“Hypoglycemia” is the medical term for low blood sugar. Occasionally, hypoglycemia can be a potentially dangerous problem (for example, when caused by a tumor of the pancreas, liver disease, or from injecting too much insulin). Over consumption of simple sugar creates a rebound effect of symptoms known as “post prandial syndrome.”
More often, however, when people say they have hypoglycemia, they are describing a group of symptoms that occur when the body overreacts to the rise in blood sugar that occurs after eating, resulting in a rapid or excessive fall in the blood sugar level. Common symptoms of hypoglycemia (also sometimes called reactive hypoglycemia) are fatigue, anxiety, headaches, difficulty concentrating, sweaty palms, shakiness, excessive hunger, drowsiness, abdominal pain, and depression. Almost every individual is effected differently.
Many people who believe they have reactive hypoglycemia do
not, in fact, have low blood sugar levels,1 and many people who do
have low blood sugar levels do not have any symptoms of reactive hypoglycemia.2
Some evidence suggests that reactive hypoglycemia may be partly a psychological
condition.3 Consequently, many doctors believe that reactive
hypoglycemia essentially does not exist.4 Most doctors, on the other
hand, have found reactive hypoglycemia to be a common cause of the symptoms
Dietary changes that may be helpful: Doctors find that
individuals with hypoglycemia usually improve when they eliminate refined sugars, caffeine,
and alcohol from their diet; eat foods high in fiber
(such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables,
legumes, and nuts); and eat small, frequent meals. Few
studies have investigated the effects of these changes, but the research that
is available generally supports the observations of doctors.5 6
7 8 Some symptoms of low blood sugar may be related to or
made worse by food allergies.9
Some people report an improvement in symptoms when eating a
high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. That observation appears to conflict with
research showing that increasing protein intake can actually impair the body’s
ability to process sugar,10 possibly because protein increases
insulin levels11 (insulin reduces blood sugar levels). However, some
doctors have seen good results with high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets,
particularly among individuals who do not improve with a high-fiber, high-complex-carbohydrate
Nutritional supplements that may be helpful: Research has
shown that supplementing with chromium (200
mcg per day)12 or magnesium (340
mg per day)13 can prevent blood sugar levels from falling
excessively in people with hypoglycemia. Niacinamide
(vitamin B3) has also been found to be helpful for hypoglycemic individuals.14
Other nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc,
and vitamin B6, may help control blood
sugar levels in diabetics.15 Since there are certain similarities in
the way the body regulates high and low blood sugar levels, these nutrients
might be helpful for hypoglycemia as well, although the amounts needed for that
purpose are not known.
Are there any side
effects or interactions? Refer to the individual supplement for information
about any side effects or interactions.
Checklist for Hypoglycemia
Within this, information about the effects of a particular supplement or herb on a particular condition has been qualified in terms of the methodology or source of supporting data (for example: clinical, double blind, meta-analysis, or traditional use). For the convenience of the reader, the information in the table listing the supplements for particular conditions is also categorized. The criteria for the categorizations are: “Primary” indicates there are reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a health benefit. “Secondary” indicates there are conflicting, insufficient, or only preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or that the health benefit is minimal. “Other” indicates that an herb is primarily supported by traditional use or that the herb or supplement has little scientific support and/or minimal proven health benefit.
Join Dr. Brouse as he explains how to combat this condition that is termed “The first step toward diabetes” in his Teleclinic (link).
1. Palardy J, Havrankova J, Lepage R, et al. Blood glucose
measurements during symptomatic episodes in patients with suspected
postprandial hypoglycemia. N Engl J Med
2. Kwentus, JA, Achilles JT, Goyer PF. Hypoglycemia
etiologic and psychosomatic aspects of diagnosis. Postgrad Med 1982;71(6):99–104.
3. Johnson DD, Dorr KE, Swenson WM, Service J. Reactive
hypoglycemia. JAMA 1980;243:1151–5.
4. Yager J, Young RT. A non-editorial on non-hypoglycemia. N Engl J Med 1974;291:905–8.
5. Sanders LR, Hofeldt FD, Kirk MC, Levin J. Refined
carbohydrate as a contributing factor in reactive hypoglycemia. South Med J 1982;75:1072–5.
6. Permutt MA. Postprandial hypoglycemia. Diabetes 1976;25: 719–33.
7. O’Keefe SJD, Marks V. Lunchtime gin and tonic as a cause
of reactive hypoglycemia. Lancet
8. Hofeldt FD. Reactive hypoglycemia. Metabolism 1975;24:1193–208.
9. Rippere V. A little something between meals: masked
addiction not low blood blood-sugar. Lancet 1979;i:1349 [letter].
10. Anderson JW, Herman RH. Effects of carbohydrate
restriction on glucose tolerance of normal men and reactive hypoglycemic patients.
Am J Clin Nutr 1975;28:748–55.
11. Ullrich IH, Peters PJ, Albrink JA. Effect of
low-carbohydrate diets high in either fat or protein on thyroid function,
plasma insulin, glucose, and triglycerides in healthy young adults. J Am Coll Nutr 1985;4:451–9.
12. Anderson RA et al. Chromium supplementation of humans
with hypoglycemia. Fed Proc
13. Stebbing JB et al. Reactive hypoglycemia and magnesium. Magnesium Bull 1982;2:131–4.
14. Shansky A. Vitamin B3 in the alleviation of
hypoglycemia. Drug Cosm Ind
15. Gaby AR, Wright JV. Nutritional regulation of blood
glucose. J Advancement Med