Spikes in insulin production are a normal function of the endocrine system that usually occur after eating. In a healthy person, the insulin spikes, does its job and the levels return to normal. If something goes wrong and the insulin levels stay high, it can cause symptoms of dizziness before quickly becoming a medical emergency.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows the body's cells to utilize blood glucose as energy. Any time blood glucose levels rise, such as after consuming carbohydrates, the pancreas secretes additional insulin to counteract it. The pancreas constantly monitors blood glucose levels and produces appropriate amounts of insulin to keep glucose levels in the normal range of 70 to 130 mg/dL, and up to 180 mg/dL after eating a meal.
Causes of Insulin Spikes
Carbohydrates are the body's main source of blood glucose. There are two different types of carbohydrates -- simple and complex -- and each one has a vastly different effect on blood glucose levels and insulin production. Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, take awhile for the body to absorb, resulting in stable blood glucose and insulin levels. The body absorbs and processes simple carbohydrates, such as sugar, very quickly, making blood glucose levels rise sharply and quickly. Consuming large amounts of simple carbohydrates will quickly cause insulin levels to spike in response to the rise in blood glucose. Prolonged strenuous exercise may cause insulin levels to spike, as well as certain illnesses, such as hyperinsulinism.
Raised insulin levels should not cause any symptoms as long as there is a corresponding amount of glucose in the blood. When the insulin levels outweigh the blood glucose, hypoglycemia can set in. Hypoglycemia is a condition where blood glucose levels fall below the normal range, or less than 70 mg/dL. Early symptoms include dizziness, shakiness, hunger and sweating. Because blood glucose is the brain's main source of food, hypoglycemia will also cause anxiety, confusion, visual disturbances and personality changes. As glucose levels continue to fall, you can suffer from seizures, unconsciousness or slip into a coma.
At the first signs of dizziness, you should drink 1/2 cup of fruit juice or regular soda or 1 cup of milk. You can also have five to six pieces of hard candy or 1 tbsp. of sugar or honey, according to NIDDK. Once the dizziness has passed, consider consuming some complex carbohydrates or protein to help keep glucose levels up. If blood glucose levels continue to fall despite treatment, particularly if you experience seizures or lose consciousness, it is a medical emergency and should be treated by emergency medical personnel.
Is This an Emergency?
- Medline Plus: Blood Glucose Monitoring
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Carbohydrates
- MayoClinic.com: Hypoglycemia: Symptoms
- National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse: Hypoglycemia
- USDA Agricultural Research Service; Searching for a Good Carbohydrate; W. Thomas Johnson
- Joslin Diabetes Center; Hypoglycemia or Low Blood Sugar; N. Saul, M.S, R.D.; January 2011