The Lowdown on Low Blood Sugar
By Claire Kowalchik
Your heart races, you start to sweat, and you feel like you’re going to swoon, but your sweetheart is nowhere in sight. If you have diabetes, these symptoms may signal a different sort of sugar event—low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. And unlike your sweetheart, hypoglycemia is something you want to avoid. Blood sugar, or glucose, is essentially your brain’s only source of fuel, and low supplies can send your grey matter reeling. To keep your blood sugar, brain, and body, on an even keel, follow these strategies.
Eat consistently throughout the day.
When you eat, glucose enters your bloodstream and then insulin moves it out of circulation and into your cells, so managing type 2 diabetes is essentially an exercise in balancing the incoming glucose with the “outgoing” glucose. When you skip a meal, you’ve upset the balance. Sugar isn’t entering your bloodstream but your medications are continuing to move it out of your bloodstream, and hypoglycemia may occur.
“People who take insulin or medications that increase the body’s insulin secretion, such as the sulfonylureas and meglitinides, need to be especially conscientious about eating meals and snacks regularly throughout the day,” says Frank Greenway, MD, a member of the Jenny Craig Science Advisory Board.
With our busy, on-the-go lifestyles, eating regularly can be challenging, but the Jenny Craig for type 2 program makes it easier. Each day’s menu includes 3 meals and snacks that include pre-portioned Jenny Craig meals, all adding up to the optimal proportion of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats for someone with diabetes. With the clinically-proven Jenny Craig menu, you won’t miss a meal.
Monitor your blood sugar regularly.
To make sure glucose is staying within a steady range, your doctor/diabetes educator may ask you to check blood levels regularly, especially if you are on insulin or one of the medications that promotes insulin secretion. “The timing and frequency of glucose testing depends on the individual,” says Greenway. “If you are having trouble controlling your blood sugar, you will need to check more often than someone whose glucose levels are stable.” Follow your healthcare provider’s advice, and if you find significant changes in your glucose measurements, make an appointment to review the cause and whether you need to make any adjustments to your medications or meal timing.
Check your blood sugar more frequently as you lose weight.
As you lose weight, your body becomes more sensitive to insulin. “It is particularly important to check glucose levels more frequently if you’ve dropped several pounds and are taking insulin or drugs that increase insulin secretion,” says Greenway. If your blood sugar levels have also dropped, see your doctor. Your medications may need to be decreased so that you can avoid hypoglycemia.
Discuss your exercise goals with your physician.
Working muscles burn blood sugar, so regular exercise provides significant benefit to someone with diabetes. But, it adds another variable in the blood sugar balance equation. Eating puts glucose into your bloodstream; medication and physical activity take it out. Whether you are just beginning an exercise program or you’ve been regularly active, you need to review your plan with your physician for guidance on monitoring blood sugar and timing your physical activity and snacks to avoid hypoglycemia during or after exercise.
Keep easily digestible carbohydrates on you at all times.
You don’t want to be empty handed if hypoglycemia should happen. The most common symptoms says Greenway are sweating, rapid heartbeat, headache, hunger, dizziness, weakness, and/or anxiety. Carry carbs: glucose tablets, a gel tube, raisins, hard candies, or jellybeans. You’ll want to consume 15 to 20 grams of carbohydrates, so check the packaging to determine how much that would be. Other options: 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of juice or sugared soda or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey.
Managing blood sugar might seem a little tricky, but by eating regularly, monitoring your glucose, and staying in touch with your physician and/or diabetes educator when changes occur, you’ll be better equipped to find and keep your balance.