A healthy appetite is vital for general wellbeing. The body relies on nutrients from food to function properly.
Good appetite strengthens the immune system, boosts energy levels, promotes weight management, and much more. However, in some instances, appetite changes often symbolize underlying health problems.
In the case of an increased appetite, this could be a symptom of type 2 diabetes. In this article, we will be discussing hunger associated with diabetes and how it can wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels.
Hunger and diabetes
Polyphagia is a medical term for increased appetite or excessive hunger. Also known as hyperphagia, this is not a standalone disease or health condition. Instead, polyphagia is a symptom of an underlying condition, usually diabetes mellitus.
Since polyphagia is increased appetite, it’s easy to presume everyone has it. Not true, though! Being hungry doesn’t mean you have polyphagia.
Polyphagia is not the same as binge eating either. Being hungry and overeating doesn’t necessarily indicate the presence of hyperphagia, but it can be difficult to tell them apart since they involve the acts of gluttony.
Generally speaking, a person with polyphagia may also have other symptoms that point to an underlying condition.
On the other hand, excessive eating includes episodes of frequent hunger, which may not be associated with any feeling of physical hunger. Moreover, binge eating is typically linked to a loss of control during a binge episode and feelings of guilt and depression right after.
What is a hypo?
Low blood sugar is referred to as hypoglycemia, often referred to as a “hypo.”
Hypoglycemia occurs when blood glucose level falls below 70 mg/dL. When blood sugar is low, it causes harmful and disruptive symptoms. Prolonged periods of severe hypoglycemia can cause insulin shock. Insulin shock can be life-threatening and lead to coma and death if it’s not treated promptly.
There are different levels of hypoglycemia, which correlate with the severity of the hypo.
- Level 1 (mild) hypoglycemia: Blood glucose is less than 70 mg/dL but is 54 mg/dL or higher.
- Level 2 (moderate) hypoglycemia: Blood glucose is less than 54 mg/dL.
- Level 3 (severe) hypoglycemia: A person cannot function because of mental or physical changes. They need help from another person. In this case, blood glucose is often below 40 mg/dL.
Hunger and hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia, or low blood glucose levels, usually happens to people with diabetes, but it can affect almost anyone. For example, too much insulin or other diabetes medications may cause your blood sugar level to drop low and cause hypoglycemia.
The problem can also occur when you eat less than usual after taking diabetes medications. Hypoglycemia occurs in people without diabetes due to various reasons, including certain oral medication, excessive alcohol drinking, insulin overproduction, hormone deficiencies, and certain critical illnesses such as liver and kidney disease.
One of the most common symptoms of low blood sugar is polyphagia. When blood sugar levels decrease, the body responds by releasing stored glucose from the liver to even things out. At the same time, you feel hungry because the food is your primary glucose source in the blood.
It’s useful to mention that people who take diabetes medications such as insulin and sulfonylureas are at a higher risk of developing severe hypoglycemia. They should address low blood sugar by eating something sweet when hypoglycemia occurs.
Hunger and hyperglycemia
Hyperglycemia is high blood sugar, and it’s a leading indicator of diabetes. High blood glucose is a severe problem in diabetes, and it’s something we shouldn’t take lightly. Failing to manage blood sugar if you have diabetes can lead to severe complications, including diabetic ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis is a severe complication that may lead to diabetic coma.
As explained above, in diabetes, high blood sugar and lack of insulin (or insulin resistance) leave cells deprived of energy. Remember, blood glucose can’t enter cells without insulin. As a result, cells start sending signals to you and encourage you to eat. That’s why you’re hungry all the time.
Treating a hypo and beating the hunger
The best way to fight your food craving is to practice blood sugar control.
The faster you can get your blood sugar up, the less time you’ll spend being very hungry. There are several methods to raise your blood sugar levels, including:
- Glucose tablets: these raise blood sugar levels very quickly and are, therefore, a recommended way of treating low blood sugar levels. Each glucose tablet contains 4 grams of carbohydrates, so in the case of a hypo, 3-4 tablets should be used in order to provide 12-16 grams of carbohydrates.
- Sugary beverages and candy: Sugary drinks and hard candies are preferred as they are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream
- Carbohydrates: You can eat other carbohydrates, such as bread, chocolate, or cereal bars, but these will take longer to raise your glucose levels.
Preventing further hypos
Once your sugar levels get back above 4 or 5 mmol/l, the hunger cravings should then subside.
Besides doctor-recommended treatment, a healthy lifestyle is also essential. Regular exercise and a well-balanced diet can control hunger but also support the management of underlying problems. For example, diabetes can cause a wide range of complications, but it’s possible to prevent them with healthy lifestyle choices.
Increased appetite is not a specific disease, but it is a symptom of various health problems. It can cause hypoglycemia, which can be inconvenient at best and life-threatening at worst.
Hypos most often affects people with diabetes but can also occur in people without diabetes. The best way to manage this condition is to address the underlying cause. Don’t ignore excess hunger, especially if it’s uncommon to you. Make sure to schedule an appointment to see your doctor.