Paavo Airola - Let's Live - March 1977PrevNextIndex
What Is Hypoglycemia?
This and the following two articles are excerpted from
Dr. Airola's new book, Hypoglycemia: A Better Approach.
HYPOGLYCEMIA is the most perplexing mysterious, complicated,
contradictory, as well as controversial and complex "disease" I know.
How did I arrive
at such a disheartening conclusion?
- The medical establishment - AMA
and the affiliated groups, clinics, as
well as official medical journals - insists that hypoglycemia is virtually a
non-existent condition invented by self-diagnosing health faddists; a popular
"in" disease among jet-set, high-stress,
heavy-drinking hypochondriacs; a new
invention replacing ulcers as the status
A famous Mayo Clinic doctor and
syndicated medical columnist, Walter
Alvarez, M.D., summed up the official
View, saying, "I have never seen a case
of functional hypoglycemia in thirty
years of practice." The American Dietetic Association,
the American Diabetes Association, and the Endocrine Society
joined the American Medical Association in publishing in their official
journals strongly worded position statements indicating that hypoglycemia is
an extremely rare condition. Yet, such
prominent doctors and practitioners as
Harvey M. Ross, M.D., Robert C. Atkins,
M.D., E. Cheraskin, M.D., Stephen Gyland, MD. and Clement C. Martin,
M.D., to name a few, consider hypoglycemia to be one of the most prevalent
ailments in modern society, a virtual
epidemic of major proportions.
Dr, Atkins, for example, says that
"the commonest condition I am called
upon to treat in my practice of internal
medicine is low blood sugar - hypoglycemia." Dr. Cheraskin claims that "the
sugar-laden American diet has led to a
national epidemic of hypoglycemia."
And, Dr. Harvey Ross says that "Hypoglycemia has been estimated to affect
10 percent of the United States population". That's over 20 million people:
- Some doctors consider hypoglycemia
to be a serious, incapacitating disease, a
contributing factor to such killers as
heart disease, even cancer. Others dismiss it as a rather harmless "stress
adaptation syndrome", a carbohydrate
metabolism disorder that is easily controlled and/or avoided.
- According to some doctors, the medical definition of hypoglycemia is very
simple: too little sugar in the blood, or
low blood sugar. They also define hypoglycemia as "the opposite of diabetes"
(which is too much sugar in the blood),
The offered cure is equally simple:
more of easily-available sugar in the
diet. Other experts violently oppose this
simplistic view of hypoglycemia, claiming that the underlying causes leading
to low blood sugar are so complex and
so different with each individual, that it
is almost impossible to find a common
therapeutic approach applicable to
more than one case.
- The experts' opinions on correct
diagnostic procedures are just as contradictory. While many practitioners
feel that a 5 or 6-hour glucose tolerance
test (GTT) is a perfectly reliable and
conclusive way to diagnose the condition, others feel that such a test is not
only harmful, but also constitutes a
very misleading, as well as undependable,
way to find the presence of hypoglycemia.
The standard medical practice is to consider levels of blood sugar
lower than 60 to 80 mg. per 100 ml. as
hypoglycemia. But one of the nutrition
experts with wide experience in hypoglycemia, Dr. Carlton Fredericks,
claims that "there is no number, no
point, no range of blood sugar which
constitutes hypoglycemia." He says that
not how low the blood sugar level goes,
but the speed at which it drops, that
causes the symptoms of hypoglycemia - and only in some people, at that!
Complex And Mysterious
Are you beginning to be perplexed and
confused? Can you see now why I referred to hypoglycemia
as the most complicated, mysterious, and complex health
problem I know?
But whether or not the experts agree
on the definition, classification, diagnosis, or treatment of the hypoglycemia
syndrome, your distress and suffering,
if you are afflicted with it, is just as
severe. You are probably reading this
because you are searching and looking
for relief. Because the major hypoglycemic symptoms are mental confusion,
emotional instability, low energy level,
and neurotic - even psychotic - behavior, the condition of hypoglycemia
has a serious effect on a person's whole
life, and on his marital and family relationships;
it has, in other words. enormous personal as well as social implications.
I. I. Rodale believed that many
accidents, family quarrels, suicides,
and even crimes are committed by individuals when their sugar levels are
pathologically low, Hypoglycemia is,
indeed, one of the most devastating
ailments of man.
Because I have. seen so many unhappy, distressed, and miserable
individuals whose lives have been wrecked - virtually destroyed - by
hypoglycemia, I have decided to write
this book to try to help those who are
already afflicted, as well as those who
may be subjected to this danger in the
future. This task is not easy. Although I
have authored ten books, one of which,
How To Get Well, outlines successful
biological and nutritional treatments
for over 60 of our most common
diseases and is used as a textbook in
several universities, colleges, and
medical schools, I feel apprehension as
well as a great sense of responsibility when I approach this "simple"
problem of hypoglycemia. I can truthfully say that of all the
medical problems and ailments that I have studied
and researched, this is the most complex, misunderstood, and controversial
condition of which I can think.
What is Hypoglycemia?
Hypoglycemia, translated into lay terms,
simply means low blood sugar. Hypo
means low; glycemic means sugar.
Diabetes is the opposite: high blood
sugar, or hyperglycemia.
The two conditions, although diametrically opposed, are closely related.
Both are caused by the body's inability to use
sugar effectively. This is, of course, an
oversimplification. And I will admit,
right at the onset, that we will have to
use a lot of generalizations and oversimplifications
more than I would like when trying to define and explain
such a complex condition as the hypoglycemia syndrome. This is because,
more than any other disease, hypoglycemia and its symptoms, as well as
its underlying causes, vary with almost
Hypoglycemia was officially "discovered" by Dr. Seale Harris in 1924. He was
the first to describe the presence of abnormally low blood sugar levels and the
distinctly defined symptoms that accompany them. The condition was at
first called hyperinsulinism and it was
considered to be caused by to much insulin in the blood. Excessive insulin
burned more sugar than was necessary,
and caused an excessive drop in the
blood sugar level. In diabetes, too little
insulin is produced, which results in too
much sugar staying in the bloodstream
for too long. In simple terms, an overactive pancreas (where insulin is
produced) is blamed for low blood
sugar. But the real question is: why is
the pancreas overactive?
Thus, both diabetes and hypoglycemia are linked to defective sugar
metabolism in the body. What is sugar
metabolism, and what causes its derangement?
To get the answers to these questions,
we must understand the relationship
and the difference between nutrition,
and metabolism. Nutrition is related to
the foods and liquids that enter our
bodies; nutrition science is a study of
the nutritional and therapeutic value of
foods. Metabolism refers to what happens to the nutrients after they enter the
body, how they are assimilated, absorbed. utilized, and burned up, and how
they are used in various processes involved in keeping tissues and organs well.
The Big Three
The three basic nutrients obtained
through foods are complex carbohydrates, fats, and proteins (plus, of
course, vitamins, minerals, trace
elements, enzymes, etc.). Almost all
foods contain all of these nutrients, but
in varying proportions. The basic
human diet, especially as it had evolved
since the advent of agriculture, was
largely made up of natural, complex
carbohydrate foods, such as grains,
seeds, nuts, vegetables, fruits, and some
dairy products, meat and/or fish in
some parts of the planet.
Even now, in those parts of the world
where civilization and industrialization
have not yet made their destructive
assault, and where the traditional diets
have remained the same, the people are
free from disease and they enjoy optimum vitality and long life.
But in the past few hundred years,
with the advent of industrialization and
the increased wealth that followed it,
man's diet has undergone dramatic
changes. Concentrated carbohydrates
such as sugar and refined flour,
completely non-existent in earlier times,
now are eaten in increased quantities,
reaching an incredible yearly intake of
125 lbs. of sugar and an equal amount
of white flour per person in America
today! The human metabolic system
was not designed to function efficiently
on such a diet. The excess of protein
and fat, and especially the huge amount
of refined carbohydrates has overloaded our
metabolisms and contributed to the long line of disease
directly related to faulty nutrition.
Hypoglycemia is but one of these nutrition-related disorders.
Sugar is the fuel our body uses for
heat and energy. Normally, sugar is obtained from carbohydrate-rich foods,
such as grains, vegetables, potatoes,
fruits, bread, beans, and corn.
The complex carbohydrates are slowly broken
down from their long-chain molecules
and changed into smaller molecules of
absorbable sugar, called glucose, which
is ultimately absorbed slowly through
the wall of the small intestines. This
sugar is then carried to the liver, where
it is converted into glycogen and stored.
As the need for sugar arises (remember, sugar is needed for all muscle
actions, and especially for brain and
nerve function), the stored glycogen is
reconverted into a usable form - glucose - and transported by the
blood to the areas where it is needed.
Thus, when we eat sugar in the form of
natural carbohydrates, our blood and
tissues usually contain only the amount
of sugar needed for their normal function.
But when we eat foods containing
refined, white, commercially produced
sugar, the small-molecule carbohydrates of these foods are absorbed
quickly - sometimes almost instantaneously - through the membranes of the
mouth and stomach, causing a sudden
flood of glucose into the bloodstream.
Such a flood of excess sugar into the
bloodstream causes a tremendous
strain on the pancreas and liver, as well
as the adrenals and other endocrine
glands that are involved in regulating
blood sugar levels.
Too Great A Strain
Our bodies are well equipped to handle an occasional strain in the form of
an excess of ingested sugar. The pancreas produces insulin which is
released into the bloodstream where it
destroys the excess sugar. But, if we
continuously abuse our metabolism by
dumping in huge amounts of easily absorbably sugar,
the strain on the sugar-regulating organs will be too great. It
may damage them to the extent that
they will not be able to cope with the
continuous insult. Often, the reaction of
these organs, especially the pancreas,
becomes abnormal (such as an overreacting pancreas, which produces
large amounts of sugar-reducing insulin
although only an insignificant amount
of refined sugar was consumed),
resulting in symptoms of hypoglycemia, And
if the pancreas is over-reactive and
produces too much insulin, the sugar
level in the blood drops abnormally
low, depriving the brain and nervous
system of much-neeeded oxygen and
causing an array of unpleasant hypoglycemic symptoms. Eating sugar in
such a situation will not help. On the
contrary, it will only trigger the over-responsive pancreas to produce even
more insulin and make the situation
and symptoms worse.
The abnormal reaction or malfunction
of the sugar level-regulating organs can
be caused by other factors such as
emotional and physical stresses,
alcohol, coffee, smoking, nutritional deficiencies,
overeating, and drugs, But,
faulty eating habits, especially the excessive use of
refined carbohydrates, is
the factor that contributes most to the
development of hypoglycemia.
"I Don't Eat Sugar"
In my consulting work, I often encounter patients with diagnosed functional
hypoglycemia who say, "I haven't eaten
sugar for years - I never touch the
stuff! - how could I have hypoglycemia?"
So few people realize that sugar is
concealed in many foods. You may eat
an occasional piece of apple pie a la
mode. Did you know that it contains 18
teaspoons of sugar? You drink a glass of
orange juice. Did you know that orange
juice is 13 percent sugar? A plain doughnut
contains 4 teaspoons of sugar! A
bottle of Coca-Cola contains over 4 teaspoons of sugar.
Many commonly used
sauces, jellies, custards, and canned
fruits or juices contain added sugar. It is
almost impossible today not to get huge
amounts of sugar if you buy your food
at the regular supermarket. Virtually all
man-made, canned, processed, frozen,
or packaged foods contain some form
of sugar additive. All commercially sold
bread, for example, contains sugar or
One of the things that many health
oriented people - those who do not eat
sugar in any form - do not realize is
that they often overload their system
with easily assimilable sugar by eating
too many sweet fruits. especially dried
fruits, such as dates, figs, prunes, or raisins.
Even without added sugar, these
contain so much naturally concentrated
sugar that it can easily overtax the pancreas and trigger its over-reaction.
Beware Of Excess
Even worse, the current fashion among
well-meaning health food advocates is
to drink excessive amounts of sweet
fruit or vegetable juices, such as grape,
apple, or carrot juice. This practice can
have a disastrous effect on sugar metabolism
and can contribute to the development of hypoglycemia
as well as diabetes We all subscribe to the idea of
eating whole, natural foods. We object
to sugar and white flour on the grounds
that they are refined, fragmented, concentrated substances.
At the same time, we gulp huge amounts of juices on a
regular daily basis without realizing
that juices are not whole and natural
foods. They are also fragmented, isolated, concentrated, sugar-laden liquids
which our bodies and metabolisms are
not equipped nor programmed to handle.
I have seen some people who drink
half a gallon, sometimes even a full
gallon of carrot juice a day. Not only do
the palms of their hands turn yellow,
but a large amount of sugar in this highly concentrated food puts a very real
strain on the liver and pancreas. Our
bodies are designed to handle foods
that are eaten.
When we eat carrots or grapes, chewing them thoroughly, the carbohydrates
and sugars in these foods are gradually
and slowly digested and absorbed, supplying an even flow of sugar. But when
we drink sweet juices, an excessive
amount of sugar that doesn't need an
elaborate digestion is suddenly flooding
the bloodstream with the demanding
strain on the pancreas and liver to
quickly neutralize it and restore proper
sugar levels. There is a certain maximum level of
dietary sugar that our organs can handle without damage.
This level was set by maximum sugar that
can be obtained by eating foods. It has
been determined during thousands of
years of metabolic and genetic adaptation to the natural environment.
A Rightful Place
There is another factor to consider regarding the practice of copious juice:
drinking. Juices are extremely alkalizing foods, containing large amounts of
highly alkaline minerals, especially
potassium. Juices do have a rightful
place and play a very important role in
practically every, therapeutic program,
especially during fasting when they
help cleanse and de-acidify tissues affected by acidosis.
However, if juices are used in large
amounts, on a prolonged basis, by relatively healthy people,
they tend to alkalinize the body too much,
causing a condition known as alkalosis. This, again,
puts an extra strain on the adrenal
glands which must synthesize large
amounts of special adrenal-cortical hormone to restore and maintain a normal
pH in the body.
Most readers are probably aware of
the fact that an overly-acid system (too
many grains and/or too much meat in
the diet) is not a desirable condition,
and may lead to metabolic disorders,
contributing specifically to the development of arthritic and
rheumatic diseases. But an overly-alkaline body (too
many alkalizing vegetables and fruits,
especially in concentrated juice form) is
just as undesirable. It may make the
body susceptible to many metabolic disorders,
especially digestive and assimilative problems,
as well as an increased susceptibility to infections. Not too
acid, but not too alkaline either, is the
ideal - pH should be about 6.4 in a
urine test, Which means slightly acid.
Neutral pH is considered to be 7.0.
Let's Get It Right!
Now, after this warning about indiscriminate drinking of sweet
juices - especially by hypoglycemics or those
prone to hypoglycemia or diabetes - I
must hurry to clarify myself before I am
misunderstood or misquoted.
My objections are to the excessive drinking of
juices. Generally, foods should be
eaten, not drunk. A small amount of
juice 2-3 oz. at a time, can be taken,
either diluted 50-50 with water one
hour before a meal, or undiluted with
meals, provided it is sipped slowly, and
salivated well - as any other food. In
the treatment of disease, especially during juice fasting,
juices are indispensable. (For information about how to use
juices therapeutically and what juices to
use for specific conditions, please refer
to my book, How To Keep Slim, Healthy, and Young With Juice Fasting,
available at all health food stores.)
Please note, however, that juice fasting,
although an essential part of the standard biological treatment of almost every
disease, is not recommended for the
treatment of hypoglycemia nor diabetes
except when prescribed and supervised
by an experienced doctor. (Malignancies and active tuberculosis are other
conditions where fasting is not advisable.)
The Mechanics of Hypoglycemia
In summary, the mechanics of hypoglycemia are as follows:
- Dietary starches, carbohydrates, and
sugars (many different forms of natural
sugars such as sucrose, fructose, maltose, lactose, etc.) are broken down in
the process of digestion and processed
- Glucose is then changed into glycogen
and is stored in this form in the liver.
- Glucose is involved in many vital
body processes. It is an energy and heat
source, and it is a carrier of oxygen into
every cell, especially to the heart, nerves and brain. The glucose is needed
every second of your life and is constantly released by the liver in proper
amounts to meet the need and to assure
a healthy functioning of all the tissues
- Since the dietary sugar first enters
the bloodstream before it is picked up
by the liver, the level of sugar in the
blood would vary dangerously unless
controlled by some mechanism. There
are several effective mechanisms in the
body that keep sugar in the blood at
needed levels at any given time.
- If the sugar level is too high. or rises
too fast. the islets of Langerhans
(the insulin-producing part of the pancreas)
produce a hormone - insulin - and
send it to the bloodstream. The insulin
converts the sugar into other elements
and normalizes the blood sugar level.
- If the sugar level is too low, the brain
will, through the pituitary and thyroid
glands, send a message to the adrenal
glands, which then release a different
hormone, adrenalin, which will instruct
the liver to release some more glucose
into the blood.
Ideally, when all these glands and
organs function as they should, blood
sugar is kept at normal levels. Even if
we occasionally abuse our bodies by
dietary indiscretions, these sugar-controlling mechanisms are able to
cope with the extra strain. But they
have their limits! Like any other mechanism,
either within the human body
or in man-made machinery, they can
break down. When they do, conditions
such as hypoglycemia and/or diabetes
will result. When sugar gets abnormally
high and the damaged pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to bring
sugar down and maintain the ideal
balance of glucose in the blood - it is
diabetes. When sugar gets too low,
either because of an over-reactive pancreas
that produced too much sugar-destroying insulin, or possibly because
of a pancreas underactive in terms of
producing the hormone glucugon - an
anti-insulin factor, a controlling substance that blocks the action of insulin
when needed it is hypoglycemia.
Now, I must again remind you of the
great complexities in the physiology
and mechanics of hypoglycemia. There
are many, many reasons and causes
that may lead to the malfunction and/or
breakdown of the whole sugar-controlling mechanism.
Causes include not only a simple excess of refined
carbohydrates or sugar in the diet nor pancreatic or adrenal underactivity or
overactivity, but also such factors as:
- Imbalances in secretion of hormones by other endocrine glands,
especially the pituitary and thyroid.
- Excessive use of alcohol, tobacco, and
coffee or caffeine-containing soft drinks.
- Systematic over-eating and obesity.
- Severe emotional stresses that can
cause both the rise and fall of sugar
levels as well as the over-exhaustion of
adrenal glands, which are so essential to the proper sugar metabolism.
Although our bodies are able to meet the demands of stress at times of
emergency, i,e., occasionally, it is not equipped
to withstand constant stress.
The emergency mechanism is set to give a quick
response to temporary crises. When
crisis or stress, especially emotional
stress, becomes permanent, as is often
the case in our competitive. stress-laden
society, the alarm mechanism becomes
overtaxed, breaks down, and degenerative diseases result.
Hypoglycemia is one of the classic examples of the degenerative processes
caused by nutritional abuses, constant stresses, and a
generally health-destroying mode of living.
The above-mentioned description and
definition of hypoglycemia refers to so-called functional hypoglycemia, or
hypoglycemia caused by an overactive
or over-sensitized pancreas, but without
a diagnosable pathological development or structural damage.
An overwhelming majority of all cases of low
blood sugar are functional hypoglycemia.
There are, however. other kinds of
hypoglycemia, usually referred to as,
hyperininsulinism. Tumors of the pancreas, benign or malignant, when
located in the insulin-producing area of the
pancreas, the islets of Langerhans, can
result in hyperinsulinism, or excessive
insulin production. The other cause of
hyperinsulinism is an enlargement in
the whole insulin-producing area of the
pancreas. A defective liver, or diseased
or malfunctioning pituitary or adrenal
glands can also result in hyperinsulinism. All the above-mentioned categories
of hypoglycemia are classified as organic hypoglycemia.
This book deals mainly with functional hypoglycemia,
which is responsible, perhaps, for 99 percent of all cases
of low blood sugar.