Hypoglycemia in Children:
Can it Affect Memory and Learning?

By M. Chris Wolf, PH.D.

Hypoglycemia in children can affect cognition. When a child experiences repeat episodes of hypoglycemia, it can affect his memory and learning. Hypoglycemia is a condition where blood sugar levels drop drastically low. If a child is experiencing this regularly and from an early age, cognitive (the acquisition of learning) damage can occur. Hypoglycemia in children can also impact long-term spatial memory. Severe hypoglycemia definitely has the potential to disrupt a child's ability to remember, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Sometimes hypoglycemia is referred to as low blood sugar or low blood glucose.
When you eat, glucose (sugar) goes into the blood stream. It is then transported to the cells in the body. Insulin assists the cells in utilizing glucose for energy. If a person is glucose deficient, a hormone called glycogen, which is manufactured by the pancreas, tells the liver to break down the glycogen and release glucose into the stream of blood. At this point, the blood glucose will get back up to a regular and normal level. However, if you have diabetes, the glycogen does not respond properly to the presence of hypoglycemia and epinephrine or adrenaline jumps in and raises the blood-glucose level, and it can get too high.

Children can experience this condition, as can adults. Hypoglycemia in children causes symptoms such as confusion, fatigue, exhaustion in the morning after what appears to have been a good night of rest, inattention, and irritability. Your child may be struggling to remember things because episodes of hypoglycemia affect the brain.

When blood sugar levels are too low, this deprives the body of energy, which glucose produces. The result is a very tired individual. To raise glucose levels, consume carbohydrates including potatoes, rice, cereal, bread, fruit, milk, and sweets.

Children and adults can experience reactive hypoglycemia, according to the Mayo Clinic. This occurs when sugar levels drop after consuming food. If you are terribly tired one- to three hours after you've eaten you may be experiencing reactive hypoglycemia. To prevent this from occurring, eat several times throughout the day, no more than three hours apart, instead of just eating three times a day. It's best not to eat sugary foods especially when your stomach is empty. Ideally, you should avoid sugary foods altogether and instead each vegetables, fruits, high-fiber foods, protein (non-meat) and whole grains.

If you suspect that your child is suffering from hypoglycemia err on the side of caution and take him to his pediatrician. He may, in fact, not have this condition, but he might and if he does it is imperative that hypoglycemia is controlled in children so that their cognitive skills, including memory, are not impaired.

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For more information about this topic consider these resources:

Cognitive declines temporary after severe hypoglycemia: aged 6-15 years. (Children's Health).(Brief Article): An article from: Family Practice News [HTML] [Digital]Miriam E. Tucker

Hypoglycemia For Dummies [Paperback]James Chow M.D. (Author), Cheryl Chow (Editor)

The Low Blood Sugar Cookbook: Sugarless Cooking for Everyone [Paperback]Patricia Krimmel (Author), Edward Krimmel(Author)

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