Last semester I had six female students in different classes who all had rather serious forms of hypoglycemia. Since I have never had any male students medically identified as hypoglycemic over 15 years of teaching, this article will focus on female hypoglycemics, though I am certain males must suffer as well.
Hypoglycemia means low blood sugar and it is a serious medical state that, if allowed to continue without direct intervention and behavior modification, can lead to a coma and even death. Many long-term hypoglycemics become full-bore diabetics.
Sustained hypoglycemia, therefore, is a marker for a much more serious health problem lurking along the future. Signs of someone who is actively in a hypoglycemic state include slow response time, grogginess, the inability to focus and lots of sleeping.
Those signs identify probably 97% of high school seniors and first year college students. Not all of them are undiagnosed hypoglycemics but the symptoms of youthful melancholia can mirror the signs of hypoglycemia.
It was strange to have a core of medically certified hypoglycemic females clustered together in Newark and none of them previously knew each other before arriving on campus. I suppose the women could be an oddity — a statistical hiccough — but I wonder if something more menacing is creeping in the lives of smart, bright, beautiful and winning women.
I also wonder if women like them may have their hypoglycemia misdiagnosed as depression or PMS or some other more common anomaly that shares the same indicators with hypoglycemia. None of the women were bone-thin and that’s a good thing because the first cause for hypoglycemia that crosses your mind is that the women were not eating and that lack of food was lowering their glucose levels and making them groggy. All the women were well-built and healthy looking.
They were obviously eating something but perhaps not the right food? Perhaps they were eating carbohydrates that were simple and not complex? When I saw the women in the hall, or chatted with them after class, I always asked how they were doing with their hypoglycemia. When I asked when they last ate, few could tell me. I asked when they planned to eat again and their answers were vague and non-committal.
I am close with my students and we have a lot of fun in class so wishy-washiness on their part concerning their health bothered me. Finally, to get me off their backs, they would say something like they were on their way to have a slice of pizza or a candy bar. “Pizza?! Candy?!” I was right back on them again.
Had their bodies taught them nothing? I understand getting rid of pop (“soda,” if you were not born in the Midwest), snack chips, pizza, chocolate, coffee, French fries, caffeine and a ganglion of other foods must be hard if you are hypoglycemic, but the long term consequences of ingesting those killers now against the betterment of your health later must, at some point, outweigh the instant oral pleasure of junk food.
Is this sort of female hypoglycemia common among first year college students? Does it strike men in the same manner but it is misdiagnosed as something else? One student was so severely affected she had to be hospitalized twice because she would “forget” to eat for an entire day.
Not eating creates a vicious Mobius strip of bad behavior and involuntary reaction: You don’t eat; your blood sugar drops; you get groggy; you don’t remember to eat; repeat; coma; death. I am curious if hypoglycemia in young people is more common than previously thought and if it is especially prevalent in females who may worry more about putting on the “Freshman 15” than in eating enough protein and complex carbohydrates to curry up their health.