Nutrition & Physical Activity
Rather than prescribing you a "model's diet," as there are probably as many of them as there are models (both healthy and unhealthy), a better suggestion would be to follow the guidelines for a model diet — that is, start by resisting the urge to compare yourself to other models. Focusing on what's healthy for you is the healthiest runway to strut on.
You have already taken a step in the right direction by taking good care of yourself and your health:
Exercising regularly is fantastic for health and wellness. For a well-rounded exercise plan, be sure to include both cardio and weight training workouts. Current recommendations for a healthy dose of exercise for adults include 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week, plus muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days per week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).
Meeting with a nutritionist or dietician can help you figure out a specific eating plan tailored for your energy and nutritional needs. According to the USDA’s 2011 MyPlate Plan, a healthy diet for a typical woman aged 19-30 includes 6 ounces of grains (with 3 ounces coming from whole grains), 2.5 cups of vegetables, 2 cups of fruit, 3 cups of dairy products, 5 1/2 ounces of protein (lean meats and beans) and up to 6 teaspoons from the oil group. Recommendations for a typical man aged 19-30 includes 8 ounces of grains, with at least 4 ounces coming from whole grains, 3 cups of vegetables, 2 cups of fruit, 3 cups of dairy products, 6 1/2 ounces of protein (lean meats and beans) and up to 7 teaspoons of foods from the oil group. With a balanced diet, men and women can eat still eat sweets and treats in moderation and maintain a healthy diet.
Getting your beauty sleep is important — both on and off the runway! While six solid hours can be enough for some people, others, especially people in their late teens and early 20s, need as many as nine or ten to be completely rested and alert. For sleep tips, you can check out the A!Sleep Site.
Only your dietician can tell you how often you should meet with her/him in a given period of time. In addition, you might also meet with a health care provider at your university's health service for a physical or check-ups to make sure that your body stays healthy while you continue with your eating, exercise, and would-be modeling plans. Columbia students can make an appointment to discuss their nutritional concerns online through Open Communicator, or by calling x4-2284.
Good luck with your modeling debut. Following the above tips can help you make a lasting impression along your path to becoming a model of good health!
Dear Breakfast Boycotter,
Your brain (and central nervous system) run on glucose — that's the fuel you need to think, walk, talk, and carry on any and all activities. Let's say that the last time you eat something at night is at 10 or 11 PM (not optimal, just an example). The following day, you don't eat breakfast but wait until about noon or so to eat — you've gone thirteen or fourteen hours with nothing in your system. Your poor brain is surely deprived — and your body has to work extra hard to break down any stored carbohydrate or turn fat or protein into a usable form for your brain to function. That's a lot to ask for when you're sitting in a classroom, trying to concentrate on reading, or doing any other work. Eating breakfast has been proven (many times) to improve concentration, problem solving ability, mental performance, memory, and mood. You will certainly be at a disadvantage if your classmates have eaten breakfast and you've gone without. On average, they will think faster and clearer, and will have better recall than you. School or work can be tough enough without this extra added pressure.
Breakfast skippers also have a harder time fitting important nutrients into their diet. Many foods eaten at breakfast contain significant amounts of vitamins C and D, calcium, iron, and fiber.
Some people believe that skipping breakfast may help them lose weight. Not so! Skipping meals often leads to overeating later in the day. Becoming overhungry often leads to a lack of control and distorted satiety signals (meaning it's hard to determine when you're full). This can result in taking in more calories than if one had an appropriate breakfast. As a matter of fact, it's easier to control one's weight by eating smaller meals and snacks more frequently.
What if there's just no time in the morning to eat breakfast? There are plenty of items you can bring along with you to school or work. Carry a resealable bag of easy-to-eat whole grain cereal, or bring a yogurt or small box of skim milk, juice, or fruit. If you just can't stomach food in the morning, try to have a little something — such as some juice — and bring along a mid-morning snack. Other good portable items include: whole grain crackers, a hard boiled egg, cottage cheese, low-fat granola bars, or even a peanut butter sandwich. Single serving hot cereals, such as oatmeal, are handy — all you have to do is add hot water, available at most cafeterias or delis.
Whatever your choice, eat something. If you think you're doing fine with no breakfast, just try changing your tune for a week —you're likely to notice a difference. You will undoubtedly perform better with some fuel in your system, and, hopefully, become a breakfast believer.
Some people swear by Ginkgo biloba, calling it a miracle herb with the power to fix anything from Alzheimer's to erectile dysfunction. But what are the facts? Scientifically speaking the data is less clear.
According to available research, Ginkgo has been used effectively to improve cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, as well as to improve memory in healthy adults and to treat peripheral vascular disease. Though it shows some potential with sexual dysfunction, the results have been mixed. In fact, Ginkgo’s effectiveness appears to be limited to relieving sexual dysfunction that is caused by selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) anti-depressants and not more generalized physiological causes. Some of ginkgo’s success with treating sexual dysfunction is believed to be the result of the placebo effect.
Though ginkgo is considered safe, there are some side effects such as headache, nausea, upset stomach, vomiting, and irritations around the mouth. Because of ginkgo’s ability to thin the blood, experts advise that you not take ginkgo if you are currently taking medication for diabetes, aspirin, ibuprofen or anticoagulant drugs such as heparin and warfarin. Doctors also advise caution to patients with bleeding disorders or those who are taking drugs, herbs (such as garlic, ginseng and red clover), or supplements that may increase the risk of bleeding.
Ginko biloba is usually sold as an extract because many of the plants parts, including its seeds, are considered poisonous and their consumption could lead to seizures and death. You may want to avoid these altogether.
Overall, Ginkgo could work for you either through the placebo effect or because of actual biochemical interactions — it just might not be your best bet. If you are interested in help with impotence you may want to speak with a health care provider. S/he can help you determine possible causes, the best treatment options, as well as answer any other questions you may have about Ginkgo biloba and its effects. Columbia students on the Morningside campus can make an appointment with Medical Services using Open Communicator or by calling 212-854-2284. Columbia students at the Medical Center can make an appointment with Student Health by calling 212-305-3400.
As they say, everything in moderation — including fiber! Eating enough fiber can have many health benefits, while too much may have consequences. By learning how much fiber you need, how much is in your food, and adjusting your diet accordingly, you’ll be able to strike a balance that’s ideal for your body (and your bowels).
Fiber is basically composed of plant-based food matter (fruits, veggies, whole grains, and legumes) that can’t be broken down by your digestive system. Whole foods contain both soluble (dissolves in water) and insoluble (does not dissolve in water) fiber. Although the recommendations below don’t distinguish between these two types of fiber, they are different and have distinct functions — soluble fiber helps to reduce cholesterol and glucose levels, and insoluble fiber helps with constipation by increasing fecal bulk.
Overall, fiber may lead to many health benefits, such as:
- Keeping you regular. Fiber decreases the risk of constipation by bulking up and softening your stool.
- Maintaining your bowel health. Fiber may prevent the development of diverticulitis and hemorrhoids. It has also been shown to reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in some cases.
- Lowering cholesterol and blood glucose levels. By reducing bad (LDL) cholesterol and blood glucose levels, soluble fiber also leads to a decreased risk for cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and type II diabetes.
- Controlling your appetite/weight. Foods that contain fiber are typically low in fat, energy-dense, take more time to chew, keep you full for longer, and block some of the digestion of fats and proteins.
- Preventing cancer. Fiber consumption may lower the risk for colorectal cancer, but the evidence is not yet conclusive.
Curious if you are getting enough fiber in your diet? You can use either the USDA Food List or WebMD’s Fiber-o-Meter to figure out the fiber content of the foods you eat and get suggestions for high-fiber foods. Making a habit out of reading the nutrition facts on food labels will also help. Generally, women need less fiber than men, and those aged 51 years or older need less than younger individuals. The following table can give you an idea of how much fiber you need on a daily basis:
Age 50 or younger
Age 51 or older
Source: Institute of Medicine
However, having too much fiber in one's diet can cause problems. When the intake of fiber is too high, it can replace other energy and nutrients that you need in your diet. Some insoluble fibers bind certain minerals, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and iron. Too much fiber can also cause abdominal discomfort, gas, and diarrhea, and block the gastrointestinal (GI) tract if you add too much fiber too fast. For some, fiber supplements may potentially cause additional, more severe side effects such as allergic reactions and asthma, gastrointestinal distress, and drug and nutrient interactions. If you feel that you might benefit from taking fiber supplements, it's best to speak with a health care provider first to make sure it’s right for you.
So, before you load up on fiber, try adding it to your diet gradually, so that your GI tract has time to adapt. You'll also want to drink lots of fluids to keep the fiber soft. Choosing a variety of soluble and insoluble fiber-rich food sources, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals, and legumes (beans and peas) will ensure that not only will you get a good mix of fiber, but beneficial nutrients, too. Remember that brown rice and 100 percent whole wheat bread have more fiber than white rice or white bread. Also, eating the skins of your fruits and vegetables whenever possible can also help increase fiber intake. If you need advice or more information about incorporating fiber-rich foods into a balanced diet, consider making an appointment with a health care provider or registered dietitian.
Hope this was helpful!
Kudos to you for exploring your options when it comes to staying healthy during cold and flu season. Many people who have tried echinacea, the purple coneflower (and relative of the sunflower) native to the Midwestern region of the United States, swear by it's ability to fight off colds, flu, and other minor infections. And though this supplement has a number of fans, not all of the research findings agree about its effectiveness (more on that in a bit). It’s also wise that you’re asking about dosage amounts and timing. There are a number of dosage recommendations and it’s good to note that echinacea is not safe or appropriate for everyone. Lastly, because nutritional supplements like this one are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it’s worth doing a bit of homework to find a reputable manufacturer for this supplement.
What research has been conducted regarding the medicinal uses of this plant include boosting the immune system, pain relief, and it is also thought to have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antioxidant properties. As far as fighting off the cold or flu virus, not all research findings jive with these claims. Some findings have demonstrated that echinacea can help you feel better faster if taken when you’re sick with either condition. One such meta-analysis of 14 different studies found that folks who used this herb were 58 percent less likely to develop a cold and those who did get one experienced a shorter duration of symptoms (about one to four days total). It’s good to note, however, that some experts have challenged these findings due to the variance in supplement type and dosage as well as weaknesses identified in the analyses. On the other hand, other studies found no effect at all. Needless to say, additional research is needed.
So, in order to try it out for yourself, it’s good to know when and how much to take, right? Echinacea is available in liquid extract, tincture, capsule, tablet, and cream/gel forms. It may also be found in supplements that contain a combination of various herbs meant to boost immunity. It seems that in order to stave off the cold or flu, it’s best to take this supplement about three times a day when you already know you’re sick until you feel better. That being said, it’s best not to take the supplement for this purpose for more than seven to ten days. Doing so will hopefully shorten the duration of either viral infection. However, the dosage depends on what type of echinacea supplement you are using.
Echinacea is generally seen as a safe supplement that results in few side effects. However, it is noted that if you take it as an oral supplement, you may experience some tingling or numbness in your mouth. Additionally, if you’re allergic to plants in the daisy family or have asthma, it’s recommended that you steer clear of it. It’s advised that folks with a liver disorder, an auto-immune disorder (including HIV/AIDS), leukemia, connective tissue disorder, diabetes, or tuberculosis avoid this supplement. Though there’s little evidence to suggest that using echinacea during pregnancy results in any birth defects, it’s generally recommended that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding forgo taking this supplement. There are some noted drug interactions as well, so your best bet is to consult a health care provider if you’re using any medications before picking this up at a store.
Ready to hit the supplement aisle at the market? Not so fast — be on the lookout for products from reputable manufacturers. Because the supplements are not regulated in the U.S., ingredient lists may be deceiving. One independent company, Consumerlab.com, conducted a study of eleven different echinacea products and found that less than half of the products contained the ingredients listed on their labels. Additionally, about ten percent of the products studied didn’t contain any echinacea at all! It's also a good idea to seek out the advice of a health care provider to help you determine if this supplement is safe and beneficial for you to use. For more information on echniacea and other dietary supplements, visit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website.
The lower back is an area that's commonly ignored in strength training, despite the fact that it can be a painful area for many people. Strengthening exercises, as well as stretching, can help prevent injury and pain in the lower back. It is important to focus on the lower back muscles as well as those in areas that support the lower back. These include the stomach, hip flexors, and hamstrings (back of the thigh).
It is always recommended to seek the advice of a health care provider before beginning any physical activity program, including back-strengthening and stretching exercises. If you have a condition that could be affected by physical activity, it is especially important to speak with your health care provider in advance.
Here are a few lower-back exercises to start with:
Front lying chest lift:
- This is a body weight exercise that involves no equipment at all!
- Lying face down, place your hands (palms down on the floor) next to and even with your chest.
- Keeping your hips and thighs on the floor, lift your chest off the floor. Assisted slightly by your arms as you lift, your lower back muscles should be contracting.
- Make sure the back of your head is in even alignment with your spine and avoid tilting your head up or down.
- Pause briefly when your arms are straight and then return to starting position.
- Build up to three sets of eight to twelve repetitions, taking short breaks between each set.
Double knee to chest stretch:
- Lie on your back with knees bent, and pull both knees off the floor toward your chest, holding your legs behind the knees on the bottom part of your hamstrings.
- This stretch can be done with both legs together or one at a time.
- Lying on your back, with your head on the floor or mat and right knee bent, pull your right knee towards your chest.
- Then draw your knee across your body towards your left shoulder. Try to keep both shoulders on the floor or mat.
- Repeat with your left leg.
- On your hands and knees, let your back sag (push your chest towards the floor) while lifting up your head.
- Alternate the stretch by arching your back and keeping your head down.
- Lean back onto your heels and hold, keeping your head down and arms extended.
Abdominal muscle-strengthening stretch:
- Lie face up with your knees bent and your hands placed loosely behind your head.
- Slowly curl your upper back off the floor while pressing your lower back against the floor. You should feel your abdominal muscles contracting.
- Pause briefly before returning to starting position. Try your best not to put pressure on your hands, or pull your head with your hands.
- Keep your breathing coordinated: exhale on the way up, inhale on the way down.
- It is important that you don't rush this exercise.
Hip flexor stretch (a.k.a. Runner's stretch):
- Stretching your hip flexors can help alleviate stress to the lower spine.
- Assume a lunge position, making sure that your front knee is directly over your foot and ankle, and that your knee isn’t past your toes when you look down (your knee will be in the form of a right angle).
- With your weight supported by both hands touching the floor, press your hips towards the floor.
- Repeat on the other leg.
Hamstring stretch (straight leg raise):
- This exercise will also help reduce stress to the lower spine.
- Lying on your back, bend your knees and keep both feet flat on the floor.
- Raise and straighten your right leg without lifting your hips from the floor.
- Support your leg and increase your range of motion by placing your hands below your knee, around the back of your leg, and gently drawing your leg towards your chest while keeping it straight.
- Repeat with your left leg.
If you have access to a gym, the lower back machine allows you to increase resistance as you become stronger. Try the following resistance exercises two or three times per week on non-consecutive days:
- Sit on the seat with your legs secured and upper back in contact with the roller pad.
- Push the roller pad down towards the floor, contracting your lower back muscles (Your range of motion should be comfortable).
- Pause briefly and return to starting position slowly. Keep your arms relaxed and your head in a neutral position.
- Use a weight that allows you to complete two or three sets of eight to twelve repetitions.
You may stretch every day once you've warmed up your muscles. Stretch smoothly, as opposed to bouncing, which can cause injury. For maximum effectiveness, each stretch needs to be held for at least fifteen to thirty seconds. Some examples of lower back stretching exercises include:
You can also choose structured exercises for strengthening your back. Yoga, for instance, is an excellent form of back strengthening physical activity. Many of the suggested stretches listed above are a part of poses and movements performed during a yoga session. Swimming is another excellent exercise for your back, because the buoyancy of the water offers some support.
Also, take notice of your posture. What position do you spend most of your time in when you are sitting, standing, and walking? For example, are you sitting at a desk throughout the day? If so, be aware of your posture. Make sure the ergonomics of your work set up are optimal for your body. If you have freedom to play with your workspace, consider using a balance ball as a desk chair even for part of the day. Sitting on a ball demands your posture to be proper and many of your torso muscles to stay active.
Again, it is important that you speak with a health care provider before you begin a new physical activity regimen. If you are a Columbia student, you can make an appointment with Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC).
Hope these exercises and stretches allow you to attain your physical activity goals!
August 20, 2012515244
It's smart of you to ask, since there's been considerable controversy over the safety and use of ephedra. In fact, there's been enough reported cases of harmful side-effects and even deaths associated with ephedra that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided to prohibit the sale of ephedra in the United States in 2004. When the substance was re-evaluated in 2007, the FDA chose to continue the ban.
Ephedrine, also known by its traditional Chinese name, ma huang, is an extract of the desert shrub, Ephedra sinica. Originally ephedrine was used to relieve asthma symptoms, which it accomplished through dilating the bronchioles that supply the lungs with oxygen. But in the late nineties ephedrine gained popularity for its stimulant properties, raising blood pressure and heart rate, and stimulating thermogenesis, or heat production, actions similar to those produced by other stimulant drugs like amphetamines. Because of its heat-producing, calorie-burning, and appetite-suppressing qualities, ephedrine became a popular fat-burning supplement. Prior to 2004, the drug was available in scores of nutritional supplements, energizers, and dietary teas, as well as in herbal ecstasy, which was the impetus for its controversy.
However, on April 12, 2004 the FDA made any products containing ephedrine illegal for over-the-counter sales after it "...received an increasing number of reports of adverse reactions. These reported reactions vary from the milder adverse effects known to be associated with sympathomimetic stimulants (e.g., nervousness, dizziness, tremor, alterations in blood pressure, headache, gastrointestinal distress, etc.) to chest pain, myocardial infarction (heart attack), hepatitis, stroke, seizures, psychosis, and death." Some 32 deaths were attributed to this drug.
In fact, many diet drugs are found to be unsafe, and are often taken off the market once their brief stint of popularity has proved harmful. If you're interested in weight management or loss, try the following exercise and nutrition recommendations:
- Eat breakfast — this jump starts your metabolism for the day.
- Experiment with eating five to six small meals instead of three large meals a day to help keep metabolism high.
- Participate in regular aerobic exercise, which helps to reduce stored fat. This activity also allows your body to continue to expend calories at a high rate for a short amount of time after exercise.
- Participate in a weight lifting program to build more lean muscle mass since this will increase your basal metabolic rate (BMR), thereby expending calories even when you are not exercising.
- You can also make an appointment with a health care provider or a nutritionist if you're wondering what a healthy weight is for you, or if you want guidance in planning a diet or exercise plan. Columbia students on the Morningside campus can make an appointment by logging into Open Communicator or by calling 212-854-2284. Students on the CUMC campus can also make an appointment with a provider or nutritionist by calling the Student Health Service at 212-305-3400.
Thanks for asking, and take care!
Dear Early bird exerciser,
The best time to exercise is the time that's right for you. Morning workouts really get some people going, release endorphins, and enhance mood. If you enjoy starting your day with a workout, or find that it's the only time you can fit it into your schedule, stick with it. Others find afternoon or evening workouts productive and stress-relieving. When you wake up, your body temperature and blood sugar levels are low, so your muscles aren't as "loose" as later in the day. In a perfect world, your muscles are warmer and fueled by a few meals (hopefully) later, well after you awake.
There isn't really a "simple" answer to your second query. It will be helpful, though, to ask yourself the following questions: How hard do you work out (intensity)? How long are your sessions (duration)? What are your exercise activities? How soon after you awake do you begin exercising? Your answers will help determine what may enhance your performance.
For some people, exercising with no fuel (food) beforehand may cause lightheadedness, dizziness, and early fatigue. Research shows that eating before exercise, as opposed to exercising on an empty stomach, improves athletic performance. If you have three hours until your workout, have a normal breakfast. However, if you're going straight to a workout after waking up, here are a few suggestions:
- If your exercise session is less than an hour, just snack on any foods that are easy to digest, such as bread, crackers, or a banana.
- If your session is one hour or longer, get up a little earlier and have something small to eat — perhaps around 250 to 300 calories — such as toast and fruit or a small bowl of cereal and skim milk.
- Drinking some water before and during exercise is important for hydration.
If you eat before exercising, make sure you allow your body some time to digest and absorb the food. During digestion, our bodies send blood to the stomach to help out with this process. When you exercise, your muscles need the blood flow, so your stomach becomes a second class citizen and digestion is slowed. If too much food is in the stomach while you're exercising, you may be uncomfortable.
Also take into account the type of food you eat and the activities you do. Some people tolerate liquids more easily because they leave the stomach more quickly than solid food. Some exercisers, such as runners, for example, would prefer not to have the internal "sloshing" around that liquids may cause.
General guidelines for eating before exercising are:
- Three or four hours before exercising, a large meal is fine (500 calories or more).
- Two or three hours beforehand, a smaller meal is suitable (400 to 500 calories).
- One or two hours before, a liquid meal is appropriate (300 to 400 calories).
- With less than one hour, a small snack will do (200 to 300 calories).
In addition, people tolerate foods differently, and the composition of the food matters. Fats stay in the stomach longest, followed by protein and high fiber carbohydrate, then low fiber complex carbohydrates, and finally simple sugars, which are absorbed fastest.
Sugary foods, such as sodas and candy, are absorbed quickly by the body and produce a sugar high within an hour of a workout. Along with a quick "sugar high" comes a quick "sugar low." People who eat sugar 15 to 30 minutes before exercising may experience a "low," with lightheadedness and fatigue, during their workout. If you feel that you absolutely must have juice or some sugary snack before exercising, have it only five or ten minutes before you begin. This way, there isn't enough time for your body to secrete insulin, a hormone which lowers blood sugar, causing fatiguing symptoms. Since everyone reacts differently, try various strategies to determine what helps you the most. No matter what, drink water before, during, and after exercise. And, have breakfast afterwards, especially if you haven't had anything to eat earlier, since this will replace glycogen stores and will keep you going all morning long.
November 14, 2014591055
Working out the details of health club etiquette may cause some to break a sweat. Following some simple guidelines should set the pace for everyone to have an enjoyable gym experience and still gain the fabulous health benefits that come with exercising!
Starting in the locker room:
- Exercise control when loading and unloading your gym bag and locker. Remember, you are in a locker room, not at a picnic, so refrain from spreading your towels, clothes, shoes, and toiletries all over the benches and floor around you.
- In the name of prevention, apply some extra deodorant before your workout begins. Even the freshest-smelling folks can have others reaching for their gas masks during a vigorous workout.
- Before hitting the gym floor, wash your hands, and, yes, wipe off some of that cologne/perfume.
Moving on to your workout:
- Do you have an extra towel with you? Wipe off aerobic equipment, free weights, weight machines, and mats after you use them — even if you don't sweat. Some gyms have disinfectant wipes for this purpose.
- If you're a multi-set kinda gal or guy, glance around to see if someone else is waiting to use the machine or area you currently occupy. Offer to let them work in (alternate) with you, and if you're feeling particularly generous, ask if they'd like you to "spot" them.
- Obey posted time limits on equipment to avoid long waits during high traffic times.
- If you are waiting for equipment currently in use, don't hover! Give your fellow exerciser some space to move and breathe — you'd probably appreciate that same courtesy.
- Put free-weights back in their proper place after you use them. Who wants to clean up after others or search high and low for equipment scattered far and wide?
- Allow other people to focus. Distracting other gymrats with loud grunts, sing-a-longs with one's music, chatting on your cell phone, and social hours with friends and neighbors should be avoided.
- Gyms and health clubs may be great places to meet that special someone. But if an object of your desire doesn't return your winks and smiles, take a hint: they are probably there to work out, not to hook up.
- Finally, timeliness to classes, racquetball games, and training sessions not only gives you more exercise time, but also reduces back-ups and waiting time — helping the whole place run like a well-oiled stairclimber.
Often times, health clubs post their own set of rules or etiquette. If you are uncertain about your gym's specific policies or have concerns about fellow member's behavior, you may want to speak with the desk staff or management. You'll also get a good sense of things simply by observing the patterns of most fellow gym-goers. In the end, it's often about respect in a shared environment.
Here's to a good workout... and many more!
Dear Not So Sweet,
Oh, you're probably sweeter than you think…. Hypoglycemia is the medical name for low blood sugar. Excess insulin, along with glucose deficiency, usually causes hypoglycemia. We need glucose because it provides energy for our brain, central nervous system, and all of our body's cells. If someone is unable to maintain adequate blood glucose levels, major organs such as the brain are deprived of the fuel they need. When someone has low blood sugar, s/he may experience sweating, weakness, hunger, dizziness, trembling, headache, palpations (thumping in the chest), confusion and altered mental status, blurred vision, irrational behavior and aggressiveness, moodiness, and uncoordinated movements. S/he can appear to be intoxicated and have an increased heart rate. S/he may also have cool, moist skin and may even have a seizure. Over time, a hypoglycemic individual can experience allergies, sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, and is more predisposed to weight gain. S/he can also have recurrent headaches, poor memory, lack of confidence, and reduced libido.
Hypoglycemia may be caused by several factors. One cause is type I diabetes, also known as juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM). Type I diabetes is a chronic disease that impairs a person's ability to produce an adequate amount of insulin to control glucose levels (check out the diabetes-related questions below). Insulin must be injected and hypoglycemic drugs can be taken in order to lower the glucose level in the body. Other causes include too much medication, not eating enough carbohydrates, skipping meals, not eating soon enough, and too much exercise. Excessive alcohol consumption and insomnia have also been found to be causes of a low glucose level in the body.
A person with hypoglycemia can benefit from changing some of her/his behaviors:
- Instead of three large meals a day, have six small meals, which can help stabilize blood glucose levels throughout the day.
- Eat fewer simple sugars (i.e., candy, sweets, sugar, honey) and more complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are found in foods such as bread, cereals, pasta, rice, vegetables, and legumes (beans and peas). The body's primary source of glucose comes from the breakdown of carbohydrates.
- Eat more fiber.
- Choose fresh fruits as opposed to canned fruits and juices.
- At each meal, consume foods high in protein, such as fish, poultry, meats, and dairy products, such as low- or non-fat milk and cheese.
- Avoid alcohol, and limit coffee, tea, colas, chocolate, and cocoa.
- Maintain a healthy body weight by consuming a healthy diet and engaging in adequate exercise.
In case carbohydrate supplies run low, protein can be broken down to supply glucose for the body to use. This process, known as gluconeogenesis, is more likely to be a last resort for a person since proteins are needed for other body processes, such as tissue repair. Gluconeogenesis is also more frequently associated with fasting or starving.
If you have been experiencing signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia, and you believe you may have hypoglycemia, it's advisable to visit a health care provider so that you can be correctly diagnosed and receive any needed treatment. Students on the Morningside campus can contact Medical Services for an appointment; students on the CUMC campus should contact the Student Health Service.
For more information about hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, check out the related questions below. Enjoy the sweet life!