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Hypoglycemia – A Major Cause of Migraines

Hypoglycemia is a state of low blood sugar in the body. It has been recognized since the early 1900’s that missing a meal may lead to headache. Today, studies are showing that ingesting simple sugars can also trigger a migraine attack. A review in Expert Review of Neurotherapies showed that two specific dietary factors frequently induced headaches. These factors are fasting and relatively mild reactive hypoglycemia that can follow after a consumption of a large carbohydrate meal. Furthermore, a study cited in Headache The Journal of Head and Neck Pain showed that 4 out of 36 patients suffering from diabetes reported migraine attacks that were associated with hypoglycemia during night time.

There are two types of Diabetes Mellitus, type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes, commonly seen in children, is chronic disease. Type 1 diabetes is caused due to autoimmune destruction of the beta cells in the pancreas which leads to an inability of insulin production by the pancreas. In comparison, type 2 diabetes mellitus, commonly seen in adults is characterized by high glucose levels, resistance and inadequate secretion of the hormone insulin and inappropriate secretion of hormone glucagon. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded in 2011 that nearly 26 million people in U.S.A suffer from diabetes. Although the disease is usually asymptomatic, some of the classic symptoms associated with the disease are large production or passage of urine, excessive thirst and fatigue.

Since the high incidence of diabetes is associated with diet, it only seems proper to talk about the role of diet in the development of this disease. When an individual consumes foods that are rich in carbohydrate, especially processed carbohydrates, the levels of glucose in the blood increase very quickly. These increasing levels prompt the pancreas in the body to increase the production of insulin, whose job is to carry the glucose out of the blood and into the cells. As the individual continues to consume a high glycemic diet, the cells in the body eventually become resistant to the effects of insulin. The resultant increase in glucose levels due to inappropriate response of insulin is what leads to diabetes. Furthermore, if we still keep on consuming this carbohydrate rich diet, eventually the pancreas that produces insulin will be affected as well, leading to insulin dependent diabetes mellitus.

What happens when there is an increase in insulin production? As the amount of insulin increases so does the amount of glucose transferred to the cells out of the blood. This results in lower blood glucose levels causing hypoglycemia. Since the brain cannot store glucose in the cells, low levels of the glucose to the brain leads to migraines. Moreover, this also triggers a sympathetic nervous response from the central nervous system leading to symptoms of dizziness, weakness, fatigue, anxiety and heart palpitations. In addition to the effect on the brain, the hypoglycemic episode also stimulates the adrenal glands to release the hormone cortisol. A continued stress on the adrenal glands leads to adrenal fatigue.

Not only does the low blood glucose affect the nervous system, high levels of glucose have a detrimental effect on the brain as well. Increasing evidence now shows that high blood glucose levels seen in diabetes adversely affects the brain structure and function leading to mild cognitive decline and dementia. Furthermore, high glucose levels can also lead to diabetic enceplopathy, neuropathy and even strokes.

One of the best things an individual can do for their health is to avoid blood sugar swings and maintain a steady state. One way of achieving this goal is to eliminate food that is high in sugars and refined carbohydrates, or keep the amount of carbohydrates to a minimum of <60g/day. This not only helps to maintain steady levels of blood sugar but also helps with, the weight loss. Follow a consistent eating schedule with 5 small meals a day. Also, remember that are hidden sugars in some fruits, vegetables, sauces and gravy that can also cause an increase in blood glucose levels just as easily as any processed carbohydrates. 

A poor diet is one of the important factors that contribute to obesity and diabetes. Maintaining a steady glucose levels in the blood will help with normalizing weight, increase stamina and energy, prevent migraines and in general maintain an optimum health.