“Hypoglycemia” is the medical term for low blood sugar (glucose).
Occasionally, hypoglycemia can be dangerous (for example, from injecting too much insulin). It may also indicate a serious underlying medical condition, such as a tumor of the pancreas or liver disease. More often, however, when people say they have hypoglycemia, they are describing a group of symptoms that occur when the body overreacts to the rise in blood sugar that occurs after eating, resulting in a rapid or excessive fall in the blood sugar level. This is sometimes called “reactive hypoglycemia.”
Many people who believe they have reactive hypoglycemia do not, in fact, have low blood sugar levels,1 and many people who do have low blood sugar levels do not have any symptoms of reactive hypoglycemia.2 Some evidence suggests that reactive hypoglycemia may be partly a psychological condition.3 Consequently, some doctors believe that reactive hypoglycemia does not exist.4 Most doctors, on the other hand, have found reactive hypoglycemia to be a common cause of the symptoms listed below.
What are the symptoms of hypoglycemia?
Common symptoms of hypoglycemia are fatigue, anxiety, headaches, difficulty concentrating, sweaty palms, shakiness, excessive hunger, drowsiness, abdominal pain, and depression.
Dietary changes that may be helpful for hypoglycemia
Doctors find that people with hypoglycemia usually improve when they eliminate refined sugars and alcohol from their diet, eat foods high in fiber (such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts), and eat small, frequent meals. Few studies have investigated the effects of these changes, but the research that is available generally supports the observations of doctors.5 6 7 8 Some symptoms of low blood sugar may be related to, or made worse by, food allergies.9
Even modest amounts of caffeine may increase symptoms of hypoglycemia.10 For this reason, caffeinated beverages (such as coffee, tea, and some soda pop) should be avoided.
Some people report an improvement in hypoglycemia episodes when eating a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. That observation appears to conflict with research showing that increasing protein intake can impair the body’s ability to process sugar,11 possibly because protein increases insulin levels12 (insulin reduces blood sugar levels). However, some doctors have seen good results with high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets, particularly among people who do not improve with a high-fiber, high-complex-carbohydrate diet.
Nutritional supplements that may be helpful for hypoglycemia
Research has shown that supplementing with chromium (200 mcg per day)13 or magnesium (340 mg per day)14 can prevent blood sugar levels from falling excessively in people with hypoglycemia. Niacinamide (vitamin B3) has also been found to be helpful for hypoglycemic people.15 Other nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, copper, manganese, and vitamin B6, may help control blood sugar levels in diabetics.16 Since there are similarities in the way the body regulates high and low blood sugar levels, these nutrients might be helpful for hypoglycemia as well, although the amounts needed for that purpose are not known.
Glucomannan is a water-soluble dietary fiber that is derived from konjac root (Amorphophallus konjac). In a preliminary trial,17 addition of either 2.6 or 5.2 grams of glucomannan to a meal prevented hypoglycemia in adults with previous stomach surgery. A trial of glucomannan in children with hypoglycemia due to a condition known as “dumping syndrome” produced inconsistent results.18
Are there any side effects or interactions with hypoglycemia?
Refer to the individual supplement for information about any side effects or interactions.