Hypoglycemia and Carbohydrate Absorption
by Rhenda Wilson
Summarized information taken from the lecture notes at Hawthorn University Holistic Nutrition Education
Hypoglycemia – low blood sugar happens when a person’s body cannot metabolize carbohydrates effectively. The body can not digest the sugar properly and convert it to the energy needed to sustain the body.
When we eat carbohydrates, digestion breaks the food down into a single sugar called glucose. Glucose is the body’s fuel. Glucose circulates in the bloodstream and goes to the cells. It is the main source of energy for muscles function, the central nervous system and most especially the brain.
There are 2 types of Carbohydrates SIMPLE and COMPLEX.
Simple require very little breakdown and are adsorbed directly into the bloodstream. They are absorbed quickly and cause an immediate rise in the blood sugar.
White table sugar, honey, corn syrup, candy, soda pop, pastries, ice cream,and cookies to name a few.
Complex are made of long complicated strings of simple sugars.It takes longer to absorb so they provide a slow steady supply of energy for the body. Think of it as a Time-Released energy supply.
Examples of these Starches:
Whole grains, vegetables, legumes
Plus these foods provide vitamins, minerals and fiber.
BUT – Don’t be fooled by some complex carbohydrates. Products made from whole grain flour such as bread, pasta, bagels, rice cakes, ready to eat cereal react more like a simple sugar in the body because the processing of the original grain strips away a significant amount of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and fiber that were in the whole grain. Making your own products from grain that you grind just before making it will help preserve these precious vitamins and fiber.
BEWARE of added sugar in boxed and prepared items over the counter, at restaurants, and other convenience foods.
During digestion, food is broken down in to glucose molecules that enter the bloodstream and from the bloodstream they go to the liver. Some glucose is stored in the liver and the muscles for later use. The stored form of glucose is called glycogen. Glucose that is still circulating in the bloodstream signals the pancreas to release insulin and insulin unlocks the cells so glucose can go in and be used for energy.
During exercise or a time of lack of food, blood glucose falls gradually.
The pancreas releases another hormone called glucagon.
This hormone sends a message to the liver to convert the stored glycogen to the usable form of glucose and return it to the blood.
This raises the blood sugar again.
This is a normal process.
If sugar levels drop too quickly or there are sudden feelings of anger, fright, or stress, the brain signals the adrenal glands to produce the hormones epinephrine (Adrenaline) and corticosteroids (Cortisol). These provide quick energy during a crisis by breaking down the stored glucose quickly.
If the body experiences excessively consumption of refined foods or simple sugars, or the body is over-stressed and in fight or flight mode many times during the day, day after day, month after month or years, the imbalance of glucose in the system stresses the body and leads to exhaustion of the pancreas, liver and adrenal glands which regulate the blood sugar.
Ingestion of processed carbohydrates or food high in refined sugar may result in a sudden rise in blood sugar which causes the pancreas to overreact and release too much insulin resulting in too much sugar being removed from the blood. This quick decline in blood sugar causes glucose levels to drop below normal. – You guessed it HYPOGLYCEMIA.
Under healthy conditions when the blood sugar level drops too low, the adrenal glands produce adrenaline, which causes recovery. However if the adrenal glands are exhausted and do not respond quick enough the body perceived an emergency because it needs sugar fast. Now a person will often crave something sweet in order to get a quick boost in energy. Once eaten the blood sugar spikes and then falls starting the process all over again.
When the adrenals are not working well it is called Burned Out Adrenal leading to Adrenal crisis,. The adrenal glands are essential to sugar metabolism.
Any stress, especially ongoing stress taxes the adrenal glands.
Hypoglycemia can be managed and prevented through diet and exercise and lifestyle.
I know. The answer to it all.
- Eat as often as every two hours, but not over 4 hours.
- This will keep the blood sugar levels more stable throughout the day.
- Eat Breakfast
- Eat some protein at every meal. Does not have to be animal protein. It can be Sprouts, beans, seeds, and sea vegetables.
- Plan ahead for meals and snacks.
- Avoid caffeine.
- Avoid processed foods
- Eat a diet high in fiber.
- Eat complex carbohydrates – Legumes, vegetables and whole grains.
- Whole grains can be millet, buckwheat, brown rice, quinoa and steel cut oats.
- Include nuts and seeds. Soak and dry them for better digestion.
- Exercise daily if possible, but at least 3 times a week.
- Relax and reduce stress
- MOST of ALL DO NOT use sugar to raise the blood sugar level when feeling hungry or experiencing symptoms of hypoglycemia.