Vegetarianism and hypoglycemia have only a few rare links, and eating a balanced vegetarian diet can actually help control the blood-sugar-level problems associated with hypoglycemia and diabetes.
You should be able to abstain from meat or other animal products while controlling your diabetes and avoiding both hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia. To achieve these goals, you'll need to work closely with your physician to develop a treatment plan that works best for you.
Definition and Causes
Hypoglycemia occurs when your blood sugar levels become abnormally low. It usually occurs in people with diabetes, although rarely, other conditions can cause it such as certain medications, tumors, endocrine deficiencies, or kidney and liver conditions. Most often, it's a side effect of medications you take to combat diabetes, which causes elevated blood sugar. If you take more insulin than your body needs, for example, it can lower blood sugar levels too much.
Diabetes and its associated conditions are related to how your body processes carbohydrates, which are broken down into the sugars that help control body functions. If you don't eat meat, you may be consuming too little protein and too many carbohydrates; an excess of sugar in your blood would indicate hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, not hypoglycemia. In fact, your doctor may advise you to quickly eat about 15 g of carbohydrates to combat a hypoglycemia episode.
The trick to avoiding hypoglycemia, if you have diabetes, is to carefully balance your insulin and other medications with your diet and lifestyle. A vegetarian diet is compatible with these goals, as long as you're getting adequate amounts of all nutrients. Be sure to tell your doctor if you're vegetarian, as this diet can actually help your body process insulin better in some cases, meaning your insulin dosage may need lowering.
Hypoglycemia in people without diabetes is rare, but it does happen; talk to your doctor about getting tested for other conditions if you experience hypoglycemia but know you don't have diabetes.
A 1984 article in the journal "Archives of Disease in Childhood" tells the story of a 12-year-old boy who suffered from hypoglycemia, lethargy and vomiting while following a vegetarian diet; the underlying cause was found to be a deficiency of the nutrient carnitine, which is mainly found in meat and dairy products, but also in wheat, asparagus, peanut butter and avocados.
- MedlinePlus; Hypoglycemia
- American Diabetes Association: Hypoglycemia (Low blood glucose)
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Carnitine; Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD; March 20, 2009
- "Archives of Disease in Childhood"; Systemic carnitine deficiency exacerbated by a strict vegetarian diet; A Etzioni, J Levy, M Nitzan, P Erde, and A Benderly; February 1984