Got a sugar problem? No shame here, but slamming a sugar treat in between and after each meal of the day is NOT ok.
The average person consumes approximately 22 teaspoons of added sugar on a daily basis. This adds up to an average of 150 pounds of sugar per person per year!
Sugar makes us feel better because it stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain. That’s why you may feel an addictive pull towards that bowl of fun-size snickers bars in the break room.
But have you ever felt the effects of sugar on your body?
Anxiety, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating are just some of the immediate symptoms. not to mention, sugar interferes with the absorption of calcium and magnesium, intestinal motility, depression, hormonal imbalance, Candida overgrowth, chronic yeast infections, breast and ovarian cancer, and increased rate of aging!
How Does Sugar Affect Your Body?
Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar (glucose) and it is released from the pancreas in response to sugar in the bloodstream after being absorbed in the intestine. Its purpose is to transport sugar from your blood and package it into your cells so that it can be burned for energy now and later.
The amount of sugar circulating in your blood is tightly regulated by hormones. If you eat a large amount of sugar you can flood your system, causing a spike in blood sugar levels, which requires the pancreas to make excess insulin to move the sugar to your cells.
If your brain or muscle cells do not need this sugar right away, insulin carries the excess sugar back to the liver where it is stored as glycogen. However, if your liver is also full of glycogen (there is only so much space to store glycogen), then the excess sugar is converted to fatty acids (triglycerides). These fatty acids enter your bloodstream and get stored in your tissues.
In summary, eating sugar and refined carbohydrates causes a dramatic increase in blood sugar and insulin which then results in a similar dramatic drop in your blood sugar levels, also known as a temporary hypoglycemia.
This drop in blood sugar levels leaves you irritable and anxious and leads you to crave more carbohydrates (usually in the form of refined sugars) to bring your blood sugar level back up to normal. And around and around you go.
Now, that doesn’t mean that all carbs are bad.
When eating healthy complex carbohydrates (whole grains, beans, potatoes, carrots, etc), the break down is gradual and keeps insulin and sugar levels balanced with only slight increases after meals. You get the benefit of carbohydrates without the hormonal rollercoaster.
How Does sugar affect Women’s Hormones?
Women’s sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) are the the conductors of your menstrual cycle. Without this perfect harmony of hormones, ovulation can become irregular or disappear altogether! Without ovulation, we don’t get the proper production and balance of progesterone and estrogen.
- Excess sugar intake leads to excess insulin production. If insulin is out of it’s normal range, this leads to a downstream cascade of other hormones operating outside of their ranges
- When insulin levels bounce up with high blood sugar, cortisol levels bounce up with low blood sugar. Cortisol is what frees up sugar from the liver into the blood stream after you’ve hit that sugar-low. Cortisol competes with progesterone for the same receptors. Unfortunately cortisol always wins this fight
- Excess insulin has been shown to cause the ovaries to produce more testosterone and less estradiol. This excess testosterone can cause your ovaries to malfunction, which can lead to sporadic ovulation of lack of ovulation (thought to be the cause of PCOS)
- Also, high insulin raises estrogen production, and this excess estrogen can suppress follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) production (the hormone responsible for maturing your follicles to release an egg). When FSH is suppressed, this causes luteinizing hormone (LH), to dominate over FSH (PCOS)
- When LH to FSH ratio is too high, ovulation becomes irregular or is inhibited completely. This is because FSH isn’t able to complete it’s job (PCOS)
- If you don’t ovulate, you don’t release an egg. And if you don’t release an egg, then then you don’t form a corpus luteam. If you don’t form a corpus luteum, then you don’t make any progesterone. Without enough progesterone, the body can’t fully support normal ovulation cycles or pregnancy
- This can cause irregular periods or stop menstruation altogether. It can also lead to all the other conditions of low progesterone – PMS, PCOS, Endometriosis, Fibroids and so on
Other Negative Effects of Sugar
High insulin levels not only affect your menstural cycle, but it can also lead to excess inflammatory chemicals – the basis for all chronic disease! This link between too much insulin and cellular inflammation is why hormonal imbalances often improve when eating to stabilize blood sugar.
Elevated insulin levels during sleep can actually block HGH (human growth hormone) release, inhibiting proper repair and recovery of tissues. It also prevents one from going into REM sleep due to the increase in cortisol as it works to manage blood sugar levels.
And finally, insulin resistance also affects the ability to use stored fat as energy. One CANNOT effectively burn stored fat with elevated levels of insulin in the blood. This is becasue our fat cells contain an enzyme called hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL).This hormone works to break down body fat into fatty acids to be burned for energy. Insulin suppresses the activity of HSL, and thus is believed to further promote weight gain.
Conquer Your Sugar Addicition
Nicole Jardim, founder of Fix Your Period program, has put together 12 steps for handling sugar cravings and achieving control over sugar ‘addiction.’
Consider working with a Functional Medicine doctor before implementing any dietary or supplement changes. And only consider the following steps that feel right for you.
- Reduce or eliminate caffeine. The ups and downs of caffeine include dehydration and blood sugar swings. Consider weaning off slowly, here’s how.
- Good fats will help to modulate cravings and stabilize blood sugar. Eliminate fat-free or low-fat packaged snack-foods. These foods contain high quantities of sugar to compensate for lack of flavor and fat.
- Crowd out the bad stuff! Quitting sugar cold turkey is not a good idea. Go slow and take it one day at a time. Focus on foods you can ADD to your diet and not everything you need to take out. For example, including 4-5oz. of protein and 2 handfuls of veggies at every meal will do the trick.
- Separate your emotions from food. Start to pay attention to our culture’s obsession with sugar as a reward and as holiday treats. Find other options.
- Drink water.Sometimes sweet cravings are a sign of dehydration. Have a glass of water and wait a few minutes to see what happens.
- Use gentle sweets. Avoid chemicalized, artificial sweeteners and foods with added sugar. Use gentle sweeteners like maple syrup, brown rice syrup, dried fruit, stevia and coconut sugar.
- Inspect food labels. Look at the ingredients and pay attention to what kinds of sugar are on the label. See if you can find a healthier alternative.
- Get physically active. Start with simple activities like walking or yoga. Start with 10 minutes a day and gradually increase. Being active helps balance blood sugar levels and reduces tension which will eliminate the need to self-medicate with sugar!
- But not too active. Too much intense activity can cause blood sugar and cortisol to fluctuate widely across the day. Just as an excess of sugar can result in excess insulin. So too can excess stressful workouts result in excess cortisol. If you feel extremely hyped or fatigued afterwards, perhaps it’s too intense for you. at this moment.
- Get more sleep, rest and relaxation. Simple carbohydrates, such as sugar, are the most readily usable forms of energy for an exhausted body and mind. If you’re in a chronic state of stress and/or sleep deprivation, your body will crave the quickest form of energy.
- Experiment with tea. One of my best tricks for curbing cravings in between meals and after dinner is brewing a cup of tea. Focus on teas that include coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom which will naturally taste sweeter.
There’s no shame in wanting a sweet treat, but when you start to feel yourself losing control over the choices you make, act fast with these tips. Managing stable blood sugar is the foundation for more energy and happier hormones. Let us kno if you are struggling to quit the sugar habit.