Low blood sugar – Causes, symptoms & Natural Treatment
Hypoglycaemia refers to inadequate concentration of glucose in circulating blood. It can occur in certain disease states such as diabetes or metabolic errors, and if severe, can become a medical emergency.
Reactive hypoglycaemia is a term describing recurrent episodes of symptomatic hypoglycaemia occurring within 4 hours of a high carbohydrate meal in people who are not diabetic.
It is a temporary and reversible state, commonly referred to as ‘low blood sugar’ or ‘blood sugar swings’. Refined sugars and carbohydrates, when not buffered by protein and fat, are absorbed quickly into the bloodstream raising the blood glucose level. The body responds by releasing insulin which stimulates the uptake of glucose. The blood glucose level can then drop rapidly, leading to symptoms of hypoglycaemia.
Causes of low blood sugar
- Fasting and prolonged starvation
- Endocrine disorders: e.g. diabetes / poor insulin control, Addison’s disease, hypopituitarism, adrenal insufficiency, tumours, hypothyroidism etc.
- Gastric surgery
- Diet high in sugars and refined CHOs, and low in protein and healthy fats
- Irregular eating patterns
- Excessive use of stimulants e.g. alcohol, tobacco, coffee or caffeine-containing drinks
- Stress: releases cortisol and adrenaline which causes a release of stored sugars into the bloodstream
Signs and symptoms
- Light-headedness, dizziness, fainting
- Fatigue and lethargy especially mid-morning or mid-afternoon
- Shaking, trembling
- Mood changes: irritability, nervousness, anxiety, panic attacks
- Inability to concentrate
- Craving for sweets or stimulants
- Frontal headache
- Blurred vision
TREATMENT STRATEGY FOR LOW BLOOD SUGAR
- Balance blood sugar levels
- Regulate weight
- Rectify nutritional deficiency
- Support nervous and adrenal function
- Regulate digestion
- Investigate and address SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
- Investigate and correct gut dysbiosis and bacterial overgrowth
Diet plan guidelines for hypoglycemia & low blood sugar levels
- Low-glycaemic load diet:
- Emphasise unrefined, high-fibre carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables
- Sugars and refined carbohydrate should be eliminated
- Intake of high-glycaemic foods such as grains, starchy vegetables, dried fruits, sweet fruits and fruit juices should be limited.
- Excessive alcohol and caffeine should be avoided
- Protein: ensure there is protein in every meal, including snacks. Aim for around 1g/kg body weight daily
- Increase fibre intake to help control blood sugar levels: whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, oat bran, psyllium, chia bran
- Healthy fats in each meal to slow blood glucose response: nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, oily fish, coconut oil
- Small, frequent meals throughout the day, rather than 3 large meals, may help with blood sugar control
- Avoid overeating in any one sitting
Supplements that support Hypoglycemia
Reactive hypoglycemia can usually be resolved with dietary management. However, if blood sugar is difficult to control or in a pre-diabetic situation, supplementation may be helpful.
Supplements that support blood sugar levels & Hypoglycemia
- Soluble fibre supplements e.g. psyllium
Herbal considerations (depending on assessment)
- Blood sugar balance – gymnema, cinnamon, fenugreek, goats rue, bilberry
- Pancreatic support – gymnema, barberry, fringe tree, goldenseal
- Bitters – gentian, agrimony
- Liver support – globe artichoke, rosemary, barberry, milk thistle, bupleurum
- Adaptogens – ginseng, withania, licorice, schisandra, rehmannia
Lifestyle / Physical measures
- Manage stress
- Regular moderate exercise improves glucose metabolism by increasing insulin sensitivity
- Quit smoking and other recreational drug use
FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE NATURAL TREATMENT OF HYPOGLYCEMIA
Hypoglycemia is most commonly brought on by a poor diet and lifestyle over a longish period of time. Over time, the pancreas can be damaged and produce less insulin along with the body’s cells becoming somewhat resistant to the insulin that is produced.
Strict diet measures can usually reverse symptoms within weeks but often there are underlying causes as to why the imbalances have occurred. These include mineral imbalances, gut dysbiosis and bacterial overgrowth, intestinal permeability and a high number of immune antibodies circulating. At our Perth clinic of Advanced Functional Medicine we regularly treat blood sugar irregularities and diabetes. If you or a family member are suffering from symptoms of blood sugar dysregulation we would love to hear from you. What have been your strategies to correct the imbalances? Have you checked for bacterial overgrowth of your gut and SIBO? What dietary changes have you made? Please leave a comment below