Paavo Airola - Let's Live - February 1976Index

Hypoglycemia: Causes, Prevention, and Treatment

Hypoglycemia, translated into lay terms, simply means low blood sugar. (Diabetes is the opposite - high blood sugar.) Suddenly, hypoglycemia is ranking among our most common disorders, with an estimated several million Americans suffering from it. Yet the medical profession refuses to recognize it as a "disease," perhaps because the causes, as we will discuss in this article, are an indictment of the failure of the medical and nutrition establishments, and, also, because doctors do not have a "cure" for it. With anywhere from half a dozen to 300 symptoms for any given individual, hypoglycemia can masquerade as numerous other conditions. Often the hypoglycemic just does not "feel good", with general and vague complaints. A glucose tolerance test can diagnose the condition but is often given for only three hours, instead of the really necessary five or six hours. 1 2 Also, individuals differ in their reaction to sugar (glucose) and doctors are generally unaware that a sudden drop anywhere on the glucose tolerance chart indicates probable hypoglycemia. The problem is compounded by the fact that sometimes hypoglycemia can turn into diabetes, and the sugar level in some patients can alternate between too low and too high, making them both diabetic and hypoglycemic. 2


Here are some of the most common symptoms of hypoglycemia: extreme fatigue; severe craving for sweets, alcohol, and other stimulants; weakness and shortness of breath; ravenous hunger and often stomach pain between meals; cold feet; poor digestion; over-weight problems; irritability and moodiness; confused thinking and inability to concentrate; emotional upset without apparent cause; and the schizophrenic feeling of "going crazy." Actually, doctors who fail to recognize hypoglycemia as a disease may not be far off. Low blood sugar is actually a symptom of hypoadrenocorticism, or exhaustion of the adrenal glands. This can also lead to the serious Addison's Disease. But whether or not experts agree on the classification of the hypoglycemia syndrome does not relieve those who suffer from it - their distress is just as severe. And because the major hypoglycemic symptoms are mental confusion and emotional instability, the condition has a serious effect on marital and family relations and has enormous sociological implications. J.I. Rodale believed that many accidents, family quarrels, suicides and even crimes are committed by individuals when their blood sugar levels are pathologically low. 3 Since our overconsumption of sugar is at the root of hypoglycemia, this alone would be enough to indict refined sugar as more devastating to humankind than almost any other problem - but in a very subtle, far-reaching and difficult-to-combat way.


Hypoglycemia may be caused by a number of disorders: pathological condition of the pancreas, such as a pancreatic tumor which causes overproduction of insulin; diseases of the liver which affect the storage and release of sugar; diseased adrenal glands; and malfunction of certain centers of the brain. 3

A number of wrong dietary and living habits can lead to hypoglycemia. but the primary cause is a diet too high in refined starches (white flour and polished white rice) and refined sugar. Refined starches and concentrated refined sugar are quickly absorbed into the blood stream, raising the blood sugar to a dangerous level. This triggers an emergency action on the part of the insulin-producing pancreas. Insulin regulates the blood sugar level. Normal variations in the blood sugar level do not trigger any abnormal reactions from the pancreas, but when the sugar level rises quickly to an abnormally high level, the "panicked" pancreas over-reacts and dumps an excessive amount of insulin into the bloodstream to counteract the dangerously high sugar levels. This over-reaction not only brings the sugar level down, but takes it far below normal. As a result, when the blood sugar level is extremely low, various symptoms of hypoglycemia occur. Your body uses sugar for many vital functions: sustaining normal brain and nerve activity; facilitating healthy muscle and heart action; and maintaining an instant energy and endurance level. When sugar drops too low, all of these body functions are severely impaired. This is why hypoglycemics crave a quick pickup - preferably sweets, coffee or alcohol - which rapidly remedies the unpleasant symptoms by bringing the blood sugar level up. Since these artificial stimulants, with their drug-like effects, raise the sugar level too high, the pancreas is again forced to overreact and counteract the dangerous situation by overproducing insulin. This is the typical vicious cycle of hypoglycemia: hyperactive, happy, and energetic for a short time when the sugar level is high; and totally exhausted, confused, and ready to commit suicide a few hours later. No wonder white flour and white sugar are referred to as the "white plague" of civilized society. These products are more devastating to a person's health on an individual level and to the physical, mental, and social health of the whole human society than any other single factor. 4

In addition to sugar and refined carbohydrates, alcohol, tobacco, and coffee - all integral parts of Western culture - also aggravate hypoglycemia by constant overstimulation of the pancreatic gland and by overstress of the adrenal glands.

Excessive salt intake is also a contributing cause of hypoglycemia, causing a loss of blood potassium which leads to a drop in blood sugar. Potassium is necessary to rectify sugar metabolism abnormalities. 5 Total elimination of salt is not advised, as some sodium is needed by the adrenal glands. But natural sodium (salt) can be obtained from kelp, tamari, or sea water supplement, as well as from natural, unprocessed foods.

Allergies are also known to cause hypoglycemia in some individuals, especially allergy to wheat and other high carbohydrate foods. Also, when the hypoglycemic suffers from allergies (and allergy is another condition which is assuming epidemic proportions!) this condition is usually aggravated. 6

Another major cause of hypoglycemia is - now brace yourself for a shock! - overconsumption of protein, especially meat. This is paradoxical, indeed! Our orthodox doctors and nutritionists usually advise a high-protein diet to treat hypoglycemia. Yet it is well substantiated by reliable scientific research that a high protein, low-carbohydrate diet is extremely taxing to the adrenal glands overstressing them and causing them to break down. I admit that when the severe hypoglycemic is put on a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet it will help to eliminate and control some of the symptoms. But the high-protein diet is certainly no cure, and it offers no real recovery since it must be maintained indefinitely. On the contrary, instead of improving and normalizing the adrenal and pancreatic functions, a high-protein diet will further damage these organs and actually aggravate the condition. In addition, an excessive high-protein diet is dangerous in other ways leading to such serious conditions as kidney damage, osteoporosis, atherosclerosis, pyorrhea, heart disease, arthritis, cancer, and even premature aging - that advising it for one condition would merely mean replacing one illness with a host of others. It doesn't make common nor academic sense to me to try to control one condition with a therapy which may cause other, even more serious, conditions. But then, this has been our orthodox, drug-oriented, and symptom-focused medical approach for some time. Doctors treat symptoms with drugs, which instantaneously wipe out the symptoms, and they are hailed as miraculous healers. No one seems to be concerned with the fact that the "recovered" patient will be back soon with perhaps even more severe problems caused by the "miracle drugs" he took a few days or weeks earlier. Then, a set of new drugs will take care of his new symptoms - and so on - a vicious cycle of the dreadful failure of our medical establishment to see the patient as a whole physiological, emotional, and spiritual complex and try to cure a sick individual, not just to treat his symptoms.

Orthodox treatment of hypoglycemia with a high-protein, low or no-carbohydrate diet could be rightfully referred to as a "remedy worse than the disease!" If doctors would adhere to the first principle of the art of healing, "Primum est nil nocere" - the most important is that treatment does no harm - they would think twice before advocating such a dubious therapy. Not only can a high-protein diet lead to all the serious diseases mentioned earlier, but it may lead to severe autotoxemia and overacidity due to the toxic by-products of excess protein metabolism such as uric acid, ammonia, urea, and amyloid. It is also well-documented by university studies that a prolonged high-protein diet will lead to biochemical imbalance of the system as well as severe vitamin and mineral deficiencies, particularly deficiency of calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A, B3, and B6. All this makes the high-protein diet an unscientific answer to hypoglycemia. This is especially so in the light of the fact that recent research, which is now also widely accepted by the consensus of medical and nutritional orthodoxy, shows that our previous views on protein importance need an honest overhaul; that we need much less protein than was previously believed (only half of what was recommended just a decade ago!); and that the myth that only meat and animal products were sources of complete proteins is now disproved and that many vegetable sources of protein such as soybeans, almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, buckwheat, millet, wheat germ, potatoes, and green leafy vegetables, when properly combined are just as good, or better, than animal proteins in their biological value.

This discussion of the protein issue mustn't be construed as an attempt to play down the importance of protein. Proteins are, of course, vital nutritive factors, and we certainly need them in any diet, including the diet of the hypoglycemic. But because something is good doesn't mean more is better! What I am trying to say is that not protein, but too much protein is bad. We are so brainwashed by two decades of protein-oriented propaganda that although we readily accept the fact that too much fat is harmful (although fat is vital in human nutrition), and too much carbohydrate is harmful (although carbohydrates certainly are important), and too much of anything is not good - we have an almost allergic, resistance to the mere suggestion that even too much protein can be undesirable!

Prevention and Treatment of Hypoglycemia

If you are not now experiencing the symptoms of low blood sugar you can prevent their development by following a very simple and effective dietary and exercise program.

Here are major points of this preventive program, which, by and large, should also be followed by those who suffer from hypoglycemia (with some exceptions mentioned later):

  1. Exclude completely from your diet all refined and processed carbohydrates: white flour and everything made with it, and white sugar and everything made with it. This will eliminate all ice cream that is commercially made, pastries, cookies, candies, white bread, all processed breakfast cereals, soft drinks, etc. Use honey sparingly as the only sweetener allowed,

  2. Avoid an excess of protein, especially meat.

  3. Eat a high natural-carbohydrate, low-animal-protein diet as advocated in my books How to Get Well and Are You Confused? The emphasis should be on three basic food groups in this order of importance:

    1. Grains, seeds, and nuts
    2. Vegetables
    3. Fruits

    This diet should be complemented with milk and milk products - natural cheese, kvark (home-made fresh cottage cheese - see instructions in my books), and butter, as well as vegetable oil (especially olive oil) and brewer's yeast.

    Seeds and nuts should be eaten raw, mostly for breakfast but also between meals as snacks. The best seeds are sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds. The best nuts are almonds and peanuts. Grains should be cooked in the form of cereals - this is important for prevention and treatment of hypoglycemia. When you eat a good portion of buckwheat, millet, or oat cereal for breakfast or lunch, along with a dash of butter or tablespoon of vegetable oil, and a glass of fresh milk, such a meal will remain in your stomach for many hours HALF A DAY! - slowly releasing the high-quality proteins, fats, and sugars into your bloodstream. The object of such a diet is to prevent blood sugar starvation by keeping a certain amount of available sugars constantly entering the bloodstream. Animal proteins are digested relatively rapidly. Only the protein needed by the body at the time of digestion is utilized as protein the rest is changed into sugar and burned as energy food or deposited as fat. Cooked grains, on the other hand, digest very slowly and release sugar into the blood stream gradually for as long as 6-8 hours after the meal, thus keeping the blood sugar level constant for a long period of time. 5 Millet is the best cereal and most easily tolerated, having an unusual carbohydrate that does not adversely affect hypoglycemics. Buckwheat is another excellent cereal. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study, the proteins in buckwheat are complete and of such high biological value that they are comparable to protein in meat.

    Grains, seeds, and nuts are also rich in the minerals magnesium, zinc, and manganese - all important for prevention and treatment of hypoglycemia.

    Sprouts are also beneficial in the prevention or treatment of hypoglycemia as well as in a general health-building dietary program. 7

    Most vegetables should be eaten raw, but some, such as potatoes, yams, squashes, green beans, etc., can be cooked. Yes, hypoglycemics can even eat potatoes but never too much. As you will see later, the secret of the hypoglycemia diet is systematic undereating. Garlic and onions, the king and queen of the vegetable kingdom, have special sugar regulating factors. Avocado is also excellent in the hypoglycemia diet.

    Sour fruits and berries are best, but sweet fruits, such as bananas or dates, can also be eaten in small amounts - only half a banana or one or two dates at a time! Avoid drinking too much fruit juice. The sugar concentration in juices is too high, and excessive drinking of sweet fruit or vegetable juices may contribute to the development of either hypoglycemia or diabetes by overstressing the pancreas. A small amount of juice is permitted, but all sweet juices must be diluted 50-50 with water.

    Milk is best in soured forms: as kefir, yogurt, buttermilk, or plain clabbered milk. Goat's milk is best.

    Brewer's yeast is an excellent food for prevention as well as specific food in treatment of hypoglycemia. It is rich in such nutrients important to the hypoglycemic as high-quality proteins, B-vitamin complex, zinc, and trace minerals, especially chromium. It contains the Glucose Tolerance Factor which is vital to sugar regulation. 8

    Olive oil is especially beneficial for the prevention or treatment of hypoglycemia. One or two tablespoons of olive oil can be used daily, mainly as salad dressings. It must be high-quality, cold-pressed oil. Never cook with vegetable oils, since they become carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures. Olive oil is directly involved with the functions of the endocrine glands, which are malfunctioning in patients with low blood sugar.

  4. Do not eat large meals. Eating six to eight small meals a day is best for prevention of hypoglycemia and also for those who are already hypoglycemic. In addition to three regular meals, take snacks in between, consisting of raw nuts, seeds, a glass of milk or yogurt, or a piece of fruit.
  5. Do not overeat. Leave the table before you are really full.

  6. Exercise frequently. Exercise burns excess sugar and helps to normalize the sugar level, assisting the overstressed pancreas. Strenuous physical exercise such as weight lifting, tennis playing, or running should be avoided by hypoglycemics (although they are excellent for diabetics), since they tend to stimulate insulin production. Daily walking, gradually increasing the distance, is the best exercise for hypoglycemics.

Next Month PART TWO of "Hypoglycemia: Causes, Prevention, and Treatment", including a complete diet for hypoglycemia and special herbs, vitamins, and supplements. The Index of References for the entire article will appear after Part Two.