Monday, 9 September 2013
What is it? Hypoglcyemia means that you have low blood sugar. The body's normal mechanisms regulate blood glucose levels to be about 4.4 - 6.1 mmol/L. This is done through two hormones: insulin and glucagon. This can get confusing, so I'll try to make it as simple as possible.
When we eat, insulin is released from the pancreas. Insulin takes the glucose we eat and stores it as glycogen, thereby reducing glucose levels after a meal. This helps our body to use the glucose we eat. When our glucose levels get too low (as in, between meals), our pancreas releases glucagon. Glucagon breaks down glycogen into glucose, so that our glucose/sugar levels will be normal (increase) again.
So, what happens during hypoglycemia? Let's assume that you have not eaten for a long time, and your blood sugars are too low. This is hypoglycemia. Now, on a regular basis, your body is very good at regulating glucose levels so that this does not happen. But, if there is simply no glucose to use or your body has been deprived for too long (or in diabetes, if you use too much insulin), The body panics. Low glucose means that you have no fuel, since our bodies use gluocse first for enegy. Moreover, the brain can ONLY use gluocse for energy - other organs can use fat and protein, although these are not preferred. So, low glucose = brain has no energy.
The body responds via the sympathetic nervous system - the 'fight or flight' system. Heart rate increases. We sweat. We panic. We are restless. These are some signs of hypoglycemia. Others include shaking, not able to see (ex. everything becomes 'black'), feeling dizzy, etc. At this point, we usually know that there is a BIG problem happening, so we seek out food. And when I say 'seek', I mean we NEED FOOD RIGH NOW. It's like a switch turns on in the brain that says 'I NEED food now or something terrible will happen'.
We need a fast acting source of glucose in these cases. A cup of orange juice is the best source, because our bodies use this gluocse within minutes. A sugar pill is also good. Other good ideas are peanut butter and cheese.
Of course, it would be great if you can avoid hypoglycemia from happening. I have experienced it twice in the past year, and it literally felt like I am going to die. Both times, this happened when I went for a long time without eating anything. When my blood glucose levels got so low, I could not see anything in front of me - everything went 'black' suddenly. I was sweating like crazy, and I was shaking uncontrollably. I called for 'help' because I felt dizzy, my heart was pounding so strongly, and I felt that I would fall down. I could not see myself, but everyone said I went very pale. I told people that I needed to eat something right away. That's right. I asked for food. I did not even think about it - it just came out of my mouth. It is like my body KNEW that it needed food right away. I drank some orange juice (which I HATE by the way. But I had to do it if I wanted to survive), and this helped me recover. After, I ate something else and felt a lot better. Now I have learned my lesson. I cannot go too long without eating or drinking something, or my glucose levels get too low. Hypoglycemia can be life-threatening. It is serious.
What is the lesson to be learned? It can happen to anyone! Do not leave yourself too long without eating or drinking something. And recognize the signs of hypoglycemia - for yourself or for others. And act quickly. In these cases, sugar (glucose) saves lives. Literally. Food is medicine. I never thought I would see the day when I would say that!
Posted by MA at 20:26