Health

Is sugar hijacking your hormones?

Our hormones control nearly every physiological process in the body and are involved in every aspect of health including our metabolism, reproductive system, and even our immune function.  In addition to playing a major role in controlling our weight, mood, appetite and sex drive, these chemical messengers also have a profound effect on our emotional & physical health, which is why we need them to be balanced for the body to function optimally. 

Maintaining hormonal balance is complex as hormones are often naturally in flux.  Different factors such as lifestyle, stress, poor sleep & an unhealthy diet high in sugar can cause hormones to become imbalanced. How do we know if we’re out of balance?  Ask yourself a few of these questions… Do I have sugar cravings, mood swings, PMS, am I overweight or carry excess belly fat?  If yes, chances are that our many health conditions may be a result of hormonal imbalance. 

Before we dive into why our hormones may be out of whack, let’s first get to know of few of these hormones, especially those related to our metabolism more closely. 

Insulin (“Storage” hormone): Secreted by the pancreas, this hormone tells the body how to use sugar and is highly affected by the diet.  Insulin picks up glucose and transfers it into your cells where it is used for energy. 

What happens when there is too much insulin in the bloodstream?  Cells no longer properly respond to insulin signals which can then lead to insulin resistance.  According to the Cleveland Clinic, one of the most notable effects of too much sugar is insulin resistance. Obesity, inflammation, diabetes and even heart disease are all connected. What’s the best way to avoid this? Reduce your sugar intake, limit alcohol consumption and cut down on refined carbs…but more on that later. 

Leptin (“Satiety” hormone) & Ghrelin (“Hunger” hormone):  Leptin signals the brain that there is enough fat in storage and prevents overeating. Ghrelin is released when the stomach is empty and stops when the stomach is full.  Including protein at every meal will help to promote satiety. 

Cortisol (“Stress” hormone): Produced by the adrenal glands when the body is stressed. High levels of cortisol can lead to overeating and are linked to belly fat and weight gain.  Cortisol levels often rise when there is an increase in blood sugar levels.  Feeling exhausted, wired and anxious are all side effects making us feel like stress is less manageable.

Estrogen: This female sex hormone regulates the reproductive system & helps optimize the action of insulin.  When estrogen is out of balance it can cause changes in weight, especially in pre-menopausal women. What can you do?  Broccoli, cauliflower and even flax seeds have been shown to help balance estrogen. 

Thyroid:  responsible for maintaining metabolism, cognitive function and body temperature.  This gland influences almost all of the metabolic processes in the body. 

The Sugar Link!

We’ve all heard about and even know of the negative effects sugar can have on the waistline, but a diet high in sugar can also lead to significant hormonal imbalance.   You don’t eat sugar you say?  This includes all refined carbs, like your morning muffin or bagel (sugar), lunchtime pasta (sugar) and dinnertime potato, rice, and wine (sugar!).  Sugar is hiding everywhere, and as a society, we are addicted! Sugar is in our tomato sauce, our drinks, our yoghurt, and even in lurking in “healthy” protein bars. 

In addition to wreaking havoc on our hormonal system, excess sugar consumption is also linked to headaches, brain fog, mood swings, exhaustion, PMS, cramps, digestive disturbances and even more sugar cravings.

Keep your hormones in check by cleaning up your diet

Food is information to the body and making sure it’s fueled with the right foods is essential to hormonal balance.  Simple lifestyle changes and healthy food choices can help reset and restore proper hormone levels.  A holistic nutrition plan can help you ditch the diet that’s leaving you exhausted, constantly hangry and help get your hormones out of overdrive!

5 Tips on getting those hormones back in check

  1. Kick sugar to the curb!

Want to avoid obesity, belly fat and diabetes?  Break up with sugar.  This especially includes liquid sugars, even those natural ones in your beloved green juice (check the labels). To the body, sugar is sugar.  Highly refined carbs (bread, pasta, muffins) promote insulin resistance which can to lead to hormonal imbalance quickly.   

  • Give your diet some much deserved attention

Eating a well-balanced diet of high quality protein (lowers hunger hormone ghrelin), healthy fats and fiber-rich carbohydrates will keep you satisfied, keep your hormones in balance and free you from constant cravings.  Eating anti-inflammatory foods like leafy greens, fatty fish and nuts improve sensitivity to leptin and help get appetite suppressors back in check.  See where you can start adding in an extra serving of vegg each day.  Eventually the good will crowd out the bad. 

  • Manage your stress 

High stress levels wreak havoc on your hormones.  Over time, chronic stress causes cortisol levels to remain elevated which leads to that stubborn belly fat and hormonal imbalance.  Finding space to include massage, meditation, yoga and some quiet YOU time can all help normalize your cortisol levels.  

  • Mage good sleep a priority

Getting good quality sleep may be among one of the MOST important factors for hormonal balance.  Even with a perfect diet and exercise routine, a lack of restorative sleep can lead to imbalance of insulin, cortisol, and important growth hormones necessary for repair. According to a study in the International Journal of Endocrinology, adverse effects of improper sleep may contribute to obesity, diabetes, and problems with appetite.

  • Move your body (everyday!) 

A major benefit to hormonal health is regular physical activity.  According to Dr. Sara Gottfried, MD, author of The Hormone Cure, “muscle serves as another endocrine organ that play a key role in metabolism by talking to other organs and releasing hormones”. Exercise also stimulates production of testosterone which helps boost sex drive and increase muscle mass.  High intensity sweat sessions and heavy resistance training have been shown to do this best over endurance training.   

Keeping our hormones happy requires a combination of eating to stabilize our blood sugar, getting regular exercise and good quality sleep.  Practicing self care should include all of these as well as being kind to yourself.  See where you can make small changes at first, which can lead to bigger (and more permanent) changes later on. 

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