I didn't realize that I was hypoglycemic until I was well in my forties. I ended up in a hospital in Dusseldorf after having minor convulsions on a plane from Milan. We'd eaten lots the night before the morning of the trip, we were late for the plane and had no time for breakfast - but just time for a quick expresso.
An American physician in the hospital explained that I'd dealt myself the perfect hand for hypoglycemic shock, and with his and a number of doctors over the years, I discovered what happened then and what combination of events creates a hypoglycemic reaction.
In very simple terms - here's how sugar travels through your body. When we drink, say a glass of apple juice, the pancreas excretes insulin to aid in metabolizing the sugar. In a hypoglycemic, excessive insulin is excreted and rather than slowly metabolizing the sugar, it quickly lowers the amount of the sugar in the blood - in some instances far below normal levels. This process is more severe the faster the sugar is ingested - so apple juice goes down very fast, apple sauce not so fast and an apple (depending on how slowly one can eat it) not fast at all - producing equivalent reactions.
Usually, the headaches or emotional roller coaster reactions occur at this stage and it is uncommon that it goes further. Under certain circumstances, however, the reaction can be far more severe. If one is involved in strenuous exercise, a sudden shock (like fright or diving into cold water) or drinking caffein (more on caffein later) sugar is even more quickly metabolized and a second level reaction occurs.
If the sugar levels in the body drop low enough or fast enough, the adrenal system will react in emergency mode, just as if there was something to fear or need for immediate physical action. When adrenaline is secreted it quickly metabolizes what sugar is left in the system - to which the pancreas responds with more insulin, depleting blood sugar further. At this point the reaction is usually an incredible headache, emotional fragility and sometimes, nausea and vomiting.
Friday, February 11, 2011
The blog is called going bananas for good reason. I would arrive home for lunch from first grade screaming if there was no lunch on the table. (We went home for lunch in those days). I was given special permission after months of this to carry a banana with me at school but the teacher took the banana away when I insisted on using it as a pistol to hold up the little boy in front of me in line. Without the banana I was screaming again.
After school, mom would give me a big glass of orange juice. I would then go out to the street to play, take my place on third base, feel woozie, sit down on the curb - and my dad would wake me up from sleeping on his way home from work.
I was not an unhappy kid - life, for the most part, was terrific. But as I think back, I would "crash" - get headaches or become suddenly and irrationally irritable when (I later discovered) I'd use up the sugar in my system.
When I was older, in high school and joined the swimming team, I would throw up after sprints and the end of practice. And as I grew older, I was mildly depressed - most of the time - and very irritable, often. But more of that later
I am not a doctor, this is not a medical advisory but it is a story that might be useful to parents trying to understand children who suddenly overreact or loose control or go from sullen and lethargic to hyperactive, seemingly without reason. It's my story of growing up hypoglycemic - and finally, getting the better of it.
I will try to describe how I behaved, the things that effected my behavior and the changes I made that made a difference. It is all about discovering my intolerance for sugar and learning how and what to eat to feel better.