What is Hypoglycemia?
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can cause significant and life-threatening consequences if not treated immediately. Hypoglycemia is often caused by overly aggressive treatment with glucose-lowering drugs in diabetic patients—glucose levels drop too low, causing an episode of hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia can also be reactive; if glucose is absorbed too rapidly after eating, it can cause sudden spikes in insulin levels in people with diabetes or prediabetes, which then cause glucose levels to plummet.
For patients with diabetes, proper dosing of medications is essential to avoid hypoglycemic episodes. Also, maintaining healthy glucose levels is a proactive step that is important for everyone.
Natural interventions such as fructooligosaccharides and Irvingia gabonensis can help slow glucose absorption to prevent the sudden spikes and dips associated with hypoglycemic episodes.
What Causes Hypoglycemia?
- Iatrogenic hypoglycemia: caused by diabetes medications that reduce blood glucose levels
- Reactive hypoglycemia: insulin hypersecretion after meals (common in people who have undergone gastric bypass)
- Other causes such as fluoroquinolone use, Addison’s disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, and advanced liver or kidney disease
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Hypoglycemia?
- Shaking or tremors
- Pounding heart
- If insufficient glucose is available in the brain, warmth, confusion, or drowsiness may occur.
- Prolonged hypoglycemia can lead to coma and/or death.
Note: Symptoms of hypoglycemia do not always manifest; some people may be unaware they are hypoglycemic until glucose levels drop dangerously low. Proper glucose level monitoring is essential in those with diabetes or prediabetes.
What are the Conventional Medical Treatments for Hypoglycemia?
- Immediately restoring normal blood glucose levels by administering glucose
- Long-term management to prevent future episodes, such as changing medications or dosing
What Novel Therapies Exist for Hypoglycemia?
- Implantable continuous glucose monitoring devices
- Improving patients’ awareness of hypoglycemia with medications such as naltrexone or fluoxetine
- Treatment with acarbose to slow the breakdown of carbohydrates into glucose
What Dietary and Lifestyle Changes Can Help Manage Hypoglycemia?
- Increase intake of dietary fiber to slow the rate of carbohydrate absorption
- Eat less refined carbohydrate-rich foods
- Eat several small meals and snacks throughout the day
- Do not drink alcohol without eating
What Natural Interventions Can Help Manage Hypoglycemia?
- Fructooligosaccharides. Fructooligosaccharides are prebiotic fibers found in many plant foods that can help stabilize post-meal glucose levels. One study demonstrated that supplementation with fructooligosaccharides significantly improved glucose profiles and reduced episodes of hypoglycemia.
- Chromium. Chromium supplementation can help control blood glucose levels and improve the metabolism of carbohydrates.
- Green coffee bean extract. The extract from unroasted coffee beans and a derived compound, chlorogenic acid, have been shown to temper post-meal glucose spikes, reduce glucose absorption, and inhibit the intestinal enzyme alpha-glucosidase.
- White bean extract. White bean extract blocks alpha-amylase, an enzyme responsible for breaking down sugars. Blocking this enzyme slows the rate of glucose absorption.
- Irvingia gabonensis. African mango tree extract ( Irvingia gabonensis ) also blocks alpha-amylase . This extract may also help with weight loss.
- Seaweed extracts. Extracts from kelp and bladderwrack inhibit alpha-amylase and alpha-glucosidase, the enzymes that help with breaking down dietary starches.
- L-arabinose. An indigestible plant compound, L-arabinose inhibits the enzymatic activity of sucrase, the enzyme that breaks down sucrose. L-arabinose can therefore prevent the spike in blood sugar that follows sugar-rich meals.