Updated: Feb 26, 2020
Do you ever find yourself irritable, anxious or in low spirits, yet have no clue why? I have some good news: you are not alone. These are common symptoms that are referenced to as mood swings. Mood swings can have many causes, one of them being hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia is a condition of low levels of glucose (the main form of sugar) in the blood. Hypoglycemia has many causes. People with diabetes have to take insulin medication to manage their glucose levels, however taking too much insulin depletes the bloodstream of glucose causing hypoglycemia. Some other causes are liver disease, kidney disorders, starvation, pancreatic disorders that cause an overproduction of insulin, adrenal and pituitary gland disorders.
The impact of glucose on the brain
Glucose, our body’s energy source, is mostly obtained from the foods we eat. Our brain uses 20% of the body’s store of glucose. Sugar stimulates the brain to release dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that causes feelings of reward and pleasure. This is why when you eat a piece of chocolate you tend feel good for a while. Who doesn’t want to feel good, right? However, when the feeling subsides, and blood glucose levels drop it can lead to feelings of irritability. Studies show that sugar is highly addictive, sometimes even more so than drugs. This causes an unhealthy cycle of binging sugar to achieve “highs” and experiencing serious drops in glucose that cause unhealthy “lows”.
Sugar is also a common instigator of inflammation, which especially affects gut health. The gut has a direct connect to the brain and releases neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, to the brain. Serotonin is another neurotransmitter that contributes to positive emotions. Without a healthy gut, serotonin production can be lacking which can lead to depression.
Changing your diet and focusing on healthy nutrition can help manage your blood glucose levels:
Add more protein to your diet. Protein helps to stabilize blood sugar because it does not increase blood sugar levels and leaves you feeling fuller for longer periods of time. Mix up your diet with different sources of protein such as salmon, turkey, black beans and nuts.
Eat complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates contain three or more sugars and therefore require longer periods of time to get broken down. This ensures that sugar is gradually into the blood stream and does not cause a “spike”. Some healthy complex carbohydrates are whole grain oats and sweet potatoes.
Focus on low-glycemic index foods. Foods that are low in glycemic index also keep blood sugar levels at a healthy level. Some low glycemic foods to check are quinoa, leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables.
Keep up your fiber intake. Fiber has many benefits. One of fiber’s benefits is prolonging the rate of carbohydrate processing and absorption. Rich sources of fiber are fruits and legumes.
Replace refined sugar with sugar substitutes. Stevia is an example of a healthy alternative to refined sugar. It lowers blood sugar, yet it is sweeter in taste.
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