Panel: Low Blood Glucose
An excerpt from the book, “Your Blood Never Lies: How to Read a Blood Test for a Longer, Healthier Life” by James B. LaValle, RPh, CCN, ND. Read additional excerpts or buy the whole book.
WHAT CAUSES LOW BLOOD GLUCOSE?
Low blood glucose, or hypoglycemia, is typically defined as a blood glucose level lower than 50 mg/dL in men, 45 mg/dL in women, and 40 mg/dL in infants and children. However, many people can experience symptoms of hypoglycemia when their level is still in the low 60s. “True” hypoglycemia, as it is medically defined, affects only 5 to 10 percent of individuals who have experienced symptoms of the condition. In other words, some people may have temporarily felt the effects of low blood sugar (after skipping a meal, for example), but are not clinically hypoglycemic.
Hypoglycemia frequently occurs in people with diabetes as a result of too much insulin or blood-sugar-lowering medications. However, people who do not have diabetes can also have hypoglycemia. The condition may stem from:
- Critical illnesses or infections
- Eating disorders like anorexia
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Hereditary fructose intolerance
- Hormonal imbalances
- Insulinoma (a tumor in the pancreas that causes too much insulin to be produced)
- Kidney disease or kidney failure
- Liver disease or liver failure
- Medications, including blood sugar-lowering drugs, aspirin (in large doses), pentamidine, quinine, salicylates, and sulfa medications
Low blood glucose can also occur in people with diabetes when they skip a meal, or take too much insulin or medication and then do not eat enough to compensate. The result is an excess of insulin in the blood, which then processes and removes too much glucose from the bloodstream. Diabetic hypoglycemia requires medical attention, but it should not be overtreated, as this can cause blood sugar to rise to an excessively high level. People who have diabetes must take the necessary measures to prevent spikes in blood sugar, as this can increase the risk of medical complications.
Both diabetic and non-diabetic hypoglycemia should not be ignored. As already mentioned, severe episodes of hypoglycemia can cause medical emergencies such as falls, seizures, and loss of consciousness. Low blood sugar and levels that trend slightly low are concerns because the body cannot properly function without sufficient glucose. Furthermore, the brain, which cannot produce glucose on its own, requires an adequate amount for normal cognitive function. Low blood sugar levels are linked to insomnia, since a drop in blood sugar at night triggers the release of adrenaline to break down glycogen (stored sugar) into glucose. The release of adrenaline also stimulates the brain, causing you to wake up.
If a blood test shows that your blood sugar is low, you should speak to your doctor about how to reverse the trend and treat the underlying cause. You should also consider consulting a dietitian to help you develop an eating plan that can stabilize your blood sugar levels. A typical nutritional plan for problems
with low blood sugar involves eating foods very low in refined sugars and high in fiber, as well as including a little bit of protein in each meal. Checking your blood sugar with an in-home meter—which you should already be doing if you have diabetes—can help you track the highs and lows that occur after you eat, allowing you to adjust your dietary habits accordingly. Testing your blood regularly will also help you avoid spikes and drops in your glucose levels.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF LOW BLOOD GLUCOSE?
The physical indicators of low blood sugar appear when blood sugar drops to around 60 mg/dL or lower. Depending on the severity, hypoglycemia can be a minor annoyance or extremely dangerous. Symptoms may include anxiety, confusion, dizziness, fatigue, headache, heart palpitations, intense hunger, memory loss, nervousness, sweating or clammy skin, and trembling. In severe cases, this condition may cause seizures and loss of consciousness.
HOW CAN LOW BLOOD GLUCOSE BE TREATED?
Immediate treatment is needed when a person experiences a hypoglycemic attack. For diabetics who experience hypoglycemia, the general recommendation is to take 15 to 20 g of quick-acting carbohydrates (simple sugars) from sources like glucose gels or tablets, non-diet soda, or hard candies. This usually relieves symptoms and raises blood sugar. However, in more extreme circumstances, a person may not respond to these attempts and, therefore, medical intervention is required. If glucose tablets or another source of quick-acting sugar does not stimulate a response after one or two tries, call an ambulance.
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If you have severe or frequent hypoglycemic attacks, you must be evaluated by a physician. For most people, rapid drops in blood sugar are brought on by poor eating habits, too much exercise, or stress. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to control the condition so that hypoglycemic episodes are
kept to a minimum, if not eliminated.
Your healthcare provider may also recommend taking a nutritional supplement for better blood sugar control. The supplements listed in the table below support healthy blood glucose balance.
|SUPPLEMENTS FOR LOW BLOOD GLUCOSE|
|GTF (Glucose Tolerance Factor) chromium||200 to 400 mcg once a day.||Chromium is important for blood sugar and insulin regulation. Additionally, people who have a diet high in refined carbohydrates like sugar may also be low in chromium. Use under a doctor’s super vision if you are diabetic, as it may affect medication dosage. Do not use if you have kidney or liver problems, chromate or leather contact allergy, or a behavioral psychiatric condition such as schizophrenia or depression.|
|Magnesium||250 to 500 mg twice a day.||Use magnesium aspartate, citrate, taurate, glycinate, or any amino acid chelate. Supports bone building and balances calcium intake. The ratio of calcium-tomagnesium intake should be between 1 to 1 and 2 to 1. This supplement is reported to improve blood vessel function and insulin resistance, in addition to decreasing LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides. Also essential for phase-I liver detoxification. If you experience loose stools after taking magnesium, cut your dose in half and gradually increase over the course of a few months. Consult your health-care provider for dosage advice.|
|Zinc||25 to 50 mg once a day.||Zinc is important in immunity and acts as an antioxidant. It is also reported to help regulate blood sugar. May also be used by men to treat low testosterone and support prostate health. Take zinc in the form of an amino acid chelate or citrate. Check with your doctor before using.|
Treatment for hypoglycemic episodes can differ slightly depending on whether hypoglycemia is diabetic or reactive (non-diabetic). As mentioned above, diabetics should immediately ingest a source of quick-acting carbohydrates when they experience an attack. People who have reactive hypoglycemia can also keep glucose tablets or hard candies on hand, but these should be consumed only to prevent an imminent hypoglycemic episode—they should not be eaten regularly. It is better to use a long-term strategy to treat reactive hypoglycemia, such as eating small, well-balanced meals and/or snacks every three hours. And if you experience any symptom that indicates a drop in blood sugar, eat a well-balanced snack that includes protein, healthy fat, and carbs. If the drop is more acute, though, you may need to resort to fast-acting sugars.
Long-term treatment of hypoglycemia, particularly reactive hypoglycemia, requires dietary modification. It’s essential to avoid refined sugars and eat foods that help slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream after meals. Here are additional dietary tips for stabilizing blood sugar levels:
- Drink less alcohol, coffee, and other caffeinated beverages. Depending on how sensitive you are to caffeine, you may need to switch to decaffeinated coffee or tea. Also, remember that coffee, espresso, and chai tea drinks served at many chains and coffee houses are loaded with sugars, and should be avoided. When it comes to alcohol, stay away from cocktails that contain fruit juice, and stick to one drink only.
- Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits in a proportionate amount. Ideally, you should eat vegetables and fruits in a ratio of 3 to 1. (For every three servings of vegetables, have one fruit serving.) Again, choose fruits that are low in glycemic load, like apples, berries, and grapefruit, and limit your intake to two servings per day.
- Eliminate or limit refined sugars, and avoid excessive intake of carbohydrates. Foods containing refined sugars and carbs can make hypoglycemia worse. In addition, avoid soft drinks, and be aware that even artificially sweetened beverages can cause blood sugar levels to drop in some people.
- Pair sources of protein and/or fat with carbohydrates. This food combination helps to slow the release and absorption of glucose, in turn preventing blood sugar from dropping too low.
- Try to incorporate fiber into every meal and snack, since it helps balance blood sugar. Fiber-rich foods include beans, nuts, berries, leafy green vegetables, and modest amounts of whole grains. Aim for 25 g or more per day, and remember to stay hydrated in order to prevent uncomfortable bloating or digestion issues.
Physical activity also needs to be considered. Although exercise lowers blood sugar levels, most people with reactive hypoglycemia can still tolerate normal exercise, which is important to overall health. An ideal exercise routine is one that includes both cardio and strength training, but the workout does not need to be rigorous in order to be beneficial. Begin with a low-impact form of exercise, such as walking, for thirty minutes four or five times a week, gradually increasing the level of intensity. If exercise makes your blood sugar drop too low, make sure you have a small snack beforehand, and replenish your sugars and proteins during and after exercise. One way to do this is to add a packet of Propel powder, which is enriched with vitamins and anti-oxidants, to your water, plus a small scoop of protein powder. One of these drinks provides 10 to 15 g of protein, and it’s recommended that you drink one for every twenty to thirty minutes of training. Although most brands use dextrose or sucrose as a sweetener, more and more companies like Gleukos are making their sports drinks with glucose, which is more effective for replacing sugar in the bloodstream.
Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: August 1, 2016