In this article we cover why balancing blood sugar and why it’s so important for women’s hormone health, as well as tips on how to do it.
- Blood sugar imbalance can lead to day-to-day symptoms such as low energy and anxiety.
- Blood sugar spikes can cause inflammation, oxidative stress and glycation, which can in turn drive disease and dysfunction.
- Blood sugar dysregulation can lead to insulin resistance, which is a risk factor for many diseases and health conditions, such as diabetes and PCOS.
- Blood sugar dysregulation is a stress on the body and can in turn cause dysregulation of the HPA axis.
- There is much we can do to support our blood sugar balance.
IT REALLY IS ALL ABOUT BLOOD GLUCOSE!
Our blood glucose levels are intricately linked to our metabolic health, which means how well we use our food for energy. When we have good metabolic health our cells are efficiently utilising the glucose in our food to make energy (called ATP) in the mitochondria.
However, chronic blood sugar dysregulation can lead to poor metabolic health and insulin resistance, which are risk factors for many health issues, such as diabetes, dementia, infertility, and PCOS. Insulin resistance can also worsen all symptoms of perimenopause and menopause.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO BALANCE OUR BLOOD SUGAR?
1. Imbalanced blood sugar levels can lead to day-to-day symptoms.
- Fatigue and poor energy regulation or energy dips throughout the day (when we often need to eat to bring our energy back up again)
- Hunger and cravings
- Anxiety, low mood, and feeling ‘hangry’ (hungry + angry)
- Disrupted sleep and more.
2. GLUCOSE SPIKES CAN CAUSE OUR MITOCHONDRIA TO BECOME OVERWHELMED.
Glucose spikes or excess glucose in the blood can cause our mitochondria (which take in the glucose and convert it to energy) to become overwhelmed. This can lead to increased free radicals, oxidative stress, and inflammation.
Glucose spikes can also cause glycation, which is where glucose sticks to proteins, DNA, or fats to form advanced glycation end products. AGEs cause damage and dysfunction in the body and lead to many issues, from Alzheimer’s to cardiovascular disease to aging skin and wrinkles.
3. POOR BLOOD GLUCOSE CONTROL CAN LEAD TO INSULIN RESISTANCE.
How? Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that stimulates the cells in the body to take up glucose. When our blood sugar is chronically elevated and we have continuous glucose spikes over a long period of time, our cells can stop responding so efficiently to insulin. When the cells no longer respond to insulin, we have what is known as insulin resistance (chronically elevated levels of insulin).
Read more about insulin resistance and how it affects women’s hormone health.
4. POOR GLUCOSE CONTROL (AND INSULIN RESISTANCE) CAN DISRUPT THE HPA AXIS.
Poor glucose control (and insulin resistance) can disrupt the HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis), which is the brain’s communication with our adrenals and how we respond to stressors.
Stress doesn’t have to be a stressful external event. In fact, poor glucose control is a stress on the body and causes the release of cortisol from the adrenals (cortisol is a glucocorticoid which means it is involved in controlling blood glucose levels). Cortisol dysregulation can in turn have an impact on many other systems in the body.
Now for the good news
There is so much we can do to support our blood sugar balance. Here are our top 4 tips.
1. Diet (of course!)
Firstly, prioritise protein at every meal, especially breakfast. Eating a low-carb breakfast – for example, having eggs and veggies or a protein berry smoothie – can balance blood sugar, promote satiety, reduce hunger and cravings, and support energy levels for longer than a high-carb, low-protein breakfast.
Secondly, incorporate apple cider vinegar into your diet. ACV can curb the glucose spike after a meal.
Thirdly, reduce simple carbs, sugar, and potentially even complex carbs (starchy vegetables and beans, for example) depending on your individual response to foods. For example, if you’re in perimenopause or menopause you might need to reduce your overall carb intake because of your changing hormone levels. A great way to check your blood sugar levels and how you respond to different foods is by using a continuous glucose monitor.
2. Walking or moving after meals.
10–15 minutes of movement, such as a short walk, after meals, can really help to curb blood sugar spikes during meals.
3. Focus on sleep.
Sleep is an often overlooked component of balanced blood sugar. Poor or disrupted sleep can have a big impact on how we handle our glucose the next day because our circadian rhythm (body clock) has a profound effect on glucose metabolism, as well as insulin sensitivity.
To support your circadian rhythm, firstly, go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Secondly, get outside into natural sunlight for at least 5 minutes as early as possible. Thirdly, dim the lights in the evening and switch off screens at least 2 hours before bed to promote melatonin release.
4. Reduce stress.
Or, more specifically, support the HPA axis. Our HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis is the communication between the brain and the adrenal glands (where our stress hormones are produced).
When our HPA axis is dysfunctional, we likely have chronically higher or dysregulated levels of stress hormones, including cortisol. Cortisol can have a profound impact on our blood sugar levels because that is, in fact, one of its jobs.
Balancing our blood sugar can in turn support our HPA axis.
HOW TO SUPPORT THE HPA AXIS:
- Get out into nature. Studies have shown a direct correlation between time spent in nature and lower stress hormones. Spending just 20 minutes in nature has been shown to decrease stress hormones and decrease both physical and psychological stress.
- Breathe. This is one of the most effective ways to bring the body into the parasympathetic or ‘rest and digest state, which is when we’re relaxed and calm and, most importantly, not producing stress hormones. Try breathing in for 4 counts, holding for 5 counts, and breathing out for 6. The important thing is to make the exhale longer than the inhale.
- Meditate. Studies have shown that meditation has a profound effect on the endocrine (hormonal) system. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress hormones and rebalance the HPA axis.