Blood sugar regulation is process that is carefully balanced by our bodies.
We break down food to produce glucose and this is used by our cells for energy. Insulin, a hormone, acts as a key to open the door into the cell and allow glucose inside. If our blood sugar goes too low, another hormone called glucagon is released, which allows us to break down a stored form of glucose called glycogen. The process works much like a thermostat – when blood sugar is high, insulin is released to allow it to enter the cells; when it’s too low, glucagon is secreted to release stored glucose. Both high and low glucose can be dangerous, which is why our body works so hard to keep our levels in balance.
Today, I’m going to share my top tips for dealing with low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia.
Prolonged low blood sugar can cause serious medical problems, including seizure, coma, and even death. But the symptoms of a shortened period of low blood sugar can be more subtle.
It’s quite common for someone with hypoglycemia to not know it, and the symptoms are sometimes attributed to anxiety or panic attacks. In my own practice, I often find that patients complaining of brain fog, headache, anxiety, mood swings, or irritability feel instantly better once we start balancing their blood sugar.
What is Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)?
Hypoglycemia is usually defined as 70mg/dl or lower. It is at this point that a person will start to feel a variety of symptoms, including:
- Feeling shaky
- Rapid pulse or pounding heartbeat
- Lack of coordination
So what can you do to prevent episodes of low blood sugar? Here are my top tips.
1. Eat within 30 minutes of waking up
It’s increasingly common for me to see clients who skip breakfast, or just consume Bulletproof coffee in the morning. While this can be healthy for some, it’s often counterproductive for hypoglycemics. Instead, I urge my hypoglycemic clients to eat a well-balanced meal within 30 minutes of waking up if possible. This usually consists of around 30-40 grams of protein (½ filet of salmon, half a chicken breast, 6 oz ground beef, etc) along with fat and some carbohydrates. The ideal amount of carbohydrates really depends on the client, but a good place to start is about 20 g (½ cup sweet potato). You can then experiment from there to determine what level of carbohydrate intake works best for your blood sugar.
2. Don’t eat carbohydrates alone
When we eat carbohydrates, we break them down into molecules of glucose that then go to the bloodstream. This process can happen quite quickly if there isn’t anything else in the stomach to slow down the digestive process. This can result in a blood sugar spike. For someone with reactive hypoglycemia, this spike causes the body to release too much insulin in response, eventually driving the blood sugar too low. This causes a hypoglycemic episode. Both fat and protein slow down the digestive process, and as a result, glucose is released more gradually into the bloodstream, keeping the blood glucose steady.
Avoid eating carbohydrates on their own, and instead combine them with at least some fat, and possibly some protein for best results. So instead of having an apple for a snack, you might have an apple (carbs) with almond butter (fat + protein)
3. Eat every 2-3 hours
While eating three square meal a day is a healthy choice for many people, it can sometimes cause problems for those with hypoglycemia. This is because their blood sugar has a hard time regulating itself and tends to go too low when they don’t eat for hours at a time. To help stave off low blood sugar, it’s a good idea to eat every 2-3 hours. Typically this means adding a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack and, depending on the person, potentially a bedtime snack, too.
Your snacks should consist of at protein, fat and carbohydrate just like your meals. Our previous example of an apple with peanut butter checks off all those categories.
4. Pay attention to adrenal health
When I have a client come to me with low blood sugar issues, one of the first things I evaluate is their adrenal health. This is because when the adrenals are worn out (you may have heard of this as “adrenal fatigue”) it leaves the body less able to properly handle low blood sugar. In someone with normal adrenal function, cortisol is released once blood sugar starts getting low and this causes the liver to release glucose, bringing the blood sugar back to normal. Someone with HPA axis dysfunction (adrenal fatigue) can’t make enough cortisol in this situation, and thus the signal to release glucose from the liver never gets turned on. This means that the blood sugar level just keeps getting lower instead of rising.
To learn more about adrenal health, check out my post on HPA axis dysfunction.
Finally, if you ever do have a hypoglycemia event make sure to eat 15 g of carbohydrate as soon as you feel it happening. If you don’t feel better in 15 minutes, eat another 15 g.
So there you have it! My top tips for dealing with low blood sugar.
Now I want to hear from you. Are there any tips you’d like to share?