In an ideal world, you would have high energy levels all day long. But if your blood crashes periodically, that doesn’t happen.
The body uses glucose for hundreds of essential processes. Hence, when blood sugar levels run low, it can take its toll.
Many people experience both a mid-morning and mid-afternoon slump in energy levels. Just a couple of hours after breakfast or lunch, they’re yawning, their head is lopping, and they look as if they could fall asleep at their desk.
However, some people can experience more dramatic falls in their blood sugar, something medics call hypoglycemia. This condition is most common among people who take too many diabetic medications or make sudden and radical changes in their diet and exercise routines.
In this post, we take a look at what low blood sugar actually is and then describe both the physical and mental problems it causes. Fortunately, low blood sugar is rarely a serious condition unless you are diabetic.
But first, why do people get low blood sugar in the first place?
What are the causes of low blood sugar?
Among diabetics, the main reasons for low blood sugar are:
- Injecting too much insulin
- Failing to eat enough carbs for the amount of insulin taken
- Taking insulin at the wrong time of day
- Eating too much or too little of specific nutrients, such as fat, fiber, and carbohydrates
In general, hypoglycemia may occur if:
- You are fasting for health or religious purposes
- There is a sudden change in temperature or humidity
- You drink a lot of alcohol
- You suddenly change how much exercise you do
- You’re going through puberty, menstruation, or another phase of life that disrupts your hormones
- You are changing your schedule regularly and feel stressed about it
Physical troubles caused by low blood sugar
The following are some of the physical problems that low blood sugar can cause. Please note that the way you react might be entirely different from someone else. Everyone is unique.
If your blood sugar levels start to run low, the risk of developing severe headaches goes up considerably. Under normal blood sugar levels, blood vessels remain tight and constricted, allowing the heart to pump blood to the brain efficiently.
However, when blood glucose drops below a certain level, it causes blood vessels to dilate. Blood pressure then drops and it can be difficult to supply the brain with all the sugar it needs. (The brain is the only organ in the body that cannot shift to burning ketone bodies. It must get all of its energy from sugar).
Worse still, these wild blood pressure gyrations can lead to migraines. Studies show that frequent opening and closing of blood vessels in the brain is a risk factor for this debilitating condition.
Shaking And Sweating
If blood sugar levels fall too low, you may also experience shaking and sweating. This occurs because the body starts releasing hormones designed to keep you active and alert, including epinephrine and norepinephrine. These raise your heart rate, and produce a sensation of anxiety, making you feel hungry.
Unfortunately, if blood sugar levels drop too low, these symptoms can be debilitating. You may not be able to walk, or you may faint.
Blurred Vision And Tingling Lips
Low blood sugar levels can also lead to blurred vision. If glucose levels go too low, it can change the shape of your eyes’ lenses, making everything seem out of focus. Fortunately, vision typically returns to normal once blood sugar levels stabilize.
Tingling lips rarely occur in healthy people. However, if you have diabetes, it can be serious. Check your blood sugar levels and then, if they are low, eat something containing carbohydrates, following your doctor’s recommendations.
Perhaps the most dangerous physical symptom of low blood sugar levels is elevated heart rate. If blood sugar levels drop too much, it can cause heart palpitations and even a heart attack.
As with shaking and sweating, a racing heart results from a sudden release of hormones as the body attempts to bring blood sugar levels back to normal. The greater the need to raise blood glucose levels, the more extreme this response becomes.
Mental troubles caused by low blood sugar
Low blood sugar levels cause a range of mental symptoms, too. Here’s a rundown of some of the most frequent.
Mood swings are common with low blood sugar levels. That’s because the brain doesn’t have sufficient energy to function normally. As a result, it starts to go haywire.
Increased stress hormones, such as cortisol, also create issues, impeding the brain’s natural calming and self-soothing mechanisms, making explosions of rage more likely.
The inability to think clearly can also cause additional mood fluctuations because it feels so much harder to think clearly.
In today’s economy, an episode of brain fog could land you in a lot of trouble. If your job requires you to be on the ball, not being able to concentrate could have severe consequences.
Many things can cause brain fog, but low blood glucose is the leading candidate. Again, when the brain has insufficient energy to operate, it simply cannot think as fast as it did when it had access to plenty of sugar. And because the brain can only use sugar for energy, if there is an issue with sugar metabolism, brain fog becomes increasingly likely.
Paradoxically, fasting for long periods can result in higher mental clarity. However, this effect doesn’t occur immediately. Most people hit a wall as they transition from freely-available sugar from their last meal to your body’s long-term stores.
Low blood sugar can also cause anxiety, nervousness, and a sense of impending doom. As such, these conditions are not always purely psychological issues. They can also have physiological elements.
Anxiety increases during hypoglycemia episodes because the body releases hormones to bring blood sugar levels up to normal levels. The kidneys start pumping out adrenaline, preparing the body for “fight or flight,” ready for shuttling glucose into cells. Evolutionarily, this adaptation may have functioned to encourage people to go out and look for food. However, in the modern world, it just feels unpleasant.
People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) may experience the condition because they have greater fluctuations in their blood glucose levels. Alternating peaks and troughs may activate the adrenal system excessively, leading to non-specific episodes of fear and dread.
Physicians recommend that anyone with GAD eat more low-glycemic index foods or use supplements to stabilize blood sugar levels. Consuming more whole grains, beans, lentils, and nuts may help stave off some of the worst attacks.
Fatigue isn’t just “feeling tired.” It is a medically identifiable condition in which a sufferer may struggle to get out of bed.
Hypoglycemia can be a leading cause of this condition. That’s because it doesn’t just affect the brain. It also impacts every cell in the body. If blood sugar levels fall too low, muscles, bones, and organs can’t get the energy they need to function. As a result, it can feel extraordinarily difficult to do anything. In extreme cases, fatigue can lead to drowsiness and coma.
People living with diabetes are at a higher risk of chronic tiredness. That’s because their blood sugar levels are more likely to fall outside of the normal range. As blood sugar levels fall, tissues become deprived of the nutrients they need to function properly.
Similarly, some people experience fatigue in the morning, but not during the rest of the day. This type of fatigue may result from nocturnal hypoglycemia – too little blood sugar while asleep. It takes time for cells to collect the sugar they need from the bloodstream to operate optimally. If eating food in the morning eliminates your fatigue, then low overnight blood sugar levels might be the problem.
Lastly, lack of blood glucose can also cause episodes of forgetfulness. Lack of glucose in the brain makes it difficult for it to take on new information and make new connections. Forgetfulness is more likely to affect older adults, though it can strike at any age.
In summary, hypoglycemia can have a range of undesirable effects on both the mind and body. It slows your thinking, makes you feel stressed, and deprives your organs of the sugar they need to function properly.
For non-diabetics, the solution for hypoglycemia is fairly straightforward. For short-term relief, eat something sugary to bring your levels up to normal. In the longer term, you’ll need to make lifestyle changes by eating low-glycemic index foods, such as oats, berries, and flaxseed, or taking supplements that manage blood glucose levels.
If you are living with diabetes, consult your doctor. Ask them whether you are taking the correct amount of insulin or if you should lower your dose. They’ll be able to tell you whether your hypoglycemia is coming from your medication or issues relating to diabetes control.
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