Headaches are a common symptom of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. When glucose levels drop, your body sends a series of hormonal signals that trigger hunger; these hormones may also cause anxiety, mood swings, blurred vision and headache. The only way to treat low blood sugar is to eat, particularly simple carbohydrates that your body can quickly convert to glucose. The key to managing hypoglycemia is prevention -- making changes to your diet to stabilize blood sugar levels.
Hypoglycemia and Headaches
Glucose is your body's primary source of energy. When you don't have glucose readily available, your body can convert stored fat into energy to function, but your brain can't use that type of energy as effectively as glucose. When your brain is starved for fuel, you develop a headache -- it's a biological reminder to eat and provide your brain with fresh energy. Eating 15 grams of simple carbs -- that's 4 ounces of fruit juice, 8 ounces of milk or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey -- should be enough to raise glucose levels and cure your headache, according to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse.
Causes of Hypoglycemia
Low blood sugar is most often associated with insulin resistance and diabetes. Hypoglycemia is often the result of eating too much sugar, which causes a dramatic spike in blood sugar. Your pancreas responds to this quick flood of glucose by releasing insulin. The faster your pancreas has to produce insulin, the more likely it is that too much insulin will be released into your bloodstream, taking you from high blood sugar to low blood sugar. When insulin levels are high, your brain thinks more glucose is needed and you suffer the symptoms of hypoglycemia -- including headaches. The only cure is to eat, which may start the cycle all over again.
You can prevent low blood sugar by avoiding high blood sugar and stopping that negative pattern. Carbohydrates have the greatest impact on blood sugar -- specifically, simple carbohydrates such as sugar. By limiting simple carbs and choosing complex carbs that are high in fiber and essential nutrients, you will slow digestion and prevent that quick flood of glucose into your bloodstream. Your glucose and insulin levels are more stable the slower your food is digested. Protein and fat also slow digestion. You don't need to follow a low-carb diet to prevent hypoglycemia, but you do need to choose the right type of carbohydrates.
The Glycemic Index and Other Tips
The glycemic index is a tool that can help you avoid foods that will spike your blood sugar. It ranks foods on a scale of 1 to 100 -- those that score 55 or less are low-glycemic foods and have the smallest impact on blood sugar. Non-starchy vegetables, legumes, whole grains and some fruits are low-GI foods. Read food labels carefully -- avoid foods that have sugar listed in the first three ingredients. There are many names for sugar -- organic cane syrup, brown sugar, honey, molasses, rice syrup, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup and maple syrup are all added sugars and should be limited.
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