How does sugar affect hormones? Truthfully, in lots of ways. From cortisol to thyroid hormones, sugar can be a contributing factor to disregulation. But let’s focus on just one hormone: Insulin. Here’s how the intake of sugar and carbohydrate rich foods can impact insulin—and what you can do about it.
Insulin and Glucose: The Dynamic Duo
After eating a carbohydrate-rich meal or snack, glucose enters the bloodstream which sends a message to your pancreas to release insulin. When insulin enters circulation, it helps move glucose out of the bloodstream and into our cells—it can be thought of as the key that is needed to open the door to our cells to let glucose in. Once in the cell, glucose can be used as energy or stored as glycogen for later use.
When there are elevated levels of glucose in the bloodstream for long periods of time, cells can become insulin resistant. That means they basically ignore insulin’s knock on their door because they have enough glucose already and do not want to accept more.
Complications from High Glucose
The goal is for your cells to stay sensitive to insulin, so there aren’t elevated levels of glucose and insulin in your bloodstream. Elevated blood glucose (hyperglycemia) is damaging to the blood vessels because glucose molecules are sticky and can clump together, causing damage to the vasculature and the tiny blood vessels in organs like your eyes, kidneys and heart. Long-term hyperglycemia can also predispose you to developing type 2 diabetes.
Insulin is also known as an anabolic hormone, and anabolic meals to build up. Increased levels of insulin turn on growth factors that can contribute to acne and the development of skin tags, from a dermatological perspective. Elevated levels of insulin in the bloodstream can also contribute to alterations in ovarian function, including increased production of hormones, which plays a major role in the common endocrine disorder PCOS.
Glucose is Not Your Enemy: How to Maintain Balanced Levels
Glucose should not be feared—it is the preferred energy source of our cells! The key to maintaining a good relationship between glucose and insulin is by limiting your intake of processed, simple carbohydrates and added sugar in foods. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 24 grams of added sugar per day for women and 36 grams for men.
For optimal health outcomes, the goal should be to obtain glucose from eating whole foods (akacome without a food label), like:
- non-starchy vegetables,
- whole grains,
- and low glycemic fruit such as berries, all paired with healthy fat and fiber to slow down the absorption of glucose in the bloodstream.
If this feels confusing or overwhelming, let us help! Our dietician can support you in your health journey and find the best foods to fuel your body.
Dr. Jones graduated from the National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon as a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine and with a Master of Science in Nutrition degree. She believes that the most important part of any treatment plan is first establishing a solid foundation of health. This looks different for each patient and changes over time, and Dr. Jones’ guidance on your health journey will depend on your needs.