Sugar and the Impact to Your Hormones & Microbiome
Updated: Sep 19, 2021
You wake up in the morning thinking about it. You crash in the afternoon, needing it for a pick me up. After dinner, the cravings are so intense that you give into it. The “it” in this case is processed sugar and processed sugar is one of, if not THE MOST detrimental foods to your health that you can intake into your body.
As modern humans, many of us consume sugar for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert thanks to a food industry that puts sugar in pretty much everything. We consume simple carbohydrates such as refined sugars and highly processed carbohydrates that cause havoc to our hormones, digestion, and gut function.
What Happens When I Eat Sugar?
It all comes down to insulin regulation, another hormone in our body. When we eat, foods that contain carbohydrates are converted into glucose and this glucose moves through the blood stream to help fuel our bodies. This rise in blood glucose triggers our pancreas to produce insulin. The insulin tells the body’s cells to use the glucose in the bloodstream which gradually brings the blood glucose levels down.
In some instances, like with the liver and muscles, glucose is stored in the form of glycogen. We NEED sugar & carbohydrates to survive. It is our cell’s most basic form of energy, so carbohydrates are NOT BAD. However, when the amount of sugar that we eat on a daily basis (usually in the form of processed sugars) becomes too high it results in insulin resistance.
What is Insulin Resistance?
Chronically eating a diet high in processed sugars causes the cells in our muscles, fat & liver to have difficulty responding to insulin which results in the cells having difficulty with using the glucose in your blood. This causes the pancreas to produce more and more insulin and over time, blood sugar levels increase. When your body becomes resistant to insulin, it can cause obesity, diabetes, and overall cardiovascular health issues.
How Does Processed Sugar & Insulin Resistance Impact Sex Hormone Function?
High insulin levels can impair the normal function of the female ovaries due to the production of the hormone testosterone. Insulin peaks during meals and high sugar peaks can lead to low levels of an important protein known as sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG).
In both men and women SHBG is responsible for optimal muscle mass, body fat and bone structure. SHBG and testosterone have an inverse relationship so low SHBG often equals high testosterone and high levels can also affect the development of follicles, increase the likelihood of PCOS, affect the periodicity of periods and cause excess body hair and acne
Sugar is also linked to estrogen, a hormone responsible for many processes in the body. Lower levels of SHBG (due to high insulin levels as already stated) release estrogen into your system, contributing to symptoms of estrogen dominance including, aching breasts, fibroids and severe menstruation.
Cravings for sweet or sugary foods can lead to the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Progesterone is needed to produce cortisol, so when cortisol spikes your progesterone levels are lowered, resulting in an imbalance that can worsen many symptoms of estrogen dominance, including cramps and cortisol-related inflammation.
Obesity, hormonal disorders, unnecessary thyroid replacement therapy, over-the-counter and prescription medications, lack of exercise, chronic stress, sleep deprivation, excessive alcohol intake and insufficient amounts of protein and fat can also all contribute to insulin resistance.
Sugar and the Impact to Your Gut Function
I’ve mentioned it time and time again, but an imbalanced microbiome and inflamed gut can cause major havoc to your hormones (check out my BLOG on imbalanced hormones here). Sugar is a major contributor. “Too much sugar can reduce beneficial bacteria & increase opportunistic bacteria, leading to leaky gut syndrome” (1). Opportunistic bacteria (the bad bacteria) change the mucosal barrier of the intestine, causing tight junctions to open, resulting in harmful substances to pass through and cause inflammation. Interestingly, the imbalanced microbiome and damage to the gut, will also increase cravings for sugar. It becomes a “chicken & egg” scenario.
High levels of sugar also affect the ability of the gut microbiome to regulate blood sugar. “A recent study examined 33 infants who, genetically, had a high risk of developing Type 1 diabetes. It was found that the diversity of microbiome dropped abruptly prior to the onset of type 1 diabetes. Additionally, researchers also demonstrated noticeable levels of unhealthy bacteria species prior to the diagnosis” (1)
What Can You Do to Reverse the Effects of Insulin Resistance?
A holistic treatment plan with a strong emphasis on a balanced diet can help correct hormonal imbalances due to excessive sugar. The most important part of this plan is to eliminate processed sugars completely. There is no need to wait too long before a diet overhaul. A balanced diet with fiber-rich carbohydrates (yes this means fruit is OK!), high-quality protein and healthy fats satisfy you, frees you from constant cravings and keeps your hormones in balance and your blood sugar normalized. When your hormones are in balance, not only will your blood sugar stabilize, but also your mood, sleep and energy levels will increase.
Once you have balanced your hormones it is also important that you lower your stress levels, otherwise you may continue to have difficulty balancing your blood sugar without dietary and lifestyle changes.
To curb sugar cravings, supplements may also help. Make sure your multivitamins contain zinc, vitamins A, B and C. Omega-3 fatty acids and fish oils because they not only help with cravings and inflammation, but also improve insulin sensitivity. This will keep you full and healthy and push you to the edge of constant cravings.
Working with a Functional Practitioner who can identify areas of dysfunction and who is trained to understand how every cell, organ and system in your body is interconnected, can be a game changer for many. We work with you to curb the sugar in a sustainable manner with individualized protocols and provide consistent guidance and coaching along the way!.
· (1) http://sydneygastroenterologist.com.au/blog/how-too-much-sugar-affects-the-gut-microbiome/