by Andrew Pacholyk, MS, L.Ac.

Western Medicine

Hypoglycemia is abnormally low levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. A low blood glucose level can occur when your blood glucose drops below a certain level (usually less than 4 mmol/L).

Hypoglycemia literally means “low blood sugar” and is often mistaken for a disease when it is actually a symptom. Normally, the body maintains the levels of sugar in the blood within a range of about 70 to 110 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) of blood. In hypoglycemia, the sugar levels in the blood become too low. In diabetes mellitus, the sugar levels in the blood become too high, a condition called hyperglycemia. Although high levels of sugar in the blood characterize diabetes, many people with diabetes periodically experience hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is uncommon among people without diabetes.

Low levels of sugar in the blood interfere with the function of many organ systems. The brain is particularly sensitive to low sugar levels, because sugar is the brain’s major energy source. If the sugar levels in the blood fall far below their usual range, the brain responds by stimulating the adrenal glands to release epinephrine (adrenaline), the pancreas to release glucagon, and the pituitary gland to release growth hormone, all of which cause the liver to release sugar into the blood.

Ingested sugars and carbohydrates trigger a release of the hormone insulin from the pancreas. Insulin helps the body turn sugars into energy and stored fats. In some people, the amount of insulin released is too high for the amount of carbohydrates ingested, resulting in too much sugar being burned up too quickly. A net loss of blood sugar results. In hypoglycemia attacks, there is too much insulin and not enough blood sugar, causing fatigue, weakness, loss of consciousness, and even death.

There are three general types of hypoglycemia. Two of them are rare organic forms involving the pancreas. The third and most common form is called functional hypoglycemia (FH) and is usually caused by an inadequate diet too high in sugar and refined carbohydrates.

Hypoglycemia may be better described as carbohydrate intolerance: the body is unable to absorb certain carbohydrate loads effectively without adverse consequences. Different people react differently to ingested sugars and starches, with some individuals having a higher tolerance level than others.

The kidneys involve the regulation of electrolyte balance of sodium and potassium, necessary for the circulation of bio electrical energy throughout the body. The kidney involves the secretion of glucocorticoid hormone, cortisol, from the adrenal cortex. Kidneys involving adrenaline secretions of the adrenal medula, also involve other endocrine functions including the pituitary and thyroid glands. The prominent hormone-regulating role played by the adrenals is important in the regulation of the autonomic nervous system.


Drugs: Most cases of hypoglycemia occur in people with diabetes and are caused by the insulin or other drugs. They tend to lower the levels of sugar in their blood. People with diabetes sometimes call the hypoglycemia that can occur after taking insulin an “insulin reaction” or “weak or shaky.” Insulin reactions are more common when intense efforts are made to keep the sugar levels in the blood as close to normal as possible. People who are losing weight or who develop kidney failure are more likely to have hypoglycemia. Older people are more susceptible than younger people to hypoglycemia resulting from sulfonylurea drugs.

Many drugs other than those for diabetes, most notably Pentamidine, used to treat a form of pneumonia that occurs most seen in HIV, and quinine, used to treat muscle cramps, can cause hypoglycemia.

Fasting: In fasting hypoglycemia, the body is not able to maintain adequate levels of sugar in the blood after a period without food. Prolonged fasting and prolonged strenuous exercise, even after a period of fasting, are unlikely to cause hypoglycemia in otherwise healthy people, but they can do so occasionally.

There are several diseases or conditions that can cause fasting hypoglycemia. In people who drink heavily without eating, alcohol can block the release of stored sugar from the liver. In people with liver disease, such as viral hepatitis, cirrhosis, or cancer, the liver may not store sufficient sugar. Infants and children who have an abnormality of the enzyme systems that control sugar use also may have fasting hypoglycemia.

Reaction to Eating: Hypoglycemia can occur as a reaction to eating, usually carbohydrates. The body’s response to food is excessive, so the body produces more insulin than is needed.

After certain types of stomach surgery, such as removal of part of the stomach, sugars are absorbed very quickly, stimulating excess insulin production. Problems with digestion of some sugars (fructose and galactose) and amino acids (leucine) may also cause reactive hypoglycemia. An uncommon form of reactive hypoglycemia can occur after drinking alcohol in combination with sugar (for example, a gin and tonic).

Other Causes: Some causes of hypoglycemia seem to have no specific relation to food, but fasting or vigorous exercise can trigger or worsen an episode of hypoglycemia. Rarely, a tumor in the pancreas can produce large amounts of insulin, leading to hypoglycemia. In some people, an autoimmune disorder lowers sugar levels in the blood by changing insulin secretion or by some other means. Disorders that lower hormone production by the pituitary and adrenal glands (most notably Addison’s disease) can cause hypoglycemia. Certain severe diseases, such as kidney or heart failure, cancer, and shock, may also cause hypoglycemia, particularly in a person who is also being treated for diabetes. Hypoglycemia is associated with anxiousness, and seen in asthmatics, in fact, most all asthmatics are hypogylcemic though not all hypoglycemics are asthmatic.

Symptoms: The most common symptoms of low blood sugar include: jitters or shaking, sweating, chills, dizziness or lightheadedness, irritability, anxiousness, sleepiness, weakness, sudden hunger, confusion, trouble concentrating, pale complexion, racing or irregular heartbeat, and/or headache.

Alternative Therapies

Hypoglycemia: How to treat low blood glucose
(As recommended by the American Diabetes Association)

Check your blood glucose. If you do not have your meter with you treat the symptoms anyway. It is better to be safe. Eat or drink a form of sugar such as:

* a piece of fruit, like a banana, apple, or orange
* 2 tablespoons of raisins
* 15 grapes
* 1/2 cup apple, orange, pineapple, or grapefruit juice
* 1/2 cup regular soda (not sugar-free)
* 1 cup fat-free milk
* 1 tablespoon honey or jelly
* 1 tablespoon of sugar in water
* 1 cup of cinnamon tea
* 3 B-D Glucose Tablets or 5 Dextrose Tablets
* 6 Life Savers

Wait 10 to 15 minutes, then test your blood glucose again.

Nutrition and diet: What, when and how much you eat play an important role in regulating how well your body manages blood sugar levels. Eat three meals and a bedtime snack each day. Include a food from each of the food groups at each meal. If you are thirsty drink water . If you are overweight, eat smaller portions. Reduce your intake of fat. Keep sweet and fatty foods to a minimum.

Stay active: Regular exercise helps your body lower blood sugars, promotes weight loss, reduces stress and enhances overall fitness. Talk to your doctor about diabetes. If you have diabetes, learn how to adjust your insulin and food to prevent low blood glucose levels while exercising.

Eastern Medicine Etiology

Most patients, whether male or female, young or old, suffer from digestive complaints. Because the spleen and stomach are the root of Qi and blood, and because the spleen and stomach govern the upbearing and downbearing of the entire body’s Qi mechanism, if the spleen and stomach are in disharmony, this can affect any of the other viscera and bowels and, therefore, any other function in the body. For this reason, it’s almost always appropriate to begin a patient’s treatment by correcting any digestive complaints or irregularities.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Patterns

Kidney Yin and Kidney Yang can be seen as frequent cloudy urination, five center heat sensation, thirsty, cold feeling, aversion to cold, weak lower back and knees, impotence, amenorrhea, night sweat, spontaneous sweat, dry/dull complexion. In TCM, the concept of the `kidney’, as the home of the `ancestral Qi’ or our inherent constitution, is the root of yin and yang for the entire body.

Liver Qi Stagnation: Depression, fullness of abdomen, pain and a tight feeling in the chest, irregular menstruation. Reddish tongue with whitish fur, tight and thready pulse. Treatment principle: Sooth depressed Liver Qi to relieve emotional depression.

Acupuncture treatment: Points: G B 24, Liv 14, BL19, GB 34, St 36, St 41, Ren 4, Ren 17

Formula: Chai Hu Shu Gan San

Deficiency of liver and kidney: Shortness of breath, bad dreams, depression, indigestion, fatigue, overweight, dizziness, blurred vision, tinnitus, tongue with white fur, thready and weak pulse.

Treatment principle: Tonify and nourish the liver and kidney.

Acupuncture Treatment: Points: Pc 6, H t 7, Sp 6, UB 20, UB 23, Lv 3, St 10, Sp 4.

Formula: Yi Guan Jian

Seek out a professional acupuncturist and herbalist to assist in this alternative treatment for hypoglycemia. The treatments should be 4 – 6 visits with a re-evaluation after that. Changing your diet and regulating the way you eat can improve the treatments even more.

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