By Mary Coyle, DIHom, Special Contributor to Fearless Parent
Summer is a time for family gatherings. It is also a time for occasionally intriguing, sometimes contentious conversations on the art of child-rearing. One of these lively discussions occurred between my brother and me while observing the penguins at the zoo with our children last July.
Nearby, we heard the sound of loud wailing. We turned to see a fair-haired girl, no more than four years-old, refusing to leave the Bird House. Red-faced and profusely sweating in the summer heat, this defiant little one would not budge from her post. Her weary mother scooped her up in a one-arm football tuck and methodically plunked her back on the zoo path. She screamed her way down to the Giraffe Pen, with mom and three siblings in tow.
“She did that all wrong.”
This from my brother whose child rearing responsibilities were focused on a single, adorable, perfectly behaved child. And he was usually accompanied by his eagle-eyed wife, who was ready and willing to assist if that child deviated from the path of stellar conduct. They are so lucky. I was, needless to say, curious how he would have handled that situation.
“I would’ve slowly walked away, and eventually she would’ve follow suit.”
Oh, really? I was surprised by his response. He felt bad behavior should not be rewarded with any attention. It probably would’ve worked with his child, too.
As a mother who has been traumatized by many years of raising a child who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age two, however, I drew a completely different conclusion.
Summer heat + junk food for lunch = low blood sugar.
Of course there is no “best answer,” but raising a small child with blood sugar issues has been eye-opening. I learned how erratic one very small human being can become when deprived of brain food.
When my son’s blood sugar was low, poor Dr. Jekyll took a real beating from Mr. Hyde. (I wonder if Robert Louis Stevenson had some kind of metabolic disorder?)
My then three year-old son stormed into the kitchen:
“I WANT A COOKIE!”
Taken aback by his urgent demand, I quickly obliged. He promptly threw it on the floor:
“I DON’T WANT THE COOKIE!”
Befuddled, I picked it up and simply agreed with him: “OK, no cookie.” To which he howled:
“I WANT A COOKIE!”
It suddenly dawned on me that his blood sugar might be low, so I tested it. Sure enough, it was on the very low side of normal. A little juice and a snack, and within ten minutes he was back to his old, practical, Dr. Jekyll self.
The greatest insight for me, however, was in relating this experience to his non-diabetic five year-old sibling who often exhibited similar irrational behaviors. It never occurred to me that some of his Mr. Hyde might also have been simple hypoglycemia.So I tested his blood sugar during a mega tantrum and it was very low too!
Boy, did that explain a lot.
I gave him a little juice, and within a few minutes… voila! A better temperament magically appeared.
From that moment on, the glucometer became my new Dr. Spock!
I felt empowered. What was a mystery before now brought me understanding, and some element of control over my kids’ behavior. Birthday parties, sleepovers, and family gatherings would glide along more smoothly if I took a few things into consideration:
- The timing of their carbohydrate intake.
- The glycemic index of the food.
- The impact on blood glucose levels.
Our endocrine system is the primary mechanism behind blood sugar stabilization. It is governed by a group of glands that continually communicate with each other in order to regulate certain life processes.
One of these glands is the pancreas, which isn’t just a digestive organ. It’s also part of the endocrine system. Beta cells produced by the pancreas are responsible for the production of insulin. Insulin is a hormone that allows us to take sugar (glucose) from our blood and store it in our liver and other organs for future use. It works like a key, unlocking the cells and allowing the sugar to enter. Glucose is to your body as gas is to your car. Insulin opens the gas tank.
Blood sugar levels vary throughout the day, depending on the time and carbohydrate intake. Glucose levels should naturally be the lowest in the morning. That’s your “fasting level.” The number rises after a meal for one to two hours. A persistently high level is referred to as hyperglycemia, and low levels are referred to as hypoglycemia.
A blood monitoring meter measures the amount of sugar in the blood. According to the American Diabetes Association, the blood glucose target range for diabetics is 70–130 (mg/dL) before meals, and less than 180 mg/dL after meals.
Needless to say, the amount of sugar in our blood at any given time is critically important for our very survival, and the brain utilizes as much as 25% of the body’s precious fuel. If energy reserves fall short, there’s a good chance that your sensible child might suddenly become not so sensible.
When low blood sugar occurs (i.e., when your child misses a meal), the body is put under stress. In its infinite wisdom, it shifts gears and the adrenals are called into action. Adrenals are little glands perched atop the kidneys. They produce hormones that are responsible for regulating some vital functions, including salt and water homeostasis, blood pressure, and assisting the body in response to stress.
Cortisol is one of those hormones. It plays an important role in helping to maintain blood sugar levels around the clock. Through cortisol, our body reaches into its liver stores of glycogen, breaks it down into glucose, and makes it available to the cells. When low cortisol and low glycogen reserves coincide, blood glucose will most likely drop.
- Dilated pupils
- Trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep
- Tired upon waking in the morning
- Sugar craving
Hmmm, this all sounds too familiar. (And maybe not just for our children.) No wonder Dr Wilson termed adrenal fatigue the “21st century stress syndrome!” Stress and adrenal burnout can play a major role in contributing to hypoglycemia.
Here are some suggestions and strategies that I use to help prevent low blood sugar from occurring:
- Consume foods low on the glycemic index
- Eat small, frequent meals
- Consider supplements that support the liver and digestive tract, such as milk thistle, digestive enzymes, and probiotics
- Consider supplements that support the adrenals, such B vitamins and herbal remedies
- Get tested for any food sensitivities
- Learn the signs of hypoglycemia, such as confusion, muscle weakness, mood-swings, and shakiness.
I’m not suggesting that everyone run out and invest in a blood sugar meter! However, hypoglycemia might be worth a conversation with your or your child’s health practitioner because…
When viewed through the lens of adrenal stress and hypoglycemia, statements such as:
“He’s such a stubborn kid.”
might be more accurately translated as:
“She just had a boatload of sugar and is having trouble handling it right now.”
“He just woke up and hasn’t eaten breakfast yet. That’s why he won’t put on his shoes.”
I learned that what goes into our children’s mouths, what comes out of their bodies, and how it’s all broken down and assimilated can and does impact a child’s behavior. Digging a little deeper into the possible physiological reasons behind my kids’ behavior helped this mom build a more meaningful and compassionate connection with them.
Mary Coyle is a mother of two and lives in NYC. In her quest to gain a deeper understanding of health and healing, she became a certified homeopath, with extensive training in homotoxicology. Mary has never looked back. She currently consults with families of children with autism and other chronic health issues on these methodologies.
Disclaimer: This article is not medical advice. Please consult a licensed health practitioner for all health issues.