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March 22, 2012, last updated March 2, 2015
By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of
Doctors and Registered Nurses, Certified fitness trainers and
other members of our Editorial Board

Reach for the candy bar – it could save your life if you have low
blood sugar. Severely low blood sugar can cause confusion,
fatigue, unconsciousness and even death if you don’t seek
treatment. The 23.6 million people in America who have
diabetes are at risk of low blood sugar, according to the
American Diabetes Association. But even if you don’t suffer
from diabetes, you could still experience an episode of low
blood sugar. What is low blood sugar? What causes low blood
sugar and how does it affect your body? How can you prevent
low blood sugar and its associated risks?

Low blood sugar is also called "hypoglycemia". Hypoglycemia is
a condition that occurs when the levels of glucose (sugar) in
your blood fall too low. How low is too low? Levels below 70
mg per deciliter of blood are considered low enough to harm
you. (Read more about the ideal
breakfast for hypoglycemia.)

What Causes Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)?

Hypoglycemia is most often associated with the treatment of
diabetes. Diabetes occurs when levels of sugar in the blood get
too high. Treatment for diabetes rests on lowering blood sugar
levels to a safe range, usually with insulin. But sometimes lower

blood sugar
is too low. A side effect of lowering blood sugar
levels in diabetics is hypoglycemia.
 When blood sugar levels
swing too low in someone with diabetes, the condition is often
called "rebound hypoglycemia".

Low blood sugar in diabetics is often caused by taking insulin at
the wrong time, taking too much insulin, not eating enough or
skipping meals, exercising
too much or drinking alcohol.


Although it's difficult to obtain estimates of the number of
diabetics who experience hypoglycemia, one study in 2002 from
the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, Scotland led by Dr. B.M. Frier
estimated that between 30% and 40% of those Type 2
diabetics who take insulin also suffer from hypoglycemia.]

You can also suffer low blood sugar if you don’t have diabetes.
This is less common, but you may suffer the condition if you
take certain medications (such as quinine for malaria), drink
heavily on an empty stomach, or suffer kidney disease or
anorexia. You could suffer low blood sugar after meals when
your body produces more insulin than it needs, or if you have
been without food for a significant length of time.  (Read about
normal fasting blood sugar and how low your blood sugar
must be to qualify as "low blood sugar").

What Happens with Low Blood Sugar?

So you suffer a dip in your blood sugar levels, what’s the
problem? Surely it’ll pick itself up again after a short while?
Low blood sugar may sometimes be mild, but it can also kill.

Critically ill patients who suffer even mild to moderate low
blood sugar levels are nearly twice as likely to die as those with
normal blood sugar levels, according to a 2010 multi-center
study by the Department of Intensive Care, Austin Health,
Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia and others.

Diabetics who suffer severe low blood sugar are more likely to
suffer heart attack, stroke, kidney damage and eye disease, and
to die within five years, according to a 2010 study from the
University of Sheffield, UK. Why? Low blood sugar causes your
body to release adrenaline, which can trigger heart problems.

Low blood sugar can kill through accidents – severe
hypoglycemia can cause loss of consciousness and confusion
according to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse;
dangerous if you are behind the wheel of a car when it

Low blood sugar is something to watch out for, and it also
costs our health services a lot of money. The total cost of
treating severe hypoglycemia for one hospital alone in the UK
was £92,000 ($145,000), according to a 2003 study from
Ninewells Hospital and Medical School, Dundee, UK.

Who's At Risk for Severe Hypoglycemia?

According to a 2014 study from the University of Virginia
School of Medicine,  risk factors for severe hypoglycemia

  • -being under 5 years old

  • -being elderly

  • -having kidney disease, liver disease, coronary heart
    disease or malnutrition

  • -being unaware of the hypoglycemia

  • -having a prior history of hypoglycemia

What are the Symptoms of Low Blood Sugar?

If your blood sugar gets too low you may see double or have
blurry vision, suffer a fast heartbeat, a headache or sweating.
You may feel cranky, aggressive or nervous, or very tired. Your
hands may tremble, and you feel tingling in your skin or around
your mouth. You can’t think clearly and you feel hungry. If
your blood sugar gets too low, you can faint, have a seizure or
go into a coma.

The immediate treatment for low blood sugar is to get your
sugar levels back up. You can do this with a dose of high-sugar
foods like glucose tablets, five or six hard candies, one
tablespoon of sugar or honey, or medication. But are there
other ways to prevent or treat low blood sugar? What should
you do to make sure your blood sugar doesn’t dip?

We checked out the latest scientific research into hypoglycemia
to let you know the 10 best ways to deal with low blood sugar.

Can Aloe Help Prevent Low Blood Sugar?

It seems aloe juice may help people with diabetes control their
blood sugar, leading to fewer incidences of hypoglycemia.
Patients with diabetes experienced greater improvements in
blood sugar levels after taking aloe over two weeks, according
to 1996 research by Yongchaiyudha S, Rungpitarangsi V,
Bunyapraphatsara N, et al published in Phytomedicine. These
results are promising but larger studies are needed to fully
investigate the effects of aloe on blood sugar.

Don't Take Magnesium if You Also Take Diabetes Drugs

Magnesium can interfere with diabetes drugs in the
sulfonylurea family, and can cause your blood sugar levels to
fall more than expected (Drug Evaluations Annual. Vol 2;
1994). Take care with magnesium supplements if you suffer
diabetes, and seek medical advice if you feel you need
magnesium supplementation – it could be fatal.  

Be Careful With Vanadium to Prevent Low Blood Sugar

Vanadium is a mineral named after a goddess of beauty and
youth, and it has been touted as a benefit for diabetes
sufferers. However, the insulin-like effect reported in studies
such as 1996 research from Temple University Schools of
Medicine and Pharmacy, Philadelphia can cause harm if it brings
your blood sugar levels too low. For this reason, you need
medical supervision before you add the supplement vanadium
to your diabetes treatment plan.

Gymnema to Help with Low Blood Sugar and Diabetes?

Gymnema sylvestre is a plant native to the forests of India and
it could help control blood sugar levels if you have diabetes.
Gymnema is traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat
diabetes, but recent studies such as 1990 research from the
University of Madras, India have also hailed its potential for
lowering blood sugar levels like insulin.

As with
magnesium and vanadium, be careful about adding
gymnema to your treatment regime because if the plant extract
works too well you could suffer low blood sugar levels.

An Artificial Pancreas May Reduce the Risk of Low Blood

Using an artificial pancreas system at night can significantly
reduce the risk of hypoglycemia in children with diabetes,
according to research in 2010 by the University of Cambridge,
UK. An artificial pancreas “loop” delivers both insulin and
glucagon to prevent drops in blood sugar overnight, meaning
patients don’t need to judge and monitor their glucose levels
before sleep; a great advantage in the battle to prevent
potentially dangerous severe nocturnal hypoglycemia.

Can Exercise Cause Low Blood Sugar Levels?

Exercise has many benefits for everyone, whether they suffer
from diabetes or not. But for people with diabetes, exercise can
cause blood sugar levels to drop too low, resulting in
hypoglycemia. If you are a diabetic, you need to check your
glucose levels before you work out and have a snack or adjust
your insulin medication if the level is low.

What you shouldn’t do, however, is avoid exercise because you
are worried about low blood sugar. A 2008 study by the
Université de Montréal's Faculty of Medicine showed 60 percent
of diabetics avoided physical activity because they feared an
exercise-induced hypoglycemia attack. This isn’t good news
because exercise brings health benefits -- you just need to
understand how to manage your insulin and your food intake.

Dogs Can Help Monitor Low Blood Sugar

Could man’s best friend sniff out hypoglycemia? According to
an article in the March 2008 edition of Diabetes Forecast from
the American Diabetes Association, assistance dogs can be
trained to sense low blood sugar in their human companions
and sound an alert.

Experts are still unsure how canines can help diabetics in this
way but it is suspected they react to the scent of chemical
changes which are linked to blood sugar imbalances. Many
people who suffer recurring hypoglycemic episodes find the
dogs to be a great help, particularly if they live alone.

Use an Automated Calculator to Monitor Blood Sugar Levels

When diabetics don’t up their insulin intake, even on the advice
of medics, experts believe it is due to a fear of a sudden drop in
blood sugar. An automated bolus calculator – a device that
calculates the correct dosage of insulin based on current
glucose levels and anticipated meals – can help take the
guesswork out of insulin regulation and encourage patients to
use insulin when needed. The 2012 study from the University
of Southampton, UK showed 89.3% of the patients were less
afraid of hypoglycemia when using the device.

An Effective Diet to Prevent Low Blood Sugar

Whether or not you are diabetic, you can help yourself avoid
episodes of low blood sugar by eating right. According to the
American Diabetic Association, diabetics may need to eat small
meals frequently, which contain a mix of complex
carbohydrates, fat and fiber. Eat meals regularly and avoid
high-sugar foods. Don’t skip meals.  (Read more about the
ideal diet to help low blood sugar.)

Drink Alcohol with Caution to Prevent Low Blood Sugar

Diabetics in particular should watch their alcohol intake to avoid
a drop in blood sugar, but everyone can benefit from being
careful with beer, wine and spirits.

If you drink a lot of alcohol you prevent your liver from doing
its blood-sugar-raising job and risk hypoglycemia as your
blood sugar falls. Don’t drink without eating. And if you suffer
from diabetes remember that your liver processes alcohol
slowly and you run the risk of hypoglycemia for up to two days
after a heavy drinking session.


Foods That Lower Blood Sugar -Natural Insulin Foods

Does Drinking Coffee Affect Diabetes -A Comprehensive Review

Ideal Breakfast for Hypoglycemia

Best Exercises to Lower Blood Sugar

Alcohol and Diabetes -Do They Mix?

Break Through Your Diet Plateau

Quinoa-The New Superfood?

Break Through Your Diet Plateau

Magnesium-The Forgotten Essential Mineral

How Many Calories Do I Burn

Ideal Breakfast for Hypoglycemia























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Leaves from the gymnema sylvestre plant,
which you can find made as a  tea, can
help low blood sugar.