Before you read my blog, I want to express my deep appreciation to everyone who has responded to my new website, Facebook, blog and first Constant Contact message. Your kind words of praise touched my heart…while your stories of fear, frustration and pain inspired me to work even harder on your behalf!
I haven’t been able to answer every request for information or address all areas of concern, but be assured most of the information you need is already on my website or on the links I recommend….they all contain a wealth of information. So many of you are seeking a doctor in your area…please click on “Helpful Links” on the left side of my website. You will find a directory of organizations that have referral listings in your area. Good luck!
“The hypoglycemia of today is the diabetes of tomorrow.” Dr. Seale Harris
I received an e-mail from Mary Laur this week. Mary wrote… “I am hypoglycemic and I’d like to know why Medicare doesn’t pay for blood sugar testing supplies for me as it does for my husband who is diabetic. I don’t understand that since I have to test my blood sugar the same as he does.”
I took Mary’s e-mail as an opportunity to write about hypoglycemia and diabetes. Many are under the assumption that hypoglycemia is the opposite of diabetes, but hypoglycemia is actually a prelude to diabetes. To explain, I am using some excerpts from the newly revised edition of my book…The Do’s and Don’ts of Hypoglycemia: An Everyday Guide to Low Blood Sugar.
Maybe after you read these excerpts, you can take action, like Mary did… “I sent your website to my U.S. Representative and our Senators. Perhaps if we put enough pressure in the right places we can get the rules changed.”
HYPOGLYCEMIA: A PRELUDE TO DIABETES
It is rare that I have a conversation about hypoglycemia that the subject of diabetes doesn’t come up. The thousands of letters and e-mails I’ve received over the past twenty-plus years confirm that this is a major concern.
One such e-mail, sent in mid-1998, gives you an indication of what I mean. A full-time college student at Tulane University in New Orleans writes, “I feel like I’m going to die from this thing that grossly interferes with my life…I want to know everything…I don’t understand much. Should I just eat everything when I have an attack? Tell me what to eat when I’m freaking…I also want to know how this affects my metabolism? How does it differ from diabetes? Is it the predecessor? What are the long-term effects? Can this kill me? Because sometimes I want to die or just be able to stick an insulin needle in my arm and feel better. Perhaps it is because I am uneducated on the issues, but it seems to me that diabetics have it easier. They can just “get a fix” so to speak. I don’t really like needles but I could get used to them if it would make me feel better, feel normal.”
On March 16, 1999, the following came from “DM.” “I was just diagnosed with hypoglycemia. Can you explain in plain language that I can understand how hypoglycemia is prediabetic? Please tell me this isn’t true and if so how could I become diabetic?”
It was difficult to respond to these two e-mails. What do you say to someone who sounds so desperate and helpless? Is information enough? In both these cases, however, information is the ONLY answer. When fear and panic set in because of the unknown, every physical symptom becomes magnified. If only they read Lick The Sugar Habit by Dr. Nancy Appleton, Sugar Shock by Connie Bennett, Hypoglycemia: The Other Sugar Disease by Anita Flegg, or Hypoglycemia for Dummies by Cheryl Chow and Dr. James Chow. Each of these books would have answered all of the above questions! It saddens me that this information isn’t readily available through the medical community. Maybe it is because hypoglycemia and diabetes are neatly separated as health conditions—one is accepted while one is virtually ignored. Hypoglycemia is often only spoken of in the context of insulin and blood sugar level management for people with diabetes.
Just scan your local newspaper and magazines. Diabetes (high blood sugar) definitely takes center stage in medical headlines. Right now, Type II diabetes, like obesity, is at epidemic proportions in the United States and throughout the world. Twenty-five million Americans have diabetes, with 800,000 new cases each year. Is it any wonder why this disease is the seventh leading cause of death? Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease, gangrene and limb amputation, kidney failure, and blindness. A leading killer, it also decreases your life expectancy. The saddest part is that 50 percent of those affected may not be aware that they have this deadly disease.
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), on the other hand, has taken a back seat. There may be an article here, a book there, but seldom do you see statistics. Too bad, for maybe if we had numbers, more Americans would stand up and take notice of its alarming rise. One book I read estimates that 100 million Americans are hypoglycemic.
Unfortunately, there are few formalized studies on hypoglycemia as a stand-alone condition. Therefore, it is very difficult to substantiate these numbers. Often, the only research to be found on hypoglycemia is within the context of other diabetes studies. Because of this, however, we may never know how many Americans are suffering, needlessly, from hypoglycemia. Do we need numbers to show that there is a connection between low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and high blood sugar (diabetes)? Or do we just need to read more of the e-mails that the HSF receives?
“I was diagnosed with borderline hypoglycemia in 1999. My doctor told me not to worry and handed me a single sheet of paper with some diet instructions. Since he didn’t seem concerned, I left with the feeling like my condition was ‘no big deal.’ I kept eating all my chocolate chip cookies and gave in to all my cravings. I am now dealing with the consequences. I feel terrible. My symptoms are worse and I was just diagnosed (2002) with diabetes. Both my mother and grandmother had diabetes. Why didn’t I take this more seriously? What can I do now?”
“I desperately need to find a doctor that knows how to treat my hypoglycemia. My present one told me all I had to do was carry a candy bar with me. My Dad is severely diabetic and I don’t want to end up with that disease. I live in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. Please help me.”
“Can uncontrolled hypoglycemia result in diabetes?” I asked Dr. Lorna Walker, the HSF’s nutritionist, to answer the last question. This was her response. “Hypoglycemia is a blood management disorder in which the pancreas reacts to a rapid rise in blood glucose levels by secreting too much insulin while in diabetes, when blood sugar gets abnormally high, the damaged pancreas is unable to bring it down by secreting too little. In some cases, this hyperinsulinism is the precursor to adult onset diabetes (Type II diabetes). The hypothesis is that the overactive pancreas, when predisposed by genetics, diet, and lifestyle, finally begins to wear down and the end result is diabetes.”
No letter, e-mail or explanation can be as profound as the simple black-and-white facts. So in 1998, I added a hypoglycemia/diabetes questionnaire to our website. Due to the increase of questions and concerns about a possible connection between hypoglycemia and diabetes, I wanted to find out if this association could be observed. The goal was to determine whether untreated hypoglycemia is a precursor to diabetes. The survey was also designed to gather information on how and by whom hypoglycemia had been diagnosed and what type of treatments, if any, were found to be beneficial. The HSF received over 5500 responses (3752 confirmed hypoglycemics) from 25 countries!
Below is a brief synopsis of what we discovered. Sixty-four percent of confirmed hypoglycemics (diagnosed by a physician with a glucose tolerance test) indicated that one or more family members had been diagnosed with diabetes! With this information, we can alert hypoglycemics to the seriousness of this condition, as diabetes will almost certainly be the next stage if left untreated. It is also critical for diabetics to share this information with other family members as a preventative measure. When we asked those surveyed what kind of symptoms they experienced, the most common were:
Heart Palpitations 80%
Mood Swings 77%
Addiction to Sweets 62%
Extreme Fatigue 52%
When diagnosed with hypoglycemia, only 59% changed their diet. That number is high considering that only 48% of physicians who diagnosed hypoglycemia through a glucose tolerance test recommended treatment. A little more than 50% of the participants incorporated vitamins and exercise, while only 25% changed their mental attitude towards the illness. Unfortunately, 23% considered candy the cure-all for their low blood sugar problems.
Check out our hypoglycemia/diabetes survey on our website, www.hypoglycemia.org. It will give you an idea of what we are looking for and how this information will help future treatment of these conditions. This survey isn’t the answer of course, as it cannot take the place of medicine or well-structured clinical trials. However, it is actually giving us the answers we need to encourage more scientific research into this condition that is so often not taken seriously.
Before looking to the future, let’s look one more time at the present. Diagnosing and managing hypoglycemia is one of the key determining factors in the subsequent development of adult onset (Type II) diabetes in later life. Diet, lifestyle, age, predisposition, and insulin and tissue resistance are all variables that need to be addressed concerning this issue. To date, there is nothing we are able to do to counteract the effects of either aging or genetic predisposition. The remaining elements, however, can be managed. If one is successful, there is a good chance that Type II diabetes can be prevented or delayed.
Here’s to your health,