Diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disease, rather a group of diseases, that is extensively prevalent in our country. It is estimated that roughly 77 million people in India are affected by this condition, next only to China. One in six people in the world with diabetes is from India. The actual number may be even higher with the possibility of undiagnosed and unidentified cases.
Diabetes mellitus is a group of disease conditions in which the blood glucose levels are persistently high due to impaired insulin metabolism. While the blood sugars are elevated in chronic cases of diabetes mellitus, having low blood sugar is on the other end of the spectrum.
The two conditions are often related as people having fluctuating glucose levels frequently encounter both high and low blood glucose levels. With worsening disease, it becomes difficult to manage the blood sugar levels and they keep oscillating between high and low despite external insulin application.
What is the meaning of low blood sugar?
Low blood sugar, or low blood glucose, is medically termed hypoglycemia (whereas high blood glucose is called hyperglycemia). It is a condition that occurs when the body’s blood glucose levels fall below the specified level, that is, 72 mg/dL.
It is a common condition with more than 10 lakh cases encountered in India every year. The episode of low blood sugar may last for days or even weeks. Usually, a person can predict the attack of low blood sugar (especially when it is recurring) and the condition can generally be treated at home. Unmanageable cases may require emergency medical aid.
What are the causes of low blood sugar?
Causes of low blood sugar are quite many. Let us have a look at the common ones below:
- The most common cause of developing low blood sugar is when diabetics take higher or unregulated doses of anti-diabetic medications such as insulin. Maintaining a healthy range of blood glucose levels is a challenging task, especially in complicated cases. People on insulin often experience episodes where their blood glucose levels fall after insulin intake so that a hypoglycemic episode is a result.
- Starvation is another major cause of low blood glucose levels. Fasting for prolonged hours or skipping meals can lead to hypoglycemic attacks.
- Anti-malarial drugs are also known to lower blood glucose levels.
- Meals lacking insufficient amounts of carbohydrates can also lead to low blood sugar.
- Rigorous exercise for a long period without breaks can also cause blood glucose levels to fall.
- A large quantity of alcohol intake is another cause of low blood sugar.
- Certain disease conditions of the liver like hepatitis and kidney disorders may also cause episodes of hypoglycemia.
- Sometimes the pancreas may start producing excess insulin due to disease conditions. This excess insulin starts to metabolize the blood glucose leading to hypoglycemia.
- Some tumors are notorious for producing hormones unchecked. Such a tumor may occur in the body and start to produce excess insulin. This may lower the blood glucose causing hypoglycemia.
- Some hormones involved in glucose metabolism like cortisone may be lacking in the body leading to low blood glucose. Adrenal gland insufficiency can lead to hypoglycemia.
What are the signs and symptoms of a low blood sugar episode?
Now that we have discussed the common causes of hypoglycemia, let us look at the signs and symptoms commonly encountered when the blood glucose levels are low. Generally, the symptoms of hypoglycemia occur suddenly. They may be mild, moderate, or even severe. People who have frequent such episodes can usually recognize the signs and symptoms immediately and are able to take instant measures.
- Feeling dizzy, lightheaded, tired, and weak are all common symptoms of hypoglycemia.
- Excessive sweating commonly occurs in a hypoglycemic episode.
- A person may feel excessively hungry all of a sudden.
- Pallor may set in.
- Anxiety is also frequently seen during hypoglycemic attacks.
- Some people may experience tingling or numbness of lips, tongue, or cheek.
- A person may experience palpitations, that is, an increased and perceptible heartbeat. The heartbeat may be fast or irregular.
- Blurred vision may occur.
- Confusion or irritation may set in.
- If the hypoglycemia sets in during sleep, the person may experience nightmares, an excess of sweating, and confusion, and irritability on waking up.
- A severe case of hypoglycemia may cause convulsions or seizures.
- Fainting or loss of consciousness may occur if blood glucose levels are severely low.
- Delirium is also seen in severe cases.
How to prevent low blood sugar levels?
Some steps can be taken to ensure that attacks of low blood sugar are minimized.
- For diabetics, it is essential to get their blood sugar levels, as well as glycated hemoglobin, monitored regularly. A well-managed treatment plan must be designed with the advice of the physician. People on antidiabetic medications and insulin need to be careful not to take higher doses than required. If symptoms of low blood glucose occur frequently the treatment plan must be altered as per the doctor’s instructions.
- Diabetics who use artificial sweeteners or natural organic sweeteners also need to be careful about their sugar levels. Natural sweeteners are zero-calorie sweeteners, and they do not raise blood glucose levels. Those taking such sweeteners extensively may end up with low blood glucose if not aptly regulated.
- Non-diabetic people need to explore the cause of why they are encountering episodes of low blood glucose levels. A single attack is generally not a cause of worry, but a recurring problem that needs adequate investigations. Treatment of the cause is important to prevent further such episodes.
- Short and frequent meals throughout the day and avoiding fasting can help to keep the hypoglycemic attacks at bay. One must not skip meals, and take a nutritious diet.
- Alcohol intake should be well within limits.
How to treat an attack of hypoglycemia?
As mentioned earlier, people who frequently experience episodes of hypoglycemia can identify the condition and handle it immediately. Some steps can be taken at home as first aid for immediate relief.
The primary aim of first aid for hypoglycemia is to elevate the low blood glucose levels. The patient is to be made comfortable either in a sitting or lying position. The person needs to stock up on glucose fast, and such items are usually readily available at home.
- 3-4 teaspoons of sugar dissolved in a glass of water can be taken by the patient.
- Fruit juice can be taken.
- Dates, bananas, etc. are also useful.
- Glucose biscuits also help in rapidly elevating sugar levels.
- Usually, the patient starts to feel better after taking glucose orally. Symptoms such as dizziness and sweating also disappear as the blood glucose reaches normal levels.
- For unconscious patients, medical help should be sought immediately after clearing their airway and lying them in a safe place.
Herbal remedies for diabetes and blood glucose control
As we have seen, diabetes mellitus and low blood sugar are opposite but related conditions. Diabetic patients frequently end up with hypoglycemic episodes on account of their medications and fluctuating blood sugar levels. Well-managed diabetes mellitus can help keep such episodes at bay. People whose blood sugar levels are maintained in a stable range can enjoy their lives and remain fit and healthy despite a positive diabetes diagnosis.
Aside from a specific diet and regular exercise, there are certain herbs and ayurvedic herbal medicines that can help maintain blood sugar adequately. Indian system of medicine has long relied on herbal solutions to tackle diseased conditions, and studies have proven the efficacy of these herbs and spices for managing diabetes.
- Cinnamon is well-known for its anti-diabetic properties. Cinnamon is also seen to improve insulin sensitivity. It is a common spice in the Indian kitchen.
- Gymnema is an herb known for its glucose-lowering properties.
- Fenugreek is immensely popular as an anti-diabetic herb. It is rich in fibers that slow down the absorption of carbohydrates.
- Ginseng is an extremely popular stress buster, immunity booster, antioxidant, and energy-providing herb. Its effects in lowering blood glucose levels are also significant. It also enhances insulin sensitivity.
- Turmeric is one of the most versatile spices in the Indian kitchen with a long list of benefits. It is an excellent anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antioxidant, and has significant immune-boosting properties. It has been proven in studies to halt the progress of diabetes mellitus and prevent diabetic complications. It helps maintain blood glucose levels and enhance pancreas function.
- Green tea is also considered to be beneficial for diabetics. This is because it is seen to decrease fasting blood glucose levels and reduce blood sugar spikes after a heavy, carbohydrate-rich meal.
These herbs are generally taken in the form of ayurvedic herbal supplements or as components of tea. Aside from these herbs, using natural sugar substitutes and organic sweeteners can help maintain blood sugar levels as these natural sweeteners are free of calories. Their active ingredients are not metabolized by the body and therefore no rise in blood glucose results from their use.
A healthy diet, regular exercise, and attention to herbal supplements can help one to manage diabetes satisfactorily and keep attacks of both hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia at bay.