What is Hypoglycaemia?
It is critically important for the body to maintain blood sugar levels within a narrow range. If the blood sugar level falls too low, energy supply to all tissues, particularly the brain, is impaired. However, if blood sugar levels rise too high, then this is very damaging to arteries and the long term effect of arterial disease is heart disease and strokes. This is caused by sugar sticking to proteins and fats to make AGEs (Advanced Glycation End-products) which accelerate the ageing process.
Normally, the liver controls blood sugar levels. It can create the sugar from glycogen stores inside the liver and releases sugar into the blood stream minute by minute in a carefully regulated way to cope with body demands which may fluctuate from minute to minute. Excess sugar flooding into the system after a meal can be mopped up by muscles, but only so long as there is space there to act as a sponge. This occurs when we exercise Exercise – the right sort. This system of control works perfectly well until we upset it by eating the wrong thing or not exercising. Eating excessive sugar at one meal, or excessive refined carbohydrate, which is rapidly digested into sugar, can suddenly overwhelm the muscle and the liver’s normal control of blood sugar levels.
We evolved over millions of years eating a diet that was very low in sugar and had no refined carbohydrate. Control of blood sugar therefore largely occurred as a result of eating this Stone Age diet and the fact that we were exercising vigorously, so any excessive sugar in the blood was quickly burned off. Nowadays the situation is different: we eat large amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrate and do not exercise enough in order to burn off this excessive sugar. The body therefore has to cope with this excessive sugar load by other mechanisms.
When food is digested, the sugars and other digestive products go straight from the gut in the portal veins to the liver, where they should all be mopped up by the liver and processed accordingly. If excessive sugar or refined carbohydrate overwhelms the liver, the sugar spills over into the systemic circulation. If not absorbed by muscle glycogen stores, high blood sugar results, which is extremely damaging to arteries. If one were exercising hard, this would be quickly burned off. However, if one is not, then other mechanisms of control are brought into play. The key player here is insulin, a hormone excreted by the pancreas. This is very good at bringing blood sugar levels down and it does so by shunting the sugar into fat. Indeed, this includes the “bad” cholesterol LDL. There is then a rebound effect and blood sugars may well go too low. Low blood sugar is also dangerous to the body because the energy supplied to all tissues is impaired. When the blood sugar is low, this is called “hypoglycaemia”. Subconsciously, people quickly work out that eating more sugar alleviates these symptoms, but of course they invariably overdo things; the blood sugar level then goes high and one ends up on a roller coaster ride of blood sugar level going up and down throughout the day.
Ultimately, this leads to metabolic syndrome or syndrome X – a major cause of disability and death in Western societies, since it is the forerunner of diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, degenerative conditions and cancer.