Email- Interview with Roberta Ruggiero, Founder of the Hypoglycemia Support Foundation

Roberta Ruggiero
Founder of Hypoglycemia Support Foundation

What concerns you most in the world of wellness and metabolic health?

Here in my home office in South Florida, e-mails arrive on a daily basis from around the world. I correspond with parents, teachers, students, patients and even doctors from as far away as China, India, Africa, Pakistan and even the Kingdom of Bahrain. These people have one thing in common – they all suffer from hypoglycemia, also known as low blood sugar – and they have nowhere to turn. They are often desperate.

Through the organization I founded, the Hypoglycemia Support Foundation, my book, The Do’s and Don’ts of Hypoglycemia: An Everyday Guide to Low Blood Sugar, my website www.hypoglycemia.org, our public Facebook page and our private Hypoglycemia Support Group, I share my personal experiences and years of research surrounding this confusing, complicated and too often misdiagnosed condition. My goal is to learn and teach every single thing about controlling hypoglycemia before it advances to more severe and debilitating metabolic conditions like type 2 diabetes.

Why? Because for ten years I lived through the devastating effects of hypoglycemia during which time I faced dozens of doctors, countless tests, thousands of pills and even the administration of electric shock therapy. But no matter what avenue of treatment I tried, nothing worked, I was still sick. Finally, I found a physician who explained I had a severe case of functional hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and all I needed was a change in diet. A simple glucose tolerance test and a proper diagnosis finally lead me on the road to recovery. Read the whole story here.

Sadly, what happened to me four decades ago is still happening today. I receive almost 500 emails a month requesting  information, support, hope and encouragement on how to deal with hypoglycemia on a daily basis.

In all my years of educating and advocating for people with hypoglycemia, they in turn, have educated and healed me. They have told me what they need and want, and above all what they were not getting. I have learned so much about their pitfalls, anxieties and fears. Echoing my own experience, so many respond with the same universal phrase: “if only I had known…” 

Through all of this experience, education and enlightenment, a deep concern for “searching hypoglycemics” has emerged: fear that patients today are being forced to self-diagnose themselves when it comes to reactive/functional hypoglycemia. Either they can’t find a doctor who tests and treats the disorder or the cost surrounding its testing parameters are placing a financial strain they simply cannot endure. I constantly emphasize that education and preparation are crucial to controlling hypoglycemia symptoms. You can’t control what you don’t know or understand. Sadly, many seek quick answers or fixes without in-depth, science-based information or medical rigor that’s available in some of the good books out there by leading experts. Many seek answers on social media. I am not saying that social sharing of the successes and failures of each individual doesn’t provide helpful information, hope and encouragement – but this can deprive the individual with hypoglycemia of much needed science and state-of-the-art medicine that is emerging on the subject. We mustn’t overlook the importance of an accurate medical diagnosis and an effective treatment plan, especially when symptoms persist or get worse. Too much is at stake here… our long-term health and well-being. 

Adding complexity to this equation is that too many orthodox medical professionals do not believe hypoglycemia even exists, pushing patients to seek alternative treatment with naturopathic/holistic/functional medical doctors. A whole new paradigm is emerging outside of mainstream medicine. I devoted a whole chapter in my book, The Do’s and Don’ts of Hypoglycemia, on How to Find a Physician…this can be the most important relationship you will have on your healing journey…so choose wisely. Our website also contains a list of medical advisors; organizations and foundations that have referral listings…this should not be overlooked.

There is no “quick fix” when it comes to hypoglycemia.  Healing of any kind takes time…it involves education, commitment and then loving oneself enough to take the final step: application. The question remains…are you ready for the journey?

There is no single source of “absolute science” out there about hypoglycemia.  However, it is my dream to bring hypoglycemia to the forefront of medicine where it belongs. Hypoglycemia is real…it is not a fad disease. Hopefully, someday soon, science and medicine will catch up with what millions have known for decades. Read about the intriguing history of hypoglycemia here.

In what areas of nutrition are you encouraged and finding the most hope?

Patients are beginning to realize that the medications they are on are not working or causing reactions that are more harmful than the disorder itself. Consequently, they are seeking other alternatives. The media has done a great job in introducing “alternative” methods of healing. However, patients must be cautious and informed before making any decision that affects their health, particularly choosing a health professional that will guide them on the road to wellness. There are many “quacks” out there waiting to take advantage of the vulnerable.

The HSF has been very fortunate to work with a group of dedicated doctors that are brave enough to blend orthodox medicine with new and innovative treatments…real trail blazers in medicine. Our talented advisors include: Anne Childers, MD (psychiatrist connecting metabolic and mental health), Julia Ross, MA (author of three books on the food mood connection), Joan Ifland, PhD (leading expert on processed food addiction), Robert Lustig, MD (world renown pediatric neuroendocrinologist), Keith Berkowitz, MD (leading expert on reactive hypoglycemia and metabolic disease), Aseem Malhotra, MD (UK Cardiologist who advocates low carb diets) and more. These amazing experts bring diverse perspectives on nutrition to the HSF that shatter the old and misleading paradigms of nutrition which have led us into the pandemic of metabolic disease that is consuming the planet and our health. We also feature in-depth articles on our website to encourage a deeper understanding of the “metabolical” issues at play.

How can a child’s behaviors and moods inform parents and teachers of how they are thinking and feeling, and what might sugar and processed foods have to do with it?  What do kids want their grownups to know?

I believe that parents, teachers, medical professionals and community leaders that have the primary responsibility for recognizing a child’s behavior and mood – and how it might be tied to diet. Rarely is a child born with depression, mood swings, irritability, poor concentration, erratic behavior or suicidal thoughts. The child acquires them from his/her surroundings / environment…whether it be emotionally, physically, spiritually or intellectually. It is very encouraging to see more and more health care professionals addressing the food/mood connection. There is no doubt that we are profoundly affected by what we eat…the food that we consume affects every aspect of our lives, and our children are suffering the most. Their sugar laden diet, combined with an exorbitant amount of processed food, is affecting them in ways we’ve never seen before. Children as young as two are being diagnosed with reactive/functional hypoglycemia. More critical is that some infants are already being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. We shouldn’t assume that children’s junk food habits are something they will “burn off” or outgrow; and we must take responsibility for teaching children to understand the importance of good dietary habits – while making it fun and delicious. Children learn from what they see and hear from other family members – healing starts in the home as well as in the classroom. We’ve devoted a section of our website to parents and teachers.

What do kids want their grownups to know?

Straight from the mouths of today’s kids:

“I don’t want to die. Can I die from hypoglycemia?”

”How can I convince my parents I have hypoglycemia and that I need their help!” 

“What more can I do so that my hypoglycemia doesn’t turn into diabetes? I’ve seen the horrors and complications that it has done to my Dad and I don’t want that to happen to me?”

“My name is Joey. I am 17 years old. I believe I am hypoglycemic. I told my parents about it but I don’t think they believe me.  What should I do?”

It is clear to me that the kids of today want their parents to know when they are sick. They want us to address their fears, pain and questions – but may lack the knowledge or language to describe what they are experiencing – it can appear as “misbehaving”.  The emotions kids feel are intensified because they are young, confused and scared. They want their grownups to listen, understand, be sympathetic, and lead the way…Mom and Pop, Grandma and Grandpa…and everyone else they put their trust in.   

 What are you finding most surprising in your research?  What might the reader believe is true that may not be – based on the science?

Over the years, several “findings” surprised me.  One of the shocking facts I discovered in 1982 was when I found out the direct correlation between hypoglycemia and alcoholism.  Our HSF Medical Director at the time, Dr. Douglas M. Baird, made a statement while addressing our audience at one of our monthly meetings. He said… “I have never, ever seen an alcoholic who wasn’t hypoglycemic. It just doesn’t occur, it’s the same problem.”  The HSF interest in this strong correlation is ongoing…Another one of our Advisors, Julia Ross, a specialist in addiction treatment, realized that the core of here approach to helping alcoholics heal was in addressing diet and the food mood connection.

Another fact is the alarming number of children being diagnosed with reactive hypoglycemia in the past ten years…it’s frightening.  Not only the number but the age…children as young as 2 and 3 year olds. They’re parents are at a loss and don’t know where to turn.  For this reason we have a whole section devoted to Children with Hypoglycemia on our new website, https://hypoglycemia.org/kids.

Lastly, the HSF has conducted ongoing Hypoglycemia Questionnaires for years. 

What was the most startling conclusion of the questionnaire? 

Leslie Lee, RD, the HSF Medical Advisor who led this effort, states that “There were many interesting conclusions. The most important result to me was what we learned about reactive hypoglycemia preceding the development of type 2 diabetes. Two-thirds of respondents who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes reported they experienced hypoglycemia before their diabetes diagnosis. Most of them (85%) experienced hypoglycemia for two or more years before their diabetes diagnosis, which presents a very clear window of opportunity for education and diet improvement. I believe the same metabolic dysfunction that presents as reactive hypoglycemia now can develop into insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes later, if diet is not modified. That was always my hunch and my greatest fear. It’s a simple observation, but I think it’s highly significant in that we can now interpret reactive hypoglycemia as a red flag or a call-to-action to intervene with diet modification and prevent diabetes from developing.”

What might the reader believe is true that may not be – based on the science?

I’m often asked if there are specific statistics about reactive/ functional hypoglycemia.  The first and foremost question is how many have it? Well, that depends on which book you read and what the author believes. According to Anita Flegg, author of Hypoglycemia; The Other Sugar Disease. “Hypoglycemia, a precursor of Type 2 Diabetes, affects at least 25% of North Americans.  That means that there are at least 80 million people living and working at much less than optimal productivity and creativity.” Given that prediabetes and diabetes now affects over 50% of the U.S. population, we can hypothesize that hypoglycemia affects over 50% of the population.

The truth is that we don’t have specific numbers. Reactive hypoglycemia, the kind that the HSF focuses on, has never been evaluated in randomized control trials. Why? In 1949, the American Medical Association (AMA) awarded Dr. Seale Harris its highest honor for the research that led to the discovery of hypoglycemia. In the late 1960s and early 1970s,hypoglycemia was written up in a large number of lay publications. The disease suddenly became trendy. It was used as a way to explain some of the worst ills of humanity with little or no scientific backing, and a number of people proclaimed themselves to be hypoglycemics without bothering to consult a doctor or get a glucose tolerance test. The backlash in the medical establishment was swift. After the flood of quackery and self-diagnosis began, the AMA, in 1973, did a 180-degree turn and labeled hypoglycemia “non-disease.”

While there may be no “absolute science” out there about hypoglycemia, there is an ever-growing body of scientific studies and findings. Although hypoglycemia is one of the most confusing, complicated, misunderstood and too often misdiagnosed conditions, it is definitely real…not just a fad disease. Just go to our Facebook page and join our closed HSF Support Group – there you can read and feel what these folks coping with hypoglycemia are going through. Hopefully, someday soon, science and medicine will catch up with what millions have known for decades. 

                                                                                                   

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