Struggling from hormone imbalances? Sugar could be the culprit

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Hormone imbalances are rampant

Nowadays, 75% of premenopausal women are struggling with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and up to 80% of menopausal women are struggling with hot flashes(1,2). In addition, the incidences of infertility and hormone-driven cancers are on the rise. Not surprisingly, these have more to do with the sugar and refined carbohydrate consumption than the lack of pills.

Here’s why sugar can throw off your hormones:

Blood sugar rollercoasters 

When you consume a high carbohydrate meal, your blood sugar increases to unhealthy levels, causing a surge of insulin. This rapidly reduces blood sugar, causing very low blood sugar, called “postprandial syndrome” for low-normal levels or “reactive hypoglycemia” if your blood sugar reaches under 70 mg/dL. As a result, you may feel the sugar crash symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, moodiness, irritability, anxiety, hunger, and more carbohydrate cravings(3). Many people reach for even more high carbohydrate foods to feel better. 

Unfortunately, eating more sugar leads to the same vicious rollercoaster again, which eventually leads to weight gain, insulin resistance, and type II diabetes.

Sugar = Stress

The blood sugar rollercoaster is extremely stressful to the body. High blood sugar raises oxidative stress, while low blood sugar requires the stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to increase blood sugar(4). This can put you in a constant fight or flight mode, which reduces the resources available to produce healthy levels of hormones.    

Insulin resistance throws off hormones

Insulin resistance reduces sex hormone-binding globulin, a protein that helps maintain hormone balance(5). This can lead to excess testosterone in women, resulting in polycystic ovarian syndrome, abnormal hair growth, and infertility. 

Insulin resistance can be detrimental to fertility. Even a healthy pregnancy can increase insulin resistance by 60%(6). As a result, many women with borderline insulin resistance develop gestational diabetes when they are pregnant, which significantly increases the risk of pregnancy complications.  

Insulin resistance and inflammation worsens hormonal conditions

Insulin resistance is extremely inflammatory, which can worsen hormone-driven conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, and acne(7).

Women who experience premenstrual syndrome are more likely to eat sweets and refined carbohydrates close to their period(8). In addition, those with PMS have different carbohydrate metabolism comparing those who do not suffer from PMS, and hypoglycemia seemed to worsen PMS symptoms(9).

Menopause is a time of major metabolic changes as the body adapts to a new lower estrogen level. In menopausal women, hot flashes are associated with higher insulin resistance(10).

Balance your sugar to balance your hormone

The blood sugar rollercoasters are not your fault. We all grew up watching breakfast cereal commercials, and being told that a high-carbohydrate diet is good for us. The default American diet and lifestyle are throwing off our hormones and contributing to chronic diseases.

In order to balance your hormones naturally, it is important to stop the blood sugar roller coasters. Fortunately, it is possible to do so naturally, such as by doing a sugar detox, exercising, and learning to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. 

References:

  1. Patient education: Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) (Beyond the Basics) – UpToDate. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/premenstrual-syndrome-pms-and-premenstrual-dysphoric-disorder-pmdd-beyond-the-basics.
  2. Bansal, R. & Aggarwal, N. Menopausal hot flashes: A concise review. J. Midlife. Health 10, 6 (2019).
  3. UW Health. Nutrition Management of Low Blood Sugar Without Diabetes (Postprandial Syndrome and Reactive Hypoglycemia). Health Facts for You. (2019) https://www.uwhealth.org/healthfacts/nutrition/396.pdf
  4. Tesfaye, N. & Seaquist, E. R. Neuroendocrine responses to hypoglycemia. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 1212, 12–28 (2010).
  5. Wallace, I. R., McKinley, M. C., Bell, P. M. & Hunter, S. J. Sex hormone-binding globulin and insulin resistance. Clinical Endocrinology vol. 78 321–329 (2013).
  6. Catalano, P. M. Obesity, insulin resistance, and pregnancy outcome. Reproduction vol. 140 365–371 (2010).
  7. Casas-Agustench, P., Bulló, M. & Salas-Salvadó, J. Nuts, inflammation and insulin resistance. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition vol. 19 124–130 (2010).
  8. Cross, G. B., Marley, J., Miles, H. & Willson, K. Changes in nutrient intake during the menstrual cycle of overweight women with premenstrual syndrome. Br. J. Nutr. 85, 475–482 (2001).
  9. Zarei, S., Mosalanejad, L. & Ghobadifar, M. A. Blood glucose levels, insulin concentrations, and insulin resistance in healthy women and women with premenstrual syndrome: A comparative study. Clin. Exp. Reprod. Med. 40, 76–82 (2013).
  10. Thurston, R. C. et al. Vasomotor symptoms and insulin resistance in the study of women’s health across the nation. J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 97, 3487–3494 (2012).

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