The purpose of this research is to examine and define hypoglycemia and its causes, and to outline the types of nutritional program a hypoglycemic should follow.
Hypoglycemia, as the Latin words indicate, means low blood sugar. Although diabetes, high blood sugar, is the direct opposite problem, both conditions are linked to a defective sugar metabolism in the body. Insulin, which is produced by the pancreas, causes sugar to be used. In the diabetic system too little insulin is produced so that sugar remains in the bloodstream for an extensive time. The hypoglycemic’s pancreas produces an excess of insulin which results in too little sugar remaining in the bloodstream (Airola, 1977, pp. 20-21).
Ideally, the body is equipped to manage occasional excesses of sugar. In the body dietary starches, carbohydrates, and sugars are changed into glucose during the digestive process. This glucose is then transformed into glycogen, which is stored in the liver. Glucose is necessary to assure a healthy functioning of all tissues and organs, and is constantly released by the liver as needed. The dietary sugar in the blood is continually controlled by several mechanisms so that there is neither an excess nor a dearth. If there is too much sugar the islets of Langerhans produce insulin and send it into the bloodstream. The insulin converts the sugar into other elements so that the blood sugar level is normalized. If there is not enough sugar in the bloodstream the adrenal glands produce adrenalin, which causes the liver to release more glucose into the blood (Airola, 1977, pp. 27-28).
When this system is consistently abused or overtaxed it will malfunction. If the sugar level becomes too high and the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to lower the sugar level to an acceptable level diabetes results. When the sugar level is too low because of overproduction of insulin or underproduction of glucagon, which controls insulin when it is excessive, hypoglycemia results.
There are many possible causes of hypoglycemia; the causes are almost as varied as the sufferers. In addition to an excess of refined sugar in the diet, pancreatic overactivity, and adrenal underactivity, hypoglycemia can be caused by imbalances in the secretion of hormones by the other endocrine glands, in particular the pituitary and thyroid glands; allergies; excessive use of alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and caffeinated drinks; habitual overeating, especially of carbohydrates and animal proteins; and severe emotional stresses (Airola, 1977, p. 29).
Organic hypoglycemia describes the minority of situations in which one of the organs is physically retarded or prevented from functioning properly. Tumors of the pancreas, near the islets of Langerhans; a defective liver; a diseased or malfunctioning pituitary or adrenal glands; or an overall increase of the insulin-producing area of the pancreas are all possible organic causes of hypoglycemia (Airola, 1977, p. 30).
The majority of hypoglycemia cases, perhaps as much as 99%, are classed as functional. Functional hypoglycemia is caused by an overactive pancreas in which “diagnosable pathological development or structural damage” is not present (Airola, 1977, p. 29). These cases, it is thought, may result from the increasing, continual demands and stresses experienced by many in their daily, competitive lives. Some organic and all functional hypoglycemics benefit from nutritional awareness and alteration.
Because sugar is currently added to many products the average consumer ingests much more than necessary. A piece of apple pie a la mode contains 18 teaspoons of sugar, a glass of orange juice is 13% sugar, a plain doughnut or a bottle of Coca-Cola contains four teaspoons of sugar. Sugar is added to many commercial sauces, jellies, custards, canned fruits, juices, and breads. Almost all canned, processed, frozen, packaged, or man-made foods contain a sugar additive (Airola, 1977, p. 24). Even many natural fruits and juices contain large amounts of sugar.
The excessive consumption of many different foods can lead to hypoglycemia. Sugar, especially in the form of refined white sugar, and refined starches, such as white flour and polished white rice, are two of the main contributors to the development of this condition. These items are present in almost all man-made foods, including ice cream, soft drinks, candies, cookies, doughnuts, pies, cakes, baby foods, breads, and dry breakfast cereals. This situation, that excess sugar leads to low blood sugar levels, seems contradictory at first. However, when large amounts of dietary sugar enter the bloodstream the pancreas overreacts and releases superfluous amounts of insulin to counteract the high sugar level. This results in bringing the sugar level not to the normal level, but far below this level, and in dropping the sugar level too quickly, instead of gradually (Airola, 1977, p. 59).
There are other foods that activate this hypoglycemic cycle. Caffeine, which is a major ingredient of coffee, tea, cola drinks, and aspirin, has the same effect as sugar in that it raises the sugar level and causes an excess of insulin to be released into the bloodstream. Alcohol, excessive malt, and food allergies are other contributors to hypoglycemia.
Since certain foods cause or aggravate hypoglycemic conditions they should be avoided by those individuals who know that they are hypoglycemic, and by all who wish to improve their diet through a reduction of sugars and carbohydrates. Foods that are dangerous for hypoglycemics to consume include beer, cocktails, wine, coffee, strong tea, soft drinks, papaya juice, hominy, sugar, honey, puddings, cakes, pies, candies, pastries, ice cream, macaroni, spaghetti, potatoes, noodles, raisins, grapes, dates, bananas, figs, chocolate, cocoa, prune juice, grape juice, pizza, crackers, rice, doughnuts, baked beans, blackeyed peas, lima beans, corn, popcorn, barley, burritos, tamales, sweet pickles, sweet relishes, yams, canned meat, cold cuts, hot dogs, salami, sausages, pancakes, cashews, chestnuts, gelatin, jams, jellies, chewing gum, pretzels, canned soups, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, and salad dressings (Davis, 1973, pp. 7-8; Grad, 1975, p. 19; Steincrohn, 1972, pp. 93-4). These foods generally contain dextrose, fructose, glucose, hexitol, lactose, maltose, mannitol, sorbitol, or sucrose which are all forms of sugar. Occasionally, as in some cold cuts and canned meats, sugar is not added, so the hypoglycemic can consume them.
Although nutritionist Airola (1977, p. 81) recommends the complete elimination of meat and fish from the hypoglycemic diet, these flesh foods in moderation are allowable. Poultry, shellfish, cheeses, dairy products, eggs, pignolia nuts, butternuts, Brazil nuts, black walnuts, pecans, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, buckwheat, millet, and squash seeds are all good, nutritious sources of protein (Airola, 1977, pp. 83-5); Davis, 1973, p. 4); Steincrohn, 1972, p. 94).
Most vegetables have little carbohydrate content and can be safely included in a hypoglycemic diet. Those which are less than 16% carbohydrate include soy beans, pumpkin, peas, beets, parsnips, tomatoes, rutabagas, onions, garden cress, chervil, collard greens, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, artichokes, green beans, wax beans, zucchini, water chestnuts, turnips, spinach, squash, sauerkraut, peppers, pimientos, okra, mushrooms, leeks, kale, eggplant, cauliflower, broccoli, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, asparagus, water cress, radishes, parsley, olives, lettuce, and cucumbers (Davis, 1973, pp. 4-5).
Fruits high in fructose or carbohydrates must be eliminated from the hypoglycemic diet. Rhubarb, cantaloupe, coconut, lemons, limes, apples, apricots, cherries, grapefruit, oranges, peaches, pears, pineapple, plums, and tangerines can all be included. Most berries, especially boysenberries, cranberries, gooseberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, dewberries, elderberries, loganberries, raspberries, and youngberries; and melons, including muskmelon, honeydew, and casaba are also recommended elements of the hypoglycemic diet (Davis, 1973, p. 5). Avocados contain mannoheptulose which is a sugar. However, this particular sugar does not stimulate insulin production; instead it suppresses this process. This fact makes avocados one of the best fruits for hypoglycemics (Airola, 1977, p. 89).
The types of beverages the hypoglycemic can drink are very limited. Included are many juices which are not sweet, such as sauerkraut, tomato, vegetable, blackberry, carrot, lemon, lime, pomegranate, apricot, grapefruit, loganberry, orange, pineapple, raspberry, and tangerine; milk; clear broth; and herb teas. Often, even these beverages must be ingested in limited quantities. Decaffeinated coffee and weak tea are sometimes allowed in a hypoglycemic diet (Davis, 1973, p. 6).
No breads, crackers, or other flour products are ever permitted without a physician’s permission. Honey is the only sweetener ever to be used by a hypoglycemic and only in restricted quantity.
The diet of the hypoglycemic can be varied; few foods and no essential ones need be eliminated. The main difficulty in accepting and following the necessary diet is psychological. Sugar, sweets, desserts, snack foods, and “junk” foods have become a common and pervasive part of the American diet. The dieter, hypoglycemic, or any other person choosing or required to change his or her diet might feel temporarily deprived when not allowed to eat these foods. In order to stop the vicious cycle begun when excess sugar is counteracted by excess insulin which reduces sugar levels so far that the individual lacks energy and takes more sugar, almost all sugars and caffeine must be removed from the diet.
By careful attention to following this type of diet the hypoglycemic can control his or her condition. Like the diabetic, however, the hypoglycemic is rarely cured and able to safely consume these dangerous foods at some future time. Instead, the individual must always follow a diet which restricts or eliminates sugars, carbohydrates, and caffeine.
Airola, P. Hypoglycemia: A Better Approach. Phoenix, AZ: Health
Davis, F. The Low Blood Sugar Cookbook. New York: Grosset &
Grad, M. A Taste for Life. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons,
Steincrohn, P. J. Low Blood Sugar. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1972.