In my last blog about eating for balanced hormones I brushed over balancing blood sugar levels. That’s because hormones and blood sugar balancing is such an important topic that I wanted to dedicate an entire blog to it.
So what has balancing blood sugar levels got to do with hormones? Everything!
Remember, all hormones are connected and balancing blood sugar levels is all about the hormone insulin which interacts with:
- Our stress hormone, cortisol;
- Our sex hormones oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone;
- Our sleep hormone melatonin;
- And our satiety hormones leptin and ghrelin.
It is the interaction of insulin and cortisol which is particularly interesting as this is what has the largest impact on the other hormones.
Simply put, when insulin goes up, so too does cortisol. This may result in:
- Lower progesterone;
- Impaired oestrogen function;
- Excess testosterone;
- Thyroid dysfunction;
- Impaired leptin and ghrelin function;
- Dysregulation of melatonin
Back to basics
Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar. When we eat sugar, the pancreas releases insulin to transport sugar from the bloodstream to the cells to be used as energy. When the cells are full up, glucose is stored in the liver as glycogen to be released as energy at a later date.
When we eat a sugary meal, the pancreas very quickly releases insulin to remove the sugar from the bloodstream, and we experience a blood sugar crash. At the point of the crash, the body thinks it’s under attack and starts releasing cortisol as a protective mechanism – that is releasing stored sugar in the system to give you the energy to fight or flight.
The longer-term picture
If we eat too much sugar daily, eventually the cells and liver become full and shut down the ability to store the sugar. The bloodstream remains full of glucose, the pancreas keeps releasing insulin in an attempt to clear it. We have excess glucose and excess insulin in the blood which also results in excess cortisol in the system. Meanwhile, the cells, which are in shut down mode, are starved of glucose and we end up feeling tired, foggy-brained, hungry and craving sugar. This leads to a vicious circle of feeling tired and in need of more sugar to make it through the day. Longer-term, we become resistant to insulin and then we are looking at diabetes.
The impact on other hormones
- Increased levels of insulin lead to increased levels of our stress hormone, cortisol – which leads to weight gain, inability to deal with the little things that upset us and sleep disturbances.
- Cortisol and progesterone sit on the same hormonal pathway. The body will always prioritise making cortisol over all other hormones, so increased levels of cortisol will be at the expense of progesterone resulting in ovulation, period and fertility problems
- Long term lowered progesterone levels can result in low oestrogen and testosterone.
- Excess cortisol has an impact on sleep. Impaired sleep together with raised insulin levels affects the human growth hormone and our ability to use fat as energy. When we have excess fat in the body, it will act as an endocrine organ and produce oestrogen.
- Blood sugar imbalances block the hormone leptin – the hormone that tells us we have had enough to eat. Leptin is paired with our hunger hormone ghrelin, so if leptin is out, ghrelin will be too. This means we end up feeling hungry, more often, less satisfied after a meal and craving sugar.
So for me, when thinking about balancing hormones, whether that be painful periods, PCOS, menopausal symptoms or anything in between, blood sugar balancing is an absolute must.
That starts with an anti-inflammatory diet and reducing sugar, refined carbohydrates and alcohol.
If you would like to find out more about how your blood sugar balance may be influencing your hormones, please book a free discovery call today.