Wednesday, January 14, 2009

hypoglycemia is not just being hungry

It's true - I cannot go for long periods of time without eating. I once ended up with low blood sugar because I did not have a snack before seeing The Lord of the Rings in the theater. No joke. I can't wait until 10:00 to have dinner, I can't skip meals, and if I sleep in until 11:00 (lazy, I know), I'll still have a small breakfast even though I'm planning lunch in an hour-and-a-half.

But, aside from the fact that the body needs fuel at regular intervals, hypoglycemia is not just about being hungry. It also kicks in when the body gets too excited about producing insulin, like if blood sugar levels get too high too fast. That's what would happen if I decided it would be a good idea to have a plate of pancakes and syrup for breakfast: first my blood sugar would rocket up to the stratosphere thanks to all the sugar and refined carbs, and I would feel kind of buzzy (not in a good way) and might have a rapid, fluttery-feeling heartbeat and a feeling like I'm having to work extra hard to focus my eyes. Then - that's right, we're not done yet - the pancreas freaks out and produces an overabundance of insulin, which pushes the blood sugar waaaay down...and I get a migraine, sometimes nausea (which makes it hard to eat anything that might help), I get shaky and I tend to mumble when I'm trying to talk. Not fun. This is called "reactive hypoglycemia," and it truly is a rollercoaster (and I don't even like the real kind of rollercoasters, much less this metaphorical one). I'll have the eggs, thank you.

Of course, diabetics also have problems with hypoglycemia, especially if they accidentally take too much insulin. I think it's easiest to think of hypoglycemia as basically an oversensitivity to the fluctuations of blood sugar. So, like a diabetic, I am trying to keep my blood sugar from going too low or too high by keeping digestion of sugars (carbs) nice and slow. In fact, at Johns Hopkins, they have a theory that treats hypoglycemia more based on the speed of the blood sugar change rather than the (somewhat arbitrary) ultimate level of glucose measured in the blood - that's what I'm talking about.

I also have to point out this amusing list of hypoglycemia symptoms in Wikipedia, especially with all its technical terms like "borborygmus" and "abnormal mentation." Hmm...that does sound familiar. It also says that a hypoglycemic episode can resemble drug intoxication, which is what Nicole Richie was getting at when her PR handlers released that statement saying she's hypoglycemic. Most people laughed it off, but I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt (as a potential blog reader).

One more link in this longer-than-intended-and-hopefully-not-too-technical post: This article, recently printed in an Arizona newspaper, offers a good description of the blood sugar-insulin relationship, but it's also an example of how hypoglycemia is usually considered only as an afterthought - a subset of diabetes. This is not to take away from how serious a condition diabetes is (my Grandpa had it), but it's just worth noting that there's comparatively little research or awareness of hypoglycemia as its own problem. That's how we routinely end up getting such bad advice ("eat some candy, you'll feel better") like at the end of the article I just linked to. So, my rule for the Filthy Sucre blog is that I will only post recipes that I have eaten, or could eat, without anything happening like in the hypothetical pancake story.

More recipes and more random-ness later!


  1. It's amazing that I missed seeing you kick-start this blog to life in my holiday rush-- what a great, GREAT thing!

    I agree that hypoglycemia sans diabetes needs to be discussed as its own set of issues, not just farmed under the "Diabetic" heading-- it's asinine that the only explanations you find for it are as a subset of diabetic symptoms, because it's a whole different treatment rubric and set of issues, as you seem to have discovered and have well in hand.

    As someone who only experiences being hypo- as a result of my Type I, I salute you for dealing with the misinformation and lack of information so handily with this (though if anyone could cogitate their way through it and come out shining it would be you.)

  2. Awww...I'm blushing! Thanks for the comment.

  3. I agree with sassy blonde, I'm finding out now (24 years old) about my hypoglycemia, completely unrelated to diabetes. To think of all the pain that could have been avoided my whole life if this had been properly diagnosed initially.