Hypoglycemia: A Prelude to Diabetes

Hypoglycemia: A Prelude to Diabetes

“The low blood sugar of today is the diabetes of tomorrow.” -Dr. Seale Harris

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 38 plus years confirm that this is a major concern. One such email message gives you an indication of what I mean. “Darren,” 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 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.”

Another e-mail arrived shortly after the one from Darren.” “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 emails. 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 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 often 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. According to the American  Diabetes Association, “In 2015, 30.3 million Americans, or 9.4% of the population, had diabetes. Of the 30.3 million adults with diabetes, 23.1 million were diagnosed, and 7.2 million were undiagnosed.”

Type 2 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), an important sign that you may be at risk for type 2 diabetes, is typically ignored and treated symptomatically. There may be an article here, a book there, but seldom do you see informative statistics. Too bad, for maybe if we had better numbers, more Americans would stand up and take notice of blood sugar issues. One book I read estimates that 100 million Americans are experiencing hypoglycemia.

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 studies on related medical conditions. Because of this, however, we may never know how many Americans are suffering, needlessly, from hypoglycemia. We need to study and document that there is a connection between low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and high blood sugar (diabetes) – the blood sugar roller coaster described in our infographic. Or do we just need to read more of the e-mails that the HSF receives?

“I was just diagnosed with borderline hypoglycemia. 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, nutritionist and advisor to the HSF, 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 2 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.”

Dr. Linda Peterson, who wrote the groundbreaking work, “Brain Neurophysiology in Persons with Reactive Hypoglycemia,” states that “More information is needed regarding the brain neurophysiology of persons with reactive hypoglycemia. Although it is possible to diagnose the condition when several simultaneous blood tests are conducted, few practicing physicians have used any procedure except the inconclusive glucose tolerance test. Because brain changes have not been documented, clinicians vary in their belief about the seriousness of the condition. As a result, treatment modalities for clients depend on the bias of the professional. Sometimes treatment will adequate and at other times miss the needs of the client entirely.”

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 respondents with hypoglycemia) from 25 countries.

Below is a brief synopsis of what we discovered. Sixty-four percent of those confirmed with hypoglycemia (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 people who experience hypoglycemia to the seriousness of this condition, as diabetes will almost certainly be the next stage if left untreated. It is also critical for people with diabetes 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%
  • Dizziness 79%
  • Mood Swings 77%
  • Headaches 74%
  • Depression 67%
  • 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 the current questionnaire on our website, https://hypoglycemia.org/questionnaire. It will give you an idea of what we are looking for and how this information will help future treatment of these conditions. This questionnaire isn’t the answer of course, as it cannot take the place of well-structured medical research. 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. In the meantime, we are working on publishing Dr. Linda Peterson’s work, which was ignored by the medical profession when presented in 1978.

Do you know of significant research on hypoglycemia? If so, please let us know. We are gathering all that we know and will be listing studies about hypoglycemia on this site.

Before 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 2 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 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed.

Here’s to your health,

Roberta

Don’t believe hypoglycemia affects you? Think again…

Don’t believe hypoglycemia affects you? Think again…

According to leading experts some 80 million or more Americans have hypoglycemia and most don’t even know it!  Are you one of them? Let’s take a look at some of the symptoms of this most confusing, complicated and too often misdiagnosed condition.

Fatigue, insomnia, mental confusion, nervousness, mood swings, headaches, depression, phobias, heart palpitations, craving for sweets, cold hands and feet, forgetfulness, blurred vision, inner trembling, outbursts of temper, sudden hunger, allergies and crying spells.  

This list contains just a few…the entire list by Dr. Nancy Appleton, author of Suicide by Sugar; includes over 100 symptoms!

How about we look at this from another point of view?

You try to sleep but you’re restless all night long.  So when you finally do get up, you need at least three cups of coffee to function.  You struggle to get to work, already feeling tense because you’re late; and when you do arrive, you snap at your co-workers for some minor guidelines they forgot to follow. You reach for another cup of coffee both before noon and at 3 o’clock when you feel that afternoon slump  about to overcome you.

Or you got up late, too busy to eat breakfast, run off to your first meeting of the day.  Great, they’re serving coffee and donuts! Lunch, I’ll just have a yogurt with fruit…that should be healthy.

It’s five o’clock and you’re running to get the kids from school but your pounding headache makes it a difficult drive.  Then you’re too rush to cook a healthy dinner because you either have to run out for a late night meeting, your children have to do a school project and you still didn’t buy the necessary supplies needed. So dinner is a quick macaroni dish, chicken you picked up at Publix or as a last resort, canned soup and sandwiches.

Do you realize that though all this scenario, your blood sugar is going up and down like a yo, yo?

Your coffee, donuts, sugar laden yogurt, skipping meals and stress can lead to hypoglycemia symptoms that just keep getting worse if left untreated!

Do you believe that if you just make some small changes you can see a difference in your attitude, behavior and thinking process that can lead to better personal and professional relationship?

Here are some quick and easy changes to stabilize your blood sugar and avoid the highs and lows of hypoglycemia…a condition most of you don’t realize affects you on an everyday basis:

  1. Start and end the day with protein.  That means breakfast is a must, even if it is a good protein drink, hard boiled egg, apple slices with almond butter. Check out my list of suggested snacks on our ….If you have dinner early, make sure you have a protein snack an hour or so before going to bed. Otherwise you will be going 12 to 14 hours without food, a reason some find very difficult to get out of bed in the morning!
  2. If you have yogurt, make sure it is plain Greek yogurt and add your own fresh fruit and nuts.  Too many name brands are full of sugar which will drop your blood sugar in just a few hours leaving you fatigued and hungrier.
  3. Watch you consumption of orange juice…most believe it is the perfect drink of juice, especially since it is advertised as “natural!”  Each 8 ounce glass of orange juice e contains 8 teaspoons of sugar!!!
  4. Preparation is the key!  Make some meals ahead of time, preferable over the weekend. You can freeze some and serve them on a night when you have literally no time to cook.
  5. Always carry a protein snack with you, especially if you are driving.  Feel weak, it is easy to grab a few almonds or string cheese.
  6. If your place of work has coffee available just as soon as you arrive, ask to add herbal teas, nuts and allowable fruits.
  7. Exercising strenuously, especially without eating before or after, will definitely lower your blood sugar…sometimes to extreme.  Instead of worrying so much about how you look, listen to your body’s reaction. If symptoms persist, you may have to slow down your exercise program or change your routine entirely.   

The purpose for this particular blog is to let you know that how you think, feel and act can be a result of what you are or are not eating!  Before you take the pain pill for your headache, it could be from the three cups of coffee you had to start the day. The tranquilizer you feel you need for your anxiety could simply be that you skipped breakfast and lunch and your body is running without fuel…won’t and can’t function!  And finally the sleeping pill you crave at night could be that the candy, ice cream and soda you had before going to bed is keeping you wired and unable to have those forty winks your body needs, craves and deserves.

Please, take stock, evaluate your dietary habits, keep a diet/symptom diary and assess those foods and habits you think or know need adjusting. In doubt, reach out for more information or assistance.  You don’t have to do it alone!

Here’s to your health…make it count!

Roberta   

What If My Depression Doesn’t Go Away?

What If My Depression Doesn’t Go Away?

Below you will find an excerpt about treatment for depression from the Faculty of Harvard Medical School. First, however, I’d like to convey my strong, immediate reaction to the report.

As I was reading this article, I thought about “The List”…the list of medications I took from 1961 to 1972…Valium being the first of my introductions to mind-altering drugs. I had no idea what they were or the damage they could do…I simply obeyed orders. In those days, you never questioned a doctor’s instructions!

When 10 milligrams of Valium didn’t help my headaches, fatigue or crying spells, the dosage was increased …repeatedly, in fact, over a six-month period. And as other symptoms manifested — depression, insomnia, inner trembling, blurred vision and dizziness — additional medications were added to the mix. Before long I was introduced to Mellaril, Tofranil and then Thorazine.

After years of trying these medications and my symptoms not improving, psychotherapy was suggested. Two of the therapists just changed my medications, but the third suggested a series of treatments that he thought would combat my depression. By 1969, I was so severely depressed that I welcomed any suggested treatment…I was torn between wanting to live and wanting to die.

I did not know that the treatments were electroconvulsive shock therapy! However, once in the hospital, I was not allowed to leave. I was told that I had signed papers for a series of treatment, and that’s what I was going to get. Needless to say, I came home in worse shape than when I went into the hospital. The whole experience was something I kept to myself and didn’t share for years. The shame, embarrassment and humiliation of being labeled a “mental patient” were too heavy a burden to bear.

Fast forward to 1972. My symptoms were stabilizing… or so I thought. I was in church on a Sunday morning when I suddenly passed out while standing. After several of these episodes, I reluctantly went to a doctor in Hollywood, Florida. After looking over my medical history, he said… “With all the tests and treatments you have had over all these years, you never had a Glucose Tolerance Test” (GTT)… so he ordered one. It was only then, ten years after being undiagnosed, misdiagnosed and labeled “crazy” (mostly by me), that I finally had a name for my condition…I had a severe case of functional hypoglycemia, also known as low blood sugar! The cure…a simple diet!

You can read all about this story in detail in my book, The Do’s and Don’ts of Hypoglycemia: An Everyday Guide to Low Blood Sugar. My purpose here today is to caution anyone with depression – especially severe depression that doesn’t go away – before years of medication, psychotherapy or the ECT treatment (that is once again popular) are prescribed…evaluate your dietary habits! What you are (or are not) eating can contribute to how you think, act and feel! Ask your healthcare practitioner to check your blood sugar, thyroid, hormone and insulin levels. Look into allergies and food sensitivities. Leave no stone unturned. The life you save may be your own!

What If My Depression Doesn’t Go Away?

 Content provided by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

 Excerpted from a Harvard Special Report.

Until doctors have a way to test people ahead of time to see which treatment will work for each individual, finding the right approach is a matter of trial and error. Depending on the severity of the depression and other factors, including your preference, you may start with either psychotherapy or medication, or a combination of the two.

If the first drug you try doesn’t work after four to eight weeks of treatment, your doctor may increase your dosage. If that doesn’t work, he or she may suggest that you switch to another drug in the same class or a drug in a different class. You can try several different antidepressants in sequence until you find one that is most helpful. Your doctor may also recommend adding psychotherapy if that hasn’t been part of your treatment plan.

If you still don’t respond to these therapies, your doctor may prescribe an additional medication, such as lithium or an antipsychotic medication, to be taken with the antidepressant. Depending on the type of symptoms and their severity, the next step may be trying electroconvulsive therapy or light therapy. Newer therapies, such as vagus nerve stimulation or repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, are other options for you and your doctor to discuss. Your doctor or mental health professional is also likely to address life circumstances or losses that may be putting pressure on you or a problem with substance abuse that may be getting in the way of your progress.

Having to go through all of these steps may sound discouraging, but finding the treatment that works for you will be worth the effort.

One major study, the Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR*D) trial, took a close look at how people respond to “real world” treatment, where they try a series of treatments until they find one that works. More than half of the people who participated in the study went into remission after two treatment levels. Overall, 70% of all the people who didn’t withdraw from the study got relief from all their symptoms of depression.

You can improve your chances for successful treatment by taking steps to help yourself, including understanding how to take your medication, discussing your plan in detail with your doctor and abiding by it, and keeping up with therapy appointments

Here’s to your health,

Roberta Ruggiero

What to do if you have it? (Hypoglycemia)

What to do if you have it? (Hypoglycemia)

Hypoglycemia: What to Do If You Have It!

I go through so many emotions–confusion, sadness, frustration–when I receive Facebook posts or e-mails like the following ones I am sharing with you today. I wonder… how do I respond? Where do I begin?

“So, I’ve been dealing with Hypoglycemia for 4 or 5 years now and have been a vegetarian for 10 years. I am still having a hard time figuring out what to eat. I’m not healthy at all and have never been! Can someone please help me?”

“I believe I have hypoglycemia. More than three hours without food and my sugar drops fast. But I work full time. I eat glucose tabs. My dad has G6PD enzyme deficiency. I was told it can potentially cause hypoglycemia. I’ve been having trouble getting to a specialist for a complete diagnosis but it’s bad. I was also told I could be pre-diabetic. I just need some answers and ways to control it.”

“I was told I had hypoglycemia many years ago and that I needed to change my eating habits. I have to confess I have done nothing, not out of ignorance but fear. I don’t know where to start. Please help me.”

“Please send me all the information you have on hypoglycemia. I am desperate!”

I decided to respond by telling you… I know exactly how you feel because I’ve been there! I lived through the devastating effects of hypoglycemia that many of you are experiencing right now.

As a young mother, I had no idea of sugar’s consequences when living on sugary cakes, hot fudge sundaes and apple pie. I would swing from not eating meals to eating those that consisted of pasta and bread. No wonder I had chronic fatigue, suffered with insomnia, severe depression and headaches that felt like my head was going to explode.

This lasted 10 years during which time I visited dozens of doctors, endured countless tests, took thousands of pills and was even subjected to the administration of electric shock therapy. But I was still sick. Finally, I found a physician who explained I had a severe case of functional hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and all I needed was a DIET! Yes, a simple glucose tolerance test and a proper diagnosis finally led me on the road to recovery.

But it was not easy! What I hoped would be an “overnight” remedy turned out to take several years of sorting through a mass of confusing and complicated information. Due to unfamiliarity with the stages of recuperation, controversy surrounding its treatment and non-acceptance from many in the medical community, I found myself feeling like I was the only person in the world suffering from this baffling disease.

Eventually, success did come, but alleviating my symptoms was a long, slow process. It would have been quicker if only I had understood the importance of individualizing my diet, the necessity for vitamins and exercise, and the role a positive attitude plays in the healing process. Above all, the road back to health would not have been so rocky if other hypoglycemics had been there to lend support and encouragement. Faith, patience, determination and the boundless love of my family were the cornerstones to my recovery.

You, my dear readers, have what was not available to me some 40 years ago. The internet allows you to access information about hypoglycemia almost in an instant. Type in any topic of interest at Yahoo or Google and you’ll see not one but dozens of responses. My concern though is that by going this route, you’re shortchanging yourself and won’t be receiving a complete course of treatment for controlling hypoglycemia. Instead you will get bits and pieces of information that could lead to more confusion and fear.

So, after years of speaking with thousands of hypoglycemics and personally going through the highs and lows, challenges and successes of this condition… here is what I believe. Hypoglycemia is one of the most confusing, complicated, misunderstood and misdiagnosed conditions today. Therefore, my message is simple:

Your Symptoms May Not Be “All In Your Head.”

If you suffer from fatigue, insomnia, mental confusion, nervousness, mood swings, faintness, headaches, depression, phobias, blurred vision, inner trembling, outbursts of temper, sudden hunger, heart palpitations, cravings for sweets, allergies and crying spells (just to name a few), you may have functional hypoglycemia and it is most likely the result of poor diet, stress and lifestyle.

If you suspect hypoglycemia, first EDUCATE yourself on this condition. Read every book you can get your hands on that discusses the subject. One may contradict another; others will be confusing and difficult to understand. Nevertheless, you will learn something from each of them. Remember, too, you don’t have to read the thick books all at once. You can read them a chapter, a page or a few paragraphs at a time. Learning takes time, energy, patience, and commitment. Don’t give up. Just do it gradually and consistently. Don’t say you don’t have the time or ability–you do! I cannot stress enough that knowledge and understanding of the causes, effects and treatment of this condition are imperative.

Then start keeping a diet/symptom diary–a daily account of everything you eat for one week to ten days. In one column, list every bit of food, drink and medication you take and at what time. In the second column, list your symptoms and the time at which you experience them. Very often you will see a correlation between what you have consumed and your symptoms.

Now make a list of your symptoms and bring it to a healthcare professional along with your diet/symptom diary and the questions and concerns generated from all your reading on hypoglycemia. There is no substitute for a medical diagnosis and treatment plan!

Can’t find a physician? Want to know if you need the glucose tolerance test? Questioning what you should eat? Wondering if you will become diabetic? Worried that your two-year-old might have hypoglycemia? Your questions may seem endless, and it is impossible to answer all of them individually. But the good news is that many of your concerns may be addressed on our website at www.hypoglycemia.org. Visit it today! You will find pages of up-to-date information on hypoglycemia and personal stories that will inspire and uplift you. And don’t miss out on almost four years of HSF blogs…a wealth of information you can’t afford to miss!

Finally, check out the HSF’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/HypoglycemiaSupport  Here you will discover up close and personal news and views on every aspect of hypoglycemia. The best part is that you will meet a “family” of other sufferers brave enough to share their personal stories. Perhaps you will see yourself in some of their experiences. More importantly, perhaps you will find a suggestion or two that work for you.

All of this is easily accessible, but YOU must take the first step. Education, preparation and commitment are key to recovery. Believe me, the rewards will be worth it!

Here’s to your health,

Roberta