Paavo Airola - Let's Live - May 1977Index

Causes Of Hypoglycemia


IN THE PREVIOUS two articles, I described the basic physiology and the mechanics, as well as the most common symptoms, of hypoglycemia, and pointed out that faulty sugar metabolism is the main cause of functional hypoglycemia. Barring pathological conditions, such as pancreatic tumor, diseased liver, adrenal malfunction, or brain tumor - to name just a few of the most common medical problems that can be involved in hyperinsulinism, or low blood sugar - faulty eating and living habits are at the bottom of most cases of hypoglycemia.


The primary dietary indiscretion that contributes to the development of hypoglycemia is a diet too high in refined starches (such as white flour and polished white rice) and refined white sugar. Americans consume almost 125 pounds of sugar per capita per year. We also consume an equal amount of white flour in various forms. This is completely incredible nutritional folly - nothing less than an act of unintentional national suicide. An excess of sugar and refined carbohydrates in our diet is not only responsible for most of our hypoglycemia epidemic, but it is also a major contributing factor in an epidemic growth of most of our other degenerative diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay, periodontal disease, osteoporosis, and even cancer. 1 2 3 It is no wonder that white flour and white sugar are referred to by concerned scientists as the "white poisons" and the "white plague" of the civilized world. No lesser experts than John Yudkin, M.D., E.M. Abrahamson, M.D., E. Cheraskin, M.D., Weston Price, D.D.S., and, J.I. Rodale, to name a few - have indicated excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates not only as the major cause of our physical degeneration, but also as a major contributing factor in the increased rate of crime and drug addiction, and in the epidemic deterioration of our mental and moral health. Far-fetched? See what Drs. Cheraskin and Ringsdorf, of Alabama University, say: "The sugar-laden American diet has led to a national epidemic of hypoglycemia, an ailment characterized by irrational behavior, emotional instability, distorted judgement, and nasty personality defects." 2 Much of today's irrational and anti-social behavior, on an individual as well as collective basis, can be traced to our denatured, chemicalized, nutritionless, sugar-laden diet. White flour and white sugar 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

Hidden Sugar

There is a growing awareness among the general public today that "too much sugar is not good for you." Many housewives tell me "I don't use much sugar, and we only eat brown bread." How little they realize that almost everything that they buy at the supermarket today is loaded with sugar and/or white flour. Soft drinks and ice cream are the worst of all, especially in view of the fact that they are consumed by children of all ages in astronomical quantities. Virtually all commercially produced bread, even so~called brown bread, not only contains added white flour, but also plenty of sugar. Candies, cookies, doughnuts, pies, cakes, frozen, canned, or prepared desserts, baby foods, dry breakfast cereals - all contain sugar, white flour, or both. The only really effective way to eliminate these two health destroyers in our diet is to stop using any and all man-made foods and drinks, and to prepare your own food from scratch - from fresh vegetables, fruits, milks, cheese, nuts, and grains - even begin to bake your own bread, which is not as difficult or bothersome as you may think.

Why Sugar Is "Bad"

White sugar and white flour are not whole, natural foods. They are refined, fragmented, adulterated, and denatured. Sugar cane and sugar beet are whole natural foods. White sugar made from them has been completely stripped of all nutrition present in the original food. All minerals, all vitamins, all trace elements, enzymes, fatty acids, and amino acids (proteins) have been removed in the process of refining the sugar. The final result is a pure, crystallized form of sucrose, a white, pharmaceutically pure chemical.

Everything I said about white sugar applies more or less to white flour. Although the whole grain is rich in complex nutrition, in the process of refining flour, virtually all the vital nutrients have been destroyed or removed, leaving a nutritionless white powder, which is mostly a pure starch. If that is not bad enough, in order to destroy the last traces of life and make it snow white, the processors treat the flour with toxic chemical bleaches and conditioners.

Eating white sugar and white flour presents three problems:

  1. Eating such denatured, devitalized. demineralized, and de-vitamized foods will inevitably lead to nutritional deficiencies.

  2. Since our bodies are genetically and physiologically equipped to effectively metabolize only natural whole foods (the genetic ability being determined by millions of years of use and adaptation); eating fragmented, refined foods, from which essential synergistic and complexed elements have been removed, will lead to metabolic disorders and biochemical imbalances. For example: white sugar is not only an empty-calorie food, stripped of all the vitamins and minerals, but in order to digest and process (metabolize) it, the body must use its own supplies of minerals and vitamins, which may lead to both deficiencies and imbalances in the body's own stores of vital nutrients.

  3. Since our bodies are not equipped to process refined, concentrated foods, continuous ingestion of them will exert a great strain on many organs and glands. The continuous strain and abuse of these organs can damage them and cause their paralysis and malfunction.

    This will bring us to hypoglycemia, which is, more than by any other factor, caused by malfunctioning glandular and metabolic systems, especially by the malfunction of such organs as the pancreas, the liver, the adrenals, and other endocrine glands. And, the excess of refined carbohydrates in the diet, especially of white sugar and white flour in all forms, as well as the excess of other concentrated forms of carbohydrates, such as alcoholic beverages, sweetened juices, and soft drinks, is the prime contributing factor to the continuous stress on these vital organs and glands which leads to their malfunction and breakdown.

How Sugar Contributes To Hypoglycemia

Whole, complex, carbohydrate foods, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, are digested slowly and changed into forms of sugar that the body can use for energy and for its various vital functions. But refined starches and concentrated refined sugar are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, thus raising the blood sugar to dangerous levels. This triggers an emergency action on the part of the insulin-producing pancreas. The normal variations in the blood sugar levels, which occur when meals of natural, whole foods are eaten, do not trigger any abnormal reactions from the pancreas. But when refined, concentrated sugar is consumed and the blood sugar level rises quickly, the "panicked" pancreas overreacts and dumps an excessive amount of insulin into the bloodstream to counteract the dangerously high sugar level, The excessive insulin not only brings the sugar level down, but does two things that are responsible for a long list of unpleasant symptoms and personality changes: When sugar drops too low, and especially if it does it rapidly, several of the body functions are severely impaired, Heart and muscle action are weakened. Brain and nerve activity are deranged. Energy and endurance levels are lowered. Emotional stability and control are lost. This is why the hypoglycemic in this state craves a quick pick-up, preferably sweets, coffee, caffeine-containing soft drinks, alcohol, or certain drugs, which rapidly remedies the unpleasant symptoms by bringing the blood sugar level up.

Since these artificial stimulants with their swift, drug-like effect, raise the sugar level too high, the pancreas is again forced to over-react and counteract the dangerous situation by over-producing insulin. This creates the typical vicious cycle of the hypoglycemic: hyperactive, happy, and energetic for a short time when the sugar level is high; and totally exhausted, and ready to jump out the window a few hours later.


The studies demonstrate that coffee raises the blood sugar level in diabetics, but drastically lowers the blood sugar level in victims of hypoglycemia. This is not as contradictory as it may seem. Sugar does the same: it raises the sugar level in diabetics and lowers it in hypoglycemics because of the hypoglycemic's over-reacting pancreas. Dr. E.M. Abrahamson tells of patients whose hypoglycemia was controlled by proper diet, but who had violent blood sugar reactions when they took as little as one cup of coffee. 4 Coffee has a stimulating effect on the adrenal glands, which in turn, encourages the liver to release more sugar into the blood.

The combination of coffee and sugar is particularly harmful. Sugar enters the bloodstream quickly and directly, while coffee adds to the total sugar level by acting through the adrenals, brain, and liver.

Considering how popular coffee is in America, and how much of it is consumed daily, coffee very well may be one of the major contributing factors to our hypoglycemia epidemic.

Caffeine-Containing Beverages And Drugs

Cola drinks are even worse than coffee. In addition to a high caffeine content, they are loaded with an incredible amount of sugar, plus dangerous phosphoric acid - a perfect combination to keep your dentist busy!

You may not be aware that, besides coffee and cola drinks, some commonly used over-the counter drugs can add considerably to your total daily ingestion of caffeine. 5 Look at this list:

Excessive caffeine ingestion, either from coffee, or caffeine-containing beverages and drugs, produces a long line of typical hypoglycemic symptoms: anxiety, light-headedness, heart palpitations, nervousness, agitation, irritability, trembling hands and muscle twitches and insomnia, All symptoms usually disappear as soon as the patient stops drinking coffee or caffeine-containing beverages.


Most experts agree that there is such a condition as alcohol-induced hypoglycemia. Dr, John W. Tintera, who made an extensive study of the alcohol-hypoglycemia link, says that the crux of the alcoholic problem can be traced to low blood sugar. 6 Dr. Robert Atkins says in his Diet Revolution: "Experience shows that when an alcoholic succeeds in getting off alcohol, he usually substitutes sweets. This is because almost all alcoholics are hypoglycemic, and sugar provides the same temporary lift that alcohol once did. 7

For a non-alcoholic, an occasional drinker, a night of heavy drinking may produce low blood sugar the "morning after", with all the classic symptoms of hypoglycemia, In fact, the symptoms of a hangover are nothing but symptoms of hypoglycemia. But, for the alcoholic, low blood sugar can become a chronic condition. According to Dr. S.J. Roberts, alcohol reduces the output of glucose by the liver, which may precipitate or exaggerate low blood sugar. 8

The relationship is reciprocal. Chronic drinking, just like excessive sugar in the diet, contributes to the development of hypoglycemia; and, a person with hypoglycemia is a potential candidate for alcoholism. When he finds that alcohol produces the same effect as sugar, he becomes a compulsive drinker. A dangerous vicious cycle ensues: alcohol improves his sense of well-being only temporarily, so it becomes necessary for him to drink most of the time in order to feel comfortable and symptom-free. He has become a chronic drinker, an alcoholic.


It has been shown in actual human studies that smoking causes a rapid blood sugar rise with just as rapid a drop in blood sugar level shortly after the cigarette or cigar is put out. A Swedish study reported in a prestigious British medical journal, Lancet, showed that in some study subjects, the rise of blood sugar was as high as 36 percent. Nicotine in tobacco was isolated as the culprit, since a comparable test with de-nicotinized cigarettes did not produce the same effect as regular cigarettes. The Swedish researcher concluded: "The rapid fall of the blood sugar level after the smoking throws further light on the habit of chain smoking - the craving for another pick-me-up..." 9

An American study, by M.G. Barr. M.D,, showed that a group of heavy smokers who all suffered from typical symptoms of hypoglycemia - emotional instability, apprehension, insecurity - and whose glucose tolerance tests showed similar curves to those of functional hypoglycemics, did not respond to the low blood sugar diet. Only a total halt of smoking led to the disappearance of symptoms as well as to a normalization of blood sugar levels.

Of course, the reader must be aware that hypoglycemia is not the only - or even the worst - problem that can be caused by smoking. The relationship of smoking and cancer is well known and well documented. 10


Excessive salt intake also contributes to hypoglycemia by causing a loss of blood potassium which leads to a drop in blood sugar. Potassium is necessary to rectify sugar metabolism abnormalities. Again, as is almost always the case with hypoglycemia, the reverse relationship can be established even in regard to salt. Excessive salt intake causes potassium losses, which results in a drop in the blood sugar level - the low blood sugar level triggers the onset of stress, causing much potassium to be lost in the urine and causing sodium as well as water, to be retained in the system (this is known as edema or water retention). The administration of potassium chloride in such cases quickly raises the blood sugar level and eliminates the unpleasant symptoms of hypoglycemia. 11 Sometimes, potassium tablets can be useful for hypoglycemics, especially those who are prone to blackouts.

The inordinate desire for salt experienced by some hypoglycemics, can be a symptom of possible adrenal failure. Malfunctioning adrenals, by permitting abnormal salt excretion, encourage heavy salt consumption. And, as I mentioned earlier, the inefficiency or malfunctioning of the adrenal glands is almost always causatively involved with the development of hypoglycemia. The adrenal glands do need some salt for normal functioning; therefore, total abstinence from salt is not advisable The hypoglycemic should use a moderate amount of salt, but only from natural sources such as whole sea salt, kelp, or sea water.

Food Allergies

It has been known for a long time that hypoglycemia may initiate or aggravate allergies. Now, it is also clear that allergies may cause hypoglycemia. Persons who suffer from food allergies can, after an initial rise, experience a significant drop in blood sugar level when exposed to allergens - as much as from normal levels all the way down to 80. This is low enough to cause severe symptoms. 12

The causative relationship between food allergies and hypoglycemia is not difficult to understand. The allergic person's body regards allergens (substances to which it is allergic) to be poisons, and treats them accordingly, by making an heroic effort to neutralize, excrete, destroy, or combat them: Thus, allergens cause a severe stress on the system. And all stress, especially on a continuous basis, may contribute to low blood sugar, mostly by straining the adrenal glands and causing adrenal exhaustion.

Allergies other than those to food, such as allergies to automobile exhaust, pesticides, dust, any of the household chemicals and detergents, food additives, and even such "small" things as vapors from a marking pen, or specific brands of cosmetics or perfume, can trigger the body's defensive mechanisms, and cause the consequent drop in blood sugar level.

Emotional Stress

Emotional stress can cause hypoglycemia as any stress can. And, certainly, hypoglycemia can be a cause of much emotional stress. One type of hypoglycemia in particular is linked causatively with emotional stress. It is the kind that is characterized by a "flat glucose-tolerance curve".

Flat-curve hypoglycemia is a type of low blood sugar that is not dramatic or extreme, but it nevertheless has a devastating effect on a person's life and his functions as a human being. It is caused by what Dr. Sydney A. Portis calls "pernicious inertia." 13 This is a disturbance in sugar metabolism that is usually found in patients whose life is as flat as their test curve: uninteresting, without zest, without challenge. Often, they are forced into occupations or life situations that offer no excitement or challenge. They react with "apathy. loss of zest, a general let-down feeling of aimlessness, a revulsion against the routine of everyday life, be it occupational activity or household duties", as eloquently defined by Dr. Portis. When a person finds no challenge and no sense of accomplishment in pursuing his unpleasant and inescapable duties, his body responds to the deficit in mental and emotional challenge with equal apathy and inertia: there is poor, uncoordinated, weak action of the two organs that deal with mental and physical challenges, the adrenals (which elevate blood sugar) and the pancreas (which lowers it). The result is a chronic low-grade cerebral starvation. As an: other psychiatrist put it, "A condition of emotional letdown, based upon the disruption of the patient's goal structure, influences the vegetative balance and manifests itself in a disturbance of the regulatory mechanisms controlling the sugar concentration of the blood. 14

Half Alive

The flat-curve hypoglycemic is usually feeling "half alive", complaining of constant fatigue, existing in a twilight zone where apathy, exhaustion, disinterest, lack of motivation and boredom are typical symptoms. His sugar levels do not dip low enough to cause blackouts or other dramatic symptoms, nor do they rise high enough to permit efficient functioning or to bring some zest into his life.

Our American way of life creates plenty of prospective candidates for flat-curve hypoglycemia: the housewife, stuck with monotonous, unrewarding, tedious, repetitive duties; the business executive who sees no prospects of promotion and has resigned himself to performing his duties routinely; the car washer, the cashier, the bookkeeper, the assembly line worker - all performing dull, repetitive chores without a sense of achievement; all living the lives of what Thoreau described as "quiet desperation." No wonder physicians find more and more cases of this undramatic form of hypoglycemia. And the only reason they do not encounter it even more is because the condition is not severe or dramatic enough to warrant a worried call to a doctor. People just continue enduring their uneventful, dull, boring, and zest-less lives.

I dwelled extensively on this specific type of hypoglycemia because:

  1. It is only seldom correctly diagnosed. In part, because the person suffering from it does not recognize that he is sick; and in part, because physicians are not sufficiently trained to read the GTT charts and often miss the existence of the condition.
  2. If left untreated, flat-curve hypoglycemia may develop either into full-fledged hypoglycemia or into diabetes.
  3. This condition can be remedied by a combination of dietary therapy with psychological counseling that can motivate the patient to a change of life-style and life-orientation.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Since the major cause of hypoglycemia is the derangement, malfunction, or breakdown of sugar metabolism regulating mechanisms, consisting largely of the pancreas, the liver, the adrenals, thyroid, and pituitary gland, it stands to reason that anything that can contribute to the damage of these glands and organs can be looked upon as causative factors in hypoglycemia. Nutritional deficiencies can either cause or aggravate almost any ailment, and hypoglycemia is no exception.

There are several specific nutrients that are involved in sugar metabolism. Deficiencies (or sometimes excesses) of these nutrients can disrupt the normal metabolic processes or contribute to the breakdown or malfunction of organs involved with sugar metabolism. I will mention some of these:

Chromium. Chromium is one of the trace elements needed for proper sugar metabolism in the body. It has been shown by a growing amount of research that the lack of chromium can cause the impairment of the blood sugar regulating machinery which is controlled by insulin. According to Dr. Walter Mertz, a physician-nutritionist, of the US. Agricultural Research Service, chromium is required by the body to manufacture the Glucose Tolerance Factor (GTF), which regulates blood sugar. When an individual is not getting enough chromium, he suffers from impaired glucose tolerance. This is of specific importance in diabetes, but chromium deficiency can also have an unfavorable effect on the victims of low blood sugar. The University of Colorado Medical Center studies found that Americans of all ages are suffering from chromium deficiency. 15

Brewer's yeast is one of the best supplements for the hypoglycemic. In addition to supplying a wealth of nutrients, it is one of the few excellent food sources of chromium. In addition, brewer's yeast also contains the Glucose Tolerance Factor, which seems to make the chromium more available to the body. Dr. Doisy of State University of New York Upstate Medical Center, has found that by giving yeast to patients who had disorders in glucose tolerance, he was able to stabilize their blood sugar levels within a month. He also found that brewer's yeast could prevent attacks of low blood sugar.

Vitamins B and C. Both of these vitamins increase the body's tolerance to sugars and carbohydrates and help to normalize sugar metabolism. The deficiency of these vitamins is widespread in the United States, especially the deficiency of B vitamins, which are removed or destroyed in the proCessing and refining of grains. Brewer's yeast is an excellent source of all B-complex vitamins.

Pantothenic Acid. The deficiency of pantothenic acid has been specifically singled out by extensive research as a major contributing factor both in hypoglycemia and in adrenal exhaustion. It has been found in studies with diabetics that if pantothenic acid is undersupplied in the diet, the blood sugar drops so quickly after insulin is given that the danger of insulin shock, or a blackout, is tremendously increased. 16 17 This is of extreme importance to the hypoglycemic, since the rapidity of the drop of sugar is the most dangerous aspect of the hypoglycemic glucose tolerance curve.

It is not how low, but how fast, sugar drops that is significant. The body can tolerate reasonably well a gradual drop in sugar level, but cannot quickly adjust to a sudden drop. When the brain and other vital organs and muscles are suddenly left without sufficient glucose and the oxygen it carries, they react with most unpleasant symptoms.

Key Nutrient: Pantothenic Acid

If a deficiency in pantothenic acid can contribute to or accelerate the rapid drop in blood sugar level, it would seem that the hypoglycemic should make sure that he never allows a risk of undersupplying his body with this important nutrient.

Brewer's yeast, is, again, an excellent source of natural pantothenic acid. The other good sources are wheat germ, wheat bran, whole grain breads and cereals, beans, peas, nuts, liver, egg yolk, green vegetables, and royal jelly. Of course, to make sure that this all-important vitamin is always supplied in abundance, hypoglycemics or those who are predisposed to hypoglycemia and wish to avoid it, should take supplementary pantothenic acid in tablet form. It is available in all health food stores. The usual dose is 100-200 mg. per day.

Magnesium, potassium, vitamin E, and vitamin B6 are other nutritive substances the deficiency of which has been linked with hypoglycemia. 18 19

Disease of Civilization

As this article shows, the causes of hypoglycemia are tied to our faulty eating and living habits. Devitalized diet of denatured, over-refined, chemicalized foods together with our competitive lifestyle, with its mental and emotional stresses, breaks down the body's defensive mechanism - specifically the adrenal system and sugar metabolism mechanism - and leads to the development of hypoglycemia. Thus, hypoglycemia, like cancer, is a "disease of civilization" - a condition that is almost non-existent in countries with more natural diets and stress-free lifestyles.

It is not by chance, therefore, that in our cola-culture, with its jet pace, sugar and caffeine-drugged life style and denatured, nutritionless, plastic foods, hypoglycemia has reached epidemic proportions to become the newest jet-age plague.


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  6. Tintera, John W., Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, February 1966.
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  12. Fredericks, Carlton, "Allergy Causes Hypoglycemia", Prevention, October, 1974. page 59.
  13. Portis, Sydney A., "Life Situations, Emotions, and Hyperinsulinism", Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 142: 1281-1286,1950.
  14. Alexander, Franz, "Psychosomatic Medicine", in Proceedings of the Psychotherapy Council, Vol. 2: 41-60, January, 1944.
  15. Medical World News, Oct. 11, 1974.
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  18. Airola, Paavo, How To Get Well, Health Plus Publishers, PO. Box 22001, Phoenix, AZ, 1974.
  19. Davis, Adelle, Let's Get Well, New American Library, Signet paper back, N.Y., 1972, p. 311.