Reactive Hypoglycemia:
Does It Affect Memory?

By M. Chris Wolf, PH.D.

Reactive hypoglycemia (RHG), a lowered amount of blood sugar in response to a meal, isn't just a condition that saps you of energy to work and perform to your best ability; it can also affect your mental functions such as memory.

What exactly, though, is RHG, how does it affect your brain, what causes it and what can you do about it? RHG happens when your pancreas doesn't release enough insulin to break down sugar in your food into a form that your blood can carry, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestion and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK, 2008).

Causes of RHG

Several things can cause reactive hypoglycemia among people who may be diabetic.

  • Irregular meals or meals that are too small do not give the body enough blood sugar to begin with, so there is a lack of usable energy in the body.
  • An increase in exercise can use up energy faster than it is replaced.
  • Alcoholic beverages can induce hypoglycemia. Alcohol is made of simple sugars and starches, which use up insulin quickly and leave little to break down carbohydrates that are more complex.

Symptoms of Reactive Hypoglycemia

Reactive hypoglycemia causes health problems such as hunger, nervousness, light-headedness and confusion in the early or mild stages. These symptoms worsen as the condition progresses, eventually leading to coma or death. Hypoglycemia, due to being a lack of energy, is much the same as starvation when prolonged. As such, it will affect mental processing. The brain requires the most energy and blood sugar of any organ in the body; when it fails to get this energy, neurons begin to die and therefore neural pathways are destroyed. Permanent damage to short-term memory occurs with extremely low glucose levels or when the condition lasts for a long time; usually, it is recoverable if caught quickly enough.

Lessing the Effects of RGH on Memory

You can stave off memory problems associated with RHG by exercising your brain: play math games like Sudoku or read something new each day. Also try to increase the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Foods like fish or cod liver oil supplements give you omega-3, a vital component for neural impulse transmission. Keep your blood sugar levels up by eating complex carbohydrate-rich meals regularly; a meal every five hours should suffice. Eat healthy snacks in between meals as necessary, but before making any changes to your diet or exercise regimen, always consult your doctor.

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Reference:

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestion and Kidney Diseases. "Hypoglycemia." October 2008.

Ask our experts:

For more information about hypoglycemia visit:

Signs of Hypoglycemia: Stunning Memory Effects

Hypoglycemia in Children

Hypoglycemia Symptoms

Treatment of Hypoglycemia



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