Gaining hormone balance is not just about correcting one hormone. The endocrine system is so complex, that when that one hormone is detected as out of range, it’s important to go back to the drawing board and ensure a holistic approach is taken to once again have all your hormones humming in harmony.
Why the focus on hormone health? Well, these precious hormones play a part in controlling your moods, energy, hunger levels, cravings, weight, skin and hair health, along with dictating your cycles, libido, fertility, pregnancy and breastfeeding health.
So where should you start when striving for balanced hormones? When addressing one of the main pillars of hormone health- your diet, it is vital to take into account your blood sugar (glucose) balance. Through their impact they have on your leptin and insulin hormones, your blood sugar levels overtime impact all of your hormones downstream, including your adrenals, thyroid and sex hormones. Read on to understand the importance of starting right here.
THE ROLE BLOOD SUGAR’S PLAY FOR HORMONE HEALTH
Regularly experiencing either high or low blood sugar level extremes can contribute to thyroid, adrenal and/or sex hormone imbalance.
If issues are arising here, blood sugar regulation must be addressed for you to gain the full benefit of any further hormone balancing treatment.
When diet choices are high in sugars, the glucose levels in your bloodstream will soar. This initial high is followed by a state of low levels and fluctuation between high and low throughout the day which can lead to headaches, dizziness, mood swings, shakes, behavioural issues, poor concentration, fatigue, excessive sweating and waking throughout the night.
A dramatic increase in blood sugar levels will trigger your trusty organ, the pancreas, to produce insulin. Insulin carries glucose from your blood stream into your cells, where you can happily use it for energy production.
High insulin surges (due to high glucose), over time contributes to a state of insulin resistance. Your body no longer responds to initial insulin spikes and instead requires higher and higher amounts of glucose to recognise its presence and utilise it for blood glucose transport.
The glucose struggles to enter your cells and as a result cannot be used for energy, but instead is stored as fat. When the liver is exposed to high levels of glucose and/ or fructose, fat producing enzymes are activated, contributing long term to type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.1, 2 Taking into consideration the stress blood sugar imbalances place on your adrenal glands, prolonged high glucose levels and insulin resistance are also an underlying driver for thyroid, adrenal and sex hormone imbalance.3
THE CONSEQUENCES OF INSULIN & LEPTIN RESISTANCE
Insulin resistance is a condition where your tissues are no longer sensitive towards secreted insulin. This results in the blood glucose hanging around in your bloodstream for longer, because it is not effectively taken into the tissue, particularly skeletal muscle. As glucose levels elevate, a rise in serum fats derived from fat tissue, also occurs.5
Dr Robert Lustig (Professor of Pediatric Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco)- www.mercola.com explains:
“When your liver turns excess sugar into liver fat and becomes insulin resistant, that generates hyperinsulinemia, and hyperinsulinemia drives energy storage into body fat.”7
Leptin is your hormone which works closely with insulin and basically tells your body when it is full, to stop eating and start burning fat instead. In Leptin resistance, the message from your fat cells to the brain is no longer sensitive to your leptin signal, leading to constant hunger. Over time, insulin and leptin resistance can contribute to the following health conditions:
WHAT CAUSES INSULIN AND LEPTIN RESISTANCE?
- Skin tags
- Keratosis Pelaris (Chicken skin rash commonly found on the upper arms)
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and consequently, issues with fertility health. Learn more about supporting your health preconception, here.
- Ongoing high glucose levels and insulin resistance during pregnancy can contribute to gestational diabetes.
- Difficulty shifting weight and obesity.
- Type 2 diabetes
- Chronic degenerative, inflammatory based diseases, such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, hashimotos thyroiditis, lupus, crohns disease and ulcerative colitis.
- Cardiovascular disease
- Through insulin like growth factor (IGF-1), insulin resistance encourages an environment where cancer can thrive.8
High Fructose, Sugar & Grain Consumption
Insulin resistance often occurs as a result of the over-consumption of carbohydrates, particularly high fructose intake. Sources of fructose include soft drinks, sauces, agave sweetener (watch out for this in raw chocolates), as well as some yoghurts and processed foods. High intake of grains (both refined and whole grain), natural sweeteners and fruit (over 3 pieces/ handfuls per day) can also contribute to insulin resistance, due to the high glucose surge they create.
With insulin resistance, your body requires a heightened production of insulin from your pancreas for your body to respond and take glucose from your dietary carbs, into the cells of your body. Unfortunately, insulin is a known driver for inflammation.
Garry Taubes summed it up well in his informative book Good Calories, Bad Calories.
“…it is fructose, not saturated fats, that contribute to high insulin levels and insulin resistance, promoting adipocyte formation around the liver and midsection, and increasing insulin and leptin levels, all factors associated with premature ageing.”112 Pg. 11
Among many other health implications, fructose blocks the metabolism of glucose in the liver and the conversion of glucose into its stored form, called glycogen. This contributes to ongoing elevated glucose in your bloodstream.
Fructose creates a greater demand for insulin production (from the pancreas) and overtime the muscles of your body become more and more insulin resistant. This causes heightened insulin production, further insulin resistance, increased inflammation production and visceral fat accumulation. This visceral fat is the dangerous abdominal fat found stored around your vital organs such as the pancreas, liver and intestines.
Vitamin D Deficiency
The free nutrient that shines down on us (from the sun) plays an important role in balancing blood sugar levels and controlling inflammation. A deficiency in Vitamin D is important to reverse in order to support healthy insulin, leptin and overall hormone health.9
Learn how you can optimise your personal vitamin D levels, in my free guide.
Inflammation & Visceral Fat
Visceral fat accumulation is the body’s natural way of storing excess energy. Higher levels of visceral fat heighten inflammation production and causes your tissues to respond less to insulin. This worsens the condition of insulin resistance.
“…whatever organ becomes insulin resistant ends up manifesting its own chronic metabolic disease. For example, when you have insulin resistance of the liver, you end up with type 2 diabetes. When you have insulin resistance of the brain, you end up with Alzheimer’s disease. Insulin resistance of the kidney leads to chronic renal disease, and so forth. All of these diseases are insulin resistant states”.12 Dr Lustig explains.
Inflammation, which drives a condition of leptin resistance and insulin resistance, causes a flow on effect of complications with your adrenal and thyroid glands as well as sex hormone imbalances. Controlling inflammation, leptin and insulin is paramount to balancing over all hormone health.
By increasing adrenal glucocorticoid production, our physical, chemical or emotional stress can contribute to a state of insulin resistance, by impairing insulin signalling.13
Toxins & Medications
Exposure to endocrine disrupting toxins, such as xenooestrogens found in plastics and persistent organic pollutants (pesticides and industrial chemicals- also known as POP’s), may be a contributor of insulin resistance.15,16
Find extra education on reducing your exposure to endocrine disrupting toxins in my book, Balanced, The Natural Way To Healthy Hormones
Short term use of the oral contraceptive pill has also shown to deteriorate glucose tolerance and insulin resistance in women without PCOS.17
Low Muscle Mass
It is also important to note that low muscle mass is a significant factor of metabolic syndrome (including insulin resistance), particularly low thigh muscle mass.18
ADDRESS YOUR BLOOD SUGAR, INSULIN AND LEPTIN LEVELS FOR HEALTHY HORMONES
As insulin, leptin, adrenal, thyroid and sex hormones all communicate and rely on one another, achieving overall hormone balance requires attention to nourish your endocrine system holistically. Getting your blood sugars balanced and your body responding well to insulin and leptin hormones, is an important starting point.
You can gain some insights into gaining healthy blood sugar levels in my hormone health book ‘Balanced, The Natural Way To Healthy Hormones‘. If you're thinking about starting or adding to your fam, get yourself in tip top shape with my preconception health guide, here.
(1) DeBoer MD, Gurka MJ, Morrison JA, Woo JG. Inter-relationships between the severity of metabolic syndrome, insulin and adiponectin and their relationship to future type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Int J Obes (Lond). 2016 May 2.
(2) Potenza MA1, Marasciulo FL, Chieppa DM, Brigiani GS. Insulin resistance in spontaneously hypertensive rats is associated with endothelial dysfunction characterized by imbalance between NO and ET-1 production. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2005 Aug;289(2):H813-22.
(3) Kumar AN, Naidu JN, Satyanarayana U, Ramalingam K, Anitha M. Metabolic and Endocrine Characteristics of Indian Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Int J Fertil Steril. 2016 Apr-Jun;10(1):22-8.
(5) Ali F, Ismail A, Kersten S. Molecular mechanisms underlying the potential antiobesity-related diseases effect of cocoa polyphenols. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2014 Jan;58(1):33-48.
(7) Research Proves Causation—Sugar Consumption Increases Risk for Chronic Disease: A Hallmark Of Metabolic Syndrome. Viewed January 25th 2015, http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/01/25/sugar-increases-chronic-disease-risk.aspx.
(8) Bowers LW, Cavazos DA, Maximo IX, Brenner AJ, Hursting SD, deGraffenried LA. Obesity enhances nongenomic estrogen receptor crosstalk with the PI3K/Akt and MAPK pathways to promote in vitro measures of breast cancer progression. Breast Cancer Res. 2013;15(4):R59.
(9) Osati S, Homayounfar R, Hajifaraji M. Metabolic effects of vitamin D supplementation in vitamin D deficient patients (a double-blind clinical trial). Diabetes Metab Syndr. 2016 Jan 14. pii: S1871-4021(15)30091-6.
(11) Taubes, G. Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health. New York: Anchor Books (Random House); 2008.
(12) Research Proves Causation—Sugar Consumption Increases Risk for Chronic Disease: A Hallmark Of Metabolic Syndrome. Viewed January 25th 2015, http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/01/25/sugar-increases-chronic-disease-risk.aspx.
(13) Ferris HA, Kahn CR. New mechanisms of glucocorticoid-induced insulin resistance: make no bones about it. J Clin Invest. 2012 Nov;122(11):3854-7.
(15) Chevalier N, Fenichel P. Endocrine disrupors:new players in the pathophysiology of type 2 diabtes. Diabetes Metab. 2015 Apr;41(2):107-15.
(16) Crinnion WJ. The role of persistent organic pollutants in the worldwide epidemic of type 2 diabetes mellitus and the possible connection to Farmed Atlantic Salmon (Salmosalar). Altern Med Rev. 2011 ec;16(4):301-13.
(17) Adeniji AA, Essah PA, Nestler JE, Cheang KI, et al. Metabolic Effects of a Commonly Used Combined Hormonal Oral Contraceptive in Women With and Without Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2016 Feb 12.
(18) Bienso RS, et al. GLUT4 and glycogen synthase are key players in bed rest-induced insulin resistance. Diabetes. 2012 May;61(5):1090-9.