This on-the-go life, coupled with the misguided thoughts of “If I eat less, I’ll lose weight,” is a fast track to plummeting health. When you go longer than about 3 hours between meals, you risk dropping to clinically low blood sugar levels. And it is certainly possible that blood sugar being too low can be more dangerous than it being too high.
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) signs and symptoms:
“When blood glucose falls too low, into the range of 20 to 50 mg/100ml, symptoms of hypo-glycemic shock develop, characterized by progressive nervous irritability that leads to fainting, seizures, and even coma.”(1)
To clarify, hypoglycemia is not just having an average low blood sugar level. A better definition is having blood sugar that goes way up and then way down, continuously. In addition to other inflammatory consequences, this is particularly hard on the adrenals.
In this situation, the adrenal glands are turning off and on, and they’re doing their best to support us, but that usually means dumping lots of adrenaline into our system. Some of us are more sensitive to raised levels of adrenaline and dopamine, so we don’t want to promote the excess release of these stress hormones. There is lots of wasted energy trying to return to homeostasis, and it will simply wear us out.
Also, as blood sugar drops, the pancreas releases the hormone glucagon, which helps get sugar back into the blood stream. This is a natural process, but it puts a lot more strain on the pancreas, making it more likely that we’ll have imbalanced blood sugar afterwards.
There’s even another facet of glucagon to consider, though. As glucagon is increased, the secretion of stomach acid (HCL) goes down. This, in turn, impairs digestion.
This is why, when you skip a meal – because you’re busy at work or whatever your situation is – you start living off adrenaline, releasing cortisol, eating away at muscle tissue, and just overall breaking yourself down. And then when you sit down to the next meal, you can’t eat very much. The hormones involved in raising your blood sugar when it was dropping so fast, shut off your digestion.
And with digestion being the key to the majority of our health, you can see how quickly this can snowball into serious consequences. Not just for the body, but for the mind as well.
Stress hormones can cause depression. In our under-eating situation, we end up with low serotonin, but dopamine and adrenaline remain high. And basically, this is a recipe for depression.
In fancy research language:
“Several studies found clinically depressed psychiatric patients and congestive heart disease (CHD) patients with depression, as compared with their non-depressed counterparts, to have elevated levels of plasma catecholamines and other markers of altered autonomic nervous system activity, including elevated heart rate, low heart rate variability, and exaggerated heart rate responses to physical stressors.”(2)
And if that wasn’t enough…
Researchers have figured out that low blood sugar is also an injury to the central nervous system, and it causes white matter damage in the brain.(3) If you’re interested in preserving nerve signaling and mental health, you want your white matter in tact.
So, hopefully you can see that skipping a meal is not innocuous anymore. It does hurt us. It affects digestion, immune protection, detox pathways and other systems, causes inflammation in the brain, and more.
Again, if any of those previous symptoms sound familiar, please work on getting your blood sugar under control. EAT. MORE. FOOD.
1. Guyton & Hall, Textbook of Medical Physiology, pg 965
2. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2011 Sep; 72(9): 119-206.
3. Ann Neurol, 2013 Nov. 16, PMID: 24242287