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Low Blood Sugar Shortens Attention Span

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Employees who forego lunch in an attempt to meet a pressing deadline may finish the task, but their work just might fall short of company standards, results of a study suggest.

Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), which can occur when otherwise healthy individuals neglect to eat, can slow the speed at which people process information and shorten their attention span, researchers explain. Although low blood sugar can be reversed with just a few bites of a sandwich, it can affect daily activities at work and at home, according to the report in the October issue of Diabetes Care.

The results of the study apply to both healthy individuals who ignore hunger pangs and to diabetics, who must monitor blood sugar (glucose) and insulin levels on an ongoing basis, Dr. Ian J. Deary, a study author from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, told Reuters Health. He added that hypoglycemia occurs when the brain is temporarily deprived of glucose, its main source of energy.

``Many complex attention tasks that are relevant to everyday life are likely to be impaired during moderate hypoglycemia,'' Deary and colleagues write.

To examine the effects of low blood sugar on the brain, the investigators induced hypoglycemia in 20 healthy men and women through injections of synthetic insulin. Insulin, the body's key blood sugar-regulating hormone, allows the body to use sugar from the blood as fuel. Injecting insulin into the bloodstream can cause dips in blood sugar levels.

Volunteers underwent a series of tests to measure nonverbal intelligence, including their ability to solve problems, and to measure attention during periods of low and normal blood sugar.

One test asked study participants to search for particular symbols on a map for a 2-minute period. In another, volunteers pretended they were on an elevator and were asked to determine which floor the elevator had reached based on a series of tones played on a tape.

Individuals were less able to pay attention during hypoglycemia, the report indicates, and they also processed visual and auditory information more slowly. In the map tests, participants were able to pick out designated symbols correctly but the speed at which they located symbols declined. Nonverbal intelligence, however, was not affected.

``During hypoglycemia, a significant deterioration occurs in attentional abilities,'' Deary's team concludes.

SOURCE: Diabetes Care 2001;24:1745-1750.

Reference Source 89

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