When a woman complains of irritability, mood swings, sugar cravings, difficulty losing weight, fatigue and energy crashes, I know one thing for sure: she's dealing with hormone imbalance.
Hormone imbalance is no picnic, so finding and eliminating the cause is critical to regaining your energy and your sanity. For many women with thyroid problems, adrenal fatigue and PMS, blood sugar imbalance is often one of the biggest causes of fatigue, so getting your blood sugar balanced is one of the most critical steps you can take to reset your hormones and regain your energy and mental clarity.
5 Reasons Sugar Is Wrecking Your Energy and Your Mood
- Sugar depletes the body of key nutrients, including magnesium, calcium and Vitamin D.
- Sugar suppresses immunity. Studies have shown that sugar suppresses the activity of immune cells for several hours.
- Sugar raises cortisol levels and promotes inflammation. Chronically elevated cortisol levels lead to further nutrient deficiencies and energy crashes.
- Sugar ages your brain. Spikes in blood sugar creates the formation of abnormal blood proteins, known as advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). These glycated proteins cross the blood-brain barrier where they promote inflammation and oxidation, another word for rapid aging.
- Sugar promotes leaky gut by feeding the opportunistic flora that can damage the gut lining.
A Tale of Two Hormones
What is blood sugar imbalance and how does it wreck your hormones and steal your energy? It all starts with insulin, the hormone responsible for blood sugar regulation.
Insulin is released from the pancreas when blood sugar levels rise. It's job is to grab sugar from the blood and escort it into your cells where it can be burned for energy.
When you indulge in a sugary treat, or any refined carbohydrates for that matter, your pancreas floods your systems with insulin to stabilize your blood sugar levels. This flood of insulin quickly moves the sugar from the blood into the cells, causing blood sugar levels to dip just as quickly as they rose, and creates a condition known as reactive hypoglycemia, where your energy levels come crashing down hard, leaving you exhausted, irritable and hungry.
Any excess sugar that can't be used by your cells for energy is carried to the liver where it's converted to glycogen, a storage form of sugar. Excess glycogen in the liver is converted to fatty acids (fat) and stored in your tissues. This is why eating sugar and refined carbohydrates is one of the quickest ways to pack on unwanted pounds.
The Signs of Blood Sugar Imbalance
- Craving sugar and refined carbohydrates
- Irritability and brain fog
- Depression and mood swings
- Shakiness and hunger a few hours after eating
- Poor concentration
- Weight gain around the abdomen
- Difficulty sleeping
As you can see, your body has an efficient system for dealing with spikes in blood sugar. However, many women rely on sugar and refined carbs on a daily basis to keep their energy levels up and to soothe their emotions. This creates a roller coaster effect of imbalanced blood sugar levels that are guaranteed to leave you exhausted, irritable and anxious.
Remember that hormones don't exist in a vacuum. Rather, they interact with one another in powerful ways, and when one hormone becomes imbalanced, it can quickly take other hormones along for the ride. It's not surprising then, that the constant surge in insulin also causes cortisol levels to rise.
In fact, you could say insulin and cortisol have a great working relationship. One of cortisol's main functions is to help regulate blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, cortisol has a lot of influence on the other hormones as well- from your thyroid to the sex hormones, progesterone and estrogen.
Sugar Depletes Your Body of Essential Nutrients
As soon as the initial surge in blood sugar drops, your adrenal glands go to work raising cortisol levels in order bring blood sugar levels back up to a stable place. In order to keep a constant influx of cortisol into your system, your body needs certain key nutrients in abundance- vitamin C, magnesium, and chromium, to name a few.
When cortisol remains chronically elevated, you soon become depleted in these key nutrients, as your adrenals burn through your nutrient reserves in their feverish attempt to pump out more and more cortisol. Eventually, your adrenals can't keep up with the body's constant demand for cortisol and your cortisol levels tank, along with your mood and energy- a condition referred to as adrenal fatigue.
The nutrients needed to produce cortisol aren't the only ones that take a hit when you fill up on sugar, either. Just look at a few examples of how sugar is responsible for nutrient deficiencies:
Magnesium has been shown to play a key role in regulating insulin and preventing Type 2 diabetes- and it's almost always deficient in women who are struggling with blood sugar imbalance.
Sugar has also been implicated in depleted calcium levels as well. Studies have linked high sugar intake to excess secretion of calcium in the urine.1 High levels of cortisol have also been linked to poor bone health and lower levels of calcium in the body.
Vitamin D deficiency has also been implicated in excessive sugar intake. Vitamin D is one of the most vital nutrients for fixing your thyroid, and it's a common deficiency for many women struggling with their thyroid health. Researchers have discovered that eating sugar actually suppresses the body's ability to synthesize and use vitamin D. By the way, your ability to absorb calcium is dependent upon sufficient levels of vitamin D, so this is yet another way sugar robs your body of the nutrients you need to stay healthy and energetic. (Source)
Sugar Messes with Your Period and Fertility
Sugar can totally mess up your period as well. Cortisol has been aptly named a bully hormone and competes with progesterone for the same receptors in the cell. As cortisol levels rise, progesterone levels will fall in response. When progesterone is low, you will likely experience PMS, irregular menstrual cycles and heavy, painful periods.
Excess insulin can also raise levels of testosterone and estrogen, two important sex hormones which can also disrupt ovulation when chronically elevated. In fact, ovulation can be disrupted to the point where fertility is affected and conceiving becomes difficult.
How To Fix Your Blood Sugar Imbalance
Let's face it, kicking the sugar habit can be tough. The good news is, it can be done! Below I outline the steps to give blood sugar imbalance the boot for good. From what to eat to the top supplements for healthy blood sugar balance, you can finally get your mood and energy levels on an even keel with this plan.
The Blood Sugar Balance Protocol
- Stop Eating Sugar- Sure, it may be tough at first, but by removing sugar from the diet, your blood sugar levels will begin to naturally stabilize and your cravings for the sweet stuff will begin to abate. This doesn't just mean table sugar, by the way. Refined carbohydrates- crackers, cookies, bagels, etc.- quickly turn to simple sugars in your body and spike your blood sugar as well.
- Include plenty of quality protein in your diet, including grass fed beef, wild-caught fish, organic poultry, etc. Protein has been shown to help keep insulin levels stable so you don't experience the nasty highs and lows of blood sugar imbalance.
- Eat healthy fats- While poor quality fats can increase inflammation, eating the right fats will help with satiety, so you aren't constantly hungry and reaching for sugary snacks. Look for organic extra-virgin olive oil, ghee, tallow, avocados and avocado oil.
- Get plenty of fiber from veggies- Fiber will also help you feel full longer, as it slows the absorption of sugar from the intestines to the bloodstream. Green leafy veggies are especially important, as they contribute some important nutrients to the blood sugar balancing game, including magnesium.
- Choose Quality Carbohydrates- Not all carbs are bad. Opt for nutrient dense, complex carbohydrates that won't spike your blood sugar. These include sweet potatoes, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, carrots, zucchini, and whole grains such as brown rice and millet (if you can tolerate grains).
- Add Cinnamon to Your Diet- Cinnamon has been shown in numerous studies to help regulate blood sugar levels. (Source) Just a half teaspoon of cinnamon a day has a positive effect on blood sugar. Add it to your morning smoothie or try chopping a whole, organic apple and simmering in a small pan with a few tablespoons of water, a few raisins and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon for a treat that is also good for gut health.
- Supplement with Chromium- An essential micronutrient that helps regulate insulin levels, chromium has been shown to improve insulin resistance in those with Type 2 diabetes. It's considered a safe supplement to use, so if insulin resistance is a problem for you, consider supplementing with 200 to 1,000 mcg per day of chromium chelate. (Source)
- Consider supplementing with Inositol- a naturally occurring B complex vitamin that has been shown to help regulate testoserone, inositol is especially beneficial for those with PCOS and PMS. (Source)
- Manage Stress- Because stress raises cortisol levels and can contribute to sugar cravings, it's important to find healthy ways to handle stress that don't involve indulging in sugary treats. Try yoga, prayer, exercise or music to keep stress in check.
Once your blood sugar levels are balanced, you can expect to feel energetic and alert throughout the day. You'll be able to go at least three to four hours between meals without feeling hungry, irritable or shaky and your sugar cravings will be a thing of the past.
Perhaps best of all, you will notice stable moods, better mental focus and improved memory. Sugar is public enemy #1 when it comes to brain health, so you owe it to yourself to stabilize your blood sugar, my friend.
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1. Lawoyin, S., et al. “Bone mineral content in patients with calcium urolithiasis.” Metabolism 28:1250-1254.1979.