10 January 2009

Reactive Hypoglycemia, Dehydration and Headache

It’s 2009 and I've been gluten-free for two years now. When I started this journey, I thought that discovering my gluten intolerance and other food allergies (or intolerances) would solve my headache problem. Unfortunately, they were only a piece of the puzzle, albeit an important piece. I am convinced that the undiscovered gluten intolerance lead to malabsorption of important nutrients, including the magnesium and B2 that my neurologist wanted me to take to prevent migraine. Now that I am gluten-free, my body seems to actually use the magnesium instead of flushing it through my system. Not to mention the fact that avoiding gluten can save me from osteoporosis, cancers and a number of other serious conditions.

But my headaches persist. Not as bad as before though. In the meantime I have discovered a couple other things that seem to contribute heavily to my propensity for getting headaches. Dehydration and low blood sugar episodes. I have always known that skipping meals or not drinking enough water were sure to bring on a headache, so I didn't skip meals and I thought I was drinking enough water. Here’s the thing: it seems I need more water than the average person to keep from getting a headache. The standard 8 glasses a day are not enough, especially on days when I practice Naginata. I seem to have to rediscover this every so often. When we were on vacation in Phoenix last Fall I needed 10-12 glasses of water a day because it was so dry there. Upon reflection, I think I need that much water no matter where I am. 

The second important discovery is about low blood sugar. For years I have noticed that I seem to get episodes of lightheadedness, shakiness, sweating, etc. midmorning. I noticed it got better when I stopped drinking regular coffee. Then I started getting them again. I noticed I got them after eating a breakfast that was high in refined flours or sugars. So I stopped eating waffles for breakfast. Then I stopped putting jam on my toast. Then I switched to whole grains and that seemed to take care of it. Going gluten-free kind of threw me for awhile. Most gluten-free grains are high on the glycemic index so the episodes came back when I ate things like gluten-free waffles, or toast for breakfast. So I switched to eating gluten-free oatmeal or buckwheat cereal. Everything was great for awhile. Then I started to have sugar crashes in the evening during Naginata practice. It seemed that the more I tried to avoid carbohydrates, the worse it got. Frustrated, I mentioned it to my doctor and she suggested I talk to a nutritionist. She said I might have reactive hypoglycemia. The nutritionist took one look at my food diary and said I wasn't eating enough, especially carbohydrates! I was very surprised by this, but thought it wouldn't hurt to follow her advice for a week and see what happened. She recommended that I eat 30-45 grams of carbohydrates per meal and 15-20 grams per snack. She gave me a diet plan that had me eating a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack (which I was already doing). She also told me to forget about the glycemic index for now and concentrate on getting enough carbs each day, especially on days when I exercised a lot. She said I wasn't giving my body enough energy to work out and that was why I was crashing. Also, the Weight Watcher points level I was following was not enough calories for me. She recommended I add 200 calories a day to my diet.

At first I was afraid that I would gain weight. I had been trying to lose weight without success before. The amazing thing is that the new plan is actually helping me to lose weight again and I am not hungry all the time. The sugar crashes are gone as well. I got a blood sugar measuring kit to test my levels and as long as I eat protein with my carbs and fat and as long as I stay away from fruit juices and highly refined things (like GF waffles...at least in the morning) I seem to stay pretty level all day. 

The bonus was that my headaches went away as well. I had an entire week headache free the first week that was on the new eating plan. I think I may be on to something. These two issues are two important pieces in the puzzle. And I no longer have to feel guilty for eating corn or rice, both of which my body seems to like. Who knew?

Karen, herself