What Is Sugar Intolerance?
I had lunch with a friend last Friday who complained of recently waking in the morning and feeling ill. She said her head is foggy, like with a hangover, and she’s lethargic throughout the day. She’s also hungry constantly and craves sugary foods, which is unlike her. Molly tends to eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables.
When she took these complaints to her doctor, she was diagnosed with a rather surprising condition: carbohydrate (sugar) intolerance, or CI. This means that carbohydrates – sugars and starches in the diet – are not processed, digested, and tolerated as well as they should be.
Although most people can digest some sugar, the human body is not capable of handling the amounts in many modern diets. If you eat more sugar than your body can break down and absorb, some stays in your bowels, where bacteria and yeast feed on it. An unhealthy buildup may then ensue.
If left untreated, CI can lead to more serious conditions, including hypertension, hyperinsulinemia, polycystic ovaries, breast cancer, high blood cholesterol, Type II diabetes, obesity, stroke, and coronary heart disease. This is because these problems are all related to insulin resistance, which starts as CI.
Insulin resistance occurs when the body doesn’t effectively manage sugars and starches from your diet. When you eat a carbohydrate, such as a piece of bread or slice of cake, your body releases insulin from your pancreas to process the sugar. Without insulin, you wouldn’t be able to assimilate this sugar, called glucose, from your blood stream into your liver and muscles. With insulin resistance, your body makes too much insulin for the amount of carbohydrate consumed. This extra insulin causes functional problems (those that precede pathological) as well as pathological problems (those concerning tissue alterations).
The extra insulin usually processes sugar too rapidly, and blood glucose levels are subsequently driven too low. This is called hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, a condition that adds stress to the body and causes the production of other hormones, especially adrenal gland hormones. In turn, these increase blood sugar levels.
As CI progresses, the extra stress on the hormonal system, particularly to the adrenal glands, overworks organs. This results in a complex pattern of symptoms that differ from person to person. Common signs include, but are not limited to, sleepiness, drowsiness, lack of concentration, or feeling bloated after a meal – especially one containing sweet foods or starches. Other symptoms include feeling hungry or having weak legs or knees after eating, diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and gas.
The Importance of a Healthy Diet
For now, Molly is watching her diet with a critical eye. She’s eliminated all excess sugar, including fruit, just to monitor how her body responds. Her meals now are bland, consisting mostly of grilled fish and vegetables, and she’s only drinking water. So far she hasn’t witnessed much of a change in how she feels, but the doctor said she needs to give it time. The sugar that has accumulated in her body will eventually be removed, but, until then, her symptoms will likely remain.
For me, this is just another wake-up call as to how our diet is instrumental in achieving and maintaining good health. Prior to speaking with Molly, I had never even heard of carbohydrate intolerance, and I never would have guessed it was a real condition. By recognizing Molly as an example and paying attention to what we eat, perhaps some of us can avoid this confusing and fearful problem.