Joyful Musings – December 2010

Joyful Musings

By Joy Birnbach Dunstan,

How Sweet It Is!


‘Tis the se ason – for excesses of all sorts, especially sweets, as well as erratic schedules and irregular meals. All prime ingredients for hypo­glycemia and its myriad effects on your body.

Hypoglycemia occurs when blood sugar falls below normal levels. It has multiple causes, but is often blamed on the sugar-laden American diet and is estimated by some physicians to affect over 20 million people in the United States. Skipping meals, high-sugar foods, and alcohol are common triggers. Other causes include caffeine, increased physical activity and certain medications. Diabetics are especially susceptible.

As a psychologist, I always consider overall lifestyle and eating habits because physical problems can have a powerful impact on the emotions. Some major symptoms of hypoglycemia include mental confusion, fatigue, emotional instability, anxiety, and shakiness. According to some authorities, hypoglycemic individuals may experience more marital and family conflicts, have more accidents, and even commit suicide during an episode of low blood sugar.

Our body uses sugar as fuel to generate heat and energy. Glucose is the primary fuel for all muscle actions, and especially for our nerves and brain. The body likes to get its fuel in a steady, even supply. When we eat regular meals that include complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and breads, our body is happy and balanced.

When we eat food high in refined sugar, it is absorbed almost instantaneously, causing a sudden rush of glucose into the bloodstream. What goes up must come down, and this rapid increase in blood sugar is followed by a rapid decrease. Likewise, when we skip meals: with no nutritional input our blood sugar plummets.

With low blood sugar, a person’s energy and endurance levels decrease and emotional stability is lost. A hypoglycemic person will crave a quick pick-me-up. If they choose sweets, the blood sugar level will quickly go up, but it will just as quickly drop off, creating a vicious cycle. While their sugar level is high, they are hyperactive, energetic, and happy for a short time. Then they become exhausted, confused, and “bonkers” a short time later when there is the rapid drop in blood sugar level.

Studies have shown that caffeinated coffee increases hypoglycemia by stimulating the adrenal glands, which in turn affects the liver and the nervous system. Combining coffee and sugar is especially harmful, as are cola drinks due to the double-whammy of caffeine and sugar.

Alcohol is high in sugar and also induces hypoglycemia. All alcoholic beverages have the same general effect: while your liver is processing the alcohol you drink, it stops releasing glucose, the sugar that floats around in your bloodstream. This glucose-lowering effect can last for as long as eight to twelve hours after drinking. A hypoglycemic is particularly susceptible to becoming an alcoholic if they get caught in the vicious cycle of drinking to improve their sense of well-being with the initial buzz. When alcoholics stop drinking, they frequently substitute sweets because they are able to achieve a similar “high.”

It’s no wonder so many of us ride an emotional roller coaster during the holidays. Making healthy choices now and throughout the year is a good idea for everyone – not just those with blood sugar problems. Eat well to live well.

And don’t forget to check out my new book, Joyful Musings: Growing Up, Self-Discovery, and Reflections on Life North and South of the Border (available at Diane Pearl’s and Mia’s). Not only an interesting read, it also makes a great stocking stuffer. Happy holidays!

Editor’s Note: Joy is a practicing psychotherapist in Riberas. She can be contacted at or 765-4988

For more information about Lake Chapala visit:

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