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Hypoglycemic or hypochondriac?

Bipolar, depression, mania, anxiety, fatigue, headaches, psychotic-like episodes, brain-fog, temper outbursts, panic attacks, excessive mood swings.

All of these symptoms are difficult to live with and even harder to diagnose. People struggling with these symptoms are often told it’s all in their head. Their test results come back normal, there’s “nothing” wrong with them, they may even be labeled a hypochondriac – but the truth is these symptoms can be extremely disabling.

All of these symptoms can also be experienced when a person has low blood sugar and the body releases “rescue” hormones. A cycle of blood sugar highs and the resulting crash has come to be known as reactive hypoglycemia; a phenomenon discovered in 1924 by Dr. Seale Harris, a professor at the University of Alabama. He also found that patients with low blood-sugar symptoms had been treated incorrectly for all sorts of conditions like hysteria, epilepsy, mental disorders, allergies and alcoholism. It can be extremely difficult to diagnose because if the blood sugars do get too low, the body “reacts” to make sure a person doesn’t experience seizures or coma.

At first glance, it might seem that the answer would be to eat more sugar and refined carbs to keep blood sugar elevated, but that only makes the problem worse. The real answer lies in giving up sugar, candy, soft drinks and refined carbs because the problem is not caused by a lack of sugar in the diet, but rather it is caused by failure of the body’s sugar regulating mechanisms.

To combat hypoglycemia try these tips:

  • Let go of refined and fast acting carbohydrates such as high sugar fruits (think mango, banana, watermelon); low fiber grains like white breads, chips and pasta; starchy veggies like potatoes and corn; juice; and sports drinks.
  • Make sure to eat protein and fats with every meal and snack, especially breakfast. This might look like eggs for breakfast instead of cereal, with skim milk or OJ. Or maybe full fat plain Greek yogurt with berries, nuts and seeds instead of granola.
  • Early in your attempts to shift your nutrition to combat hypoglycemia, eat at evenly spaced periods throughout the day, every 3 to 4 hours. After a few months of “training” your body to become more regulated, you will likely be able to skip the mid-morning snack.
  • Moderate your exercise. Focus on less “chronic” cardio (think less elliptical machine or long moderate bike rides) and more interval training, or, even better, lifting something heavy.
  • Manage your stress and take care of your adrenals. Meditation, journaling, intention setting, and prayer can help reduce your stress responses. Getting out in nature and connecting with friends and family is also a key step in supporting your overall well-being.
  • Get adequate sleep. This is a big one. Getting enough sleep is the No. 1 thing you can do for your overall health. Turn the TV off, read a real (paper) book, and create a bedtime routine that will get you 8 hours of restful sleep a night.

Start with implementing just a few of these lifestyle tips. Small, simple baby steps are the key in creating sustainable change. Soon, enough you will start to see a positive shift in your sugar regulating mechanism, eliminating the “crazy-making” symptoms as well, making you neither a hypochondriac nor hypoglycemic!

Ashley Lucas has a doctorate in sports nutrition and chronic disease. She is also a registered dietitian nutritionist. She is the founder and owner of PHD Weight Loss and Nutrition, offering weight management and wellness services in the Four Corners. She can be reached at 764-4133.