Blood sugar levels. Unless you’re diabetic, chances are this isn’t something you give a lot of thought to. But it’s something that you should really care about.
We need sugar (glucose if you want to get technical) in our blood to function, but we need it to stay within a certain range to function well.
Day to day, unstable blood sugars that spike and plummet can lead to some rather unfavourable symptoms such as:
- Brain fog;
- Extreme hunger;
- Feeling irritable or ‘hangry’;
- Craving sugar; and
- The ‘3pm slump’;
- Strong cravings for sugary foods.
Sound familiar? All of these are fairly good indicators that you may be riding the ‘blood sugar roller coaster.’
Long term unstable blood sugars have been linked to:
- Hormone imbalance;
- Weight gain or inability to lose weight;
- Low energy or chronic fatigue;
- Health conditions linked to stress, such as heart disease, depression and gut issues;
How does this all work you ask? What can I do?
Bear with the science while we explain the ins and outs of blood sugar, and how to keep yours stable.
The Highs and Lows of Blood Sugar
In the extremes, high blood sugar can affect your nervous system and organ function, whereas low blood sugar can put you in a coma. As clearly neither of these extremes are compatible with good health, your body is working 24/7 to regulate your blood sugars, keeping them within a certain range.
When your body detects that blood sugar levels are creeping outside of the optimal range, or might be heading that way, it sets off a cascade of hormone production to protect us.
The two main hormones involved are insulin and cortisol. Here’s where things get juicy (and a little science-y).
Hormonal Response; Insulin and Cortisol
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates the amount of glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream. It does this by shuttling any excess glucose out of our blood and into our cells.
This is a very natural and normal response to eating carbohydrates. Insulin and carbohydrates aren’t inherently ‘bad.’
Issues with insulin only arise when what we eat forces it into overdrive, as is the case with sweet foods and refined carbohydrates (such as bread, pastries, baked goods, pasta and noodles made from refined flour).
Often when we produce a large amount of insulin, it actually ends up dropping blood sugar a little too low. This time it’s not insulin that jumps to the rescue this time but stress hormones; cortisol and adrenaline. These two hormones:
- Start breaking down muscle tissue for fast fuel
- Tell your brain that its top priority right now really should be getting a sugar fix (hello cravings).
Blood sugar that drops too low and activates a stress response can also be the result of going prolonged periods without food and exercising fasted. Neither of which are advisable for someone that already has high levels of stress in their life.
The Blood Sugar, Sex Hormones Connection
When riding the blood sugar roller coaster becomes a regular occurrence, it can have a rather unfavourable flow on effect to our sex hormones.
When insulin levels are high all the time, our cells become less sensitive to it, and we need larger amounts of this hormone to do the same job.
This is termed insulin resistance and is a metabolic condition often associated with:
- Higher than optimal androgen levels;
- Irregular or absent menstrual cycles;
- Troubles with fertility;
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS);
- Weight gain;
- Acne and unwanted hair growth.
Dealing with both high and low blood sugar is also, understandably, a stress on the body that triggers our ‘fight or flight’ response. In a stress response, all body systems are geared towards survival and survival only; non-essential functions such as reproduction are momentarily put on hold.
Both cortisol and progesterone are made from the same precursor hormone; pregnenolone. While our body is focused on survival, progesterone production plummets. Low progesterone in relation to oestrogen paints a picture of oestrogen dominance, characterised by
- Stubborn weight gain;
- Mood swings;
- Fluid retention and bloating;
- Heavy periods.
This is why balancing your blood sugar levels is so essential for balancing your hormones.
If you can't balance your blood sugar over a day, you don’t have a chance of balancing your hormones over a month.
What You Can Do
1. Eat right for you
We will all do well from eating a balanced diet of healthy fats, quality protein and the right kind of carbs. However, the best way to balance our blood sugar stems from being aware of your ‘macronutrient type.’
For example, some people do really well on starchy carbs such as potatoes, kumara and gluten free grains. Whereas for others, these types of foods can leave them feeling sleepy and unsatisfied.
Our Eve test reports include insight into how to best balance your blood sugar levels because we want you to know just how important this is for hormone balance. We tell you which macronutrient type is best for you and what your balanced plate should look like. We’ll even give you recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks to help you adapt.
2. Ditch sugar
The most efficient way to spike your blood sugar? Sugar. Especially when consumed in the absence of fat, protein or fibre. E.g. Whole fruit: yes. Fruit juice: no.
Yes, natural sugars count too. Dates, honey, agave and maple syrup still play games with your blood sugars (although arguably to a lesser amount). It’s all about moderation with natural sugars. Raw treats are still treats (as much as we wish they weren’t).
3. Get enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is one of the best ways to improve insulin sensitivity and regulate cortisol. Just four nights of poor sleep has been shown to reduce insulin sensitivity by a whopping 30%, while also stimulating our hunger hormones; leptin and ghrelin.
It’s doesn’t take a scientist to see how poor sleep can lead to weight gain over time.
4. Move your body
Exercise depletes glycogen stores and increases insulin sensitivity, both of which are great for blood sugar balance. Just be sure not to over do it - intense or prolonged exercise without adequate fuel can lead to low blood sugar and is incredibly stressful on your body.
Looking for more information? Head over to our FAQs page where you can find out about Eve, what the Eve Hormone Balance Test measures, when the best time to test your hormones is, and more.
Don’t forget to check out our blog 5 Common Signs of Hormone Imbalances to see if those physical sensations you’re experiencing could be hormone related.