When you think about the blood sugar spikes you’ve experienced from eating too many sweets, you probably remember the unpleasant shifts in mood, energy levels, and cravings that followed.
But high blood sugar over the long term can lead more serious consequences, and we’re not just talking about type 2 diabetes.
Keep reading to learn how imbalanced blood sugar levels can prime you for insulin resistance and subsequent fertility problems, weight gain, and irregular periods.
Why high blood sugar = imbalanced hormones
When you consume refined sugars and carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into glucose (a form of sugar), which enters the bloodstream. Elevated blood sugar levels then trigger your pancreas to pump out a hormone called insulin to move that sugar from your blood into your body’s cells for later use as energy. This keeps your circulating blood sugar in a safe range.
This is all normal, but problems arise if you’re not mindful about what you eat: When you consistently nosh on sweets or refined carbs (e.g., desserts, candy, cereal, bagels, breads, crackers, etc.), you’re repeatedly spiking blood sugar and your body has to pump out more insulin to manage it. And eventually, your cells become less sensitive to insulin’s effects.
This lack of insulin sensitivity is referred to as insulin resistance¹, and it can mess with the delicate balance of your sex hormones. High insulin levels can prompt the ovaries to produce excess testosterone², which can throw levels of estrogen and progesterone out of balance.
In fact, insulin resistance is a major contributor to PCOS, a condition characterized by elevated levels of male sex hormones in women, ovarians cysts, and symptoms such as excess facial hair, acne, weight gain, heavy menstrual bleeding, irregular periods, and difficulty getting pregnant. It’s estimated that 70% of women³ with PCOS have insulin resistance.
Additionally, elevated insulin increases the body’s production of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which can lower progesterone⁴ and contribute to issues like severe PMS. On the flip side, elevated cortisol can also spike your insulin levels, leading to a vicious cycle of hormonal imbalance, particularly if you aren’t taking steps to manage or counteract your stress.
But don't worry. There are steps you can take today through diet and lifestyle to help manage your blood sugar and bring back hormonal balance:
1. Eat a blood sugar-balancing diet.
Fiber, healthy fats, and protein all slow down carb digestion, helping blood sugar levels rise gradually instead of abruptly. Get more of these by scaling back on refined carbs and sugars and focusing on veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, quality meat and fish, and other whole foods. Try seed cycling, too, which provides these three nutrients, plus targeted nutrients that will help bring back balance to your natural hormonal rhythm.
2. Try time-restricted eating.
It’s not just about what you eat, but when you eat. Research suggests people who eat their daily meals within a 10 to 12 hour window⁵ and fast for the remaining 12 to 14 hours have improved fasting blood sugar and insulin sensitivity compared to people who eat over a longer period. To do this, simply extend your typical overnight fast by a few hours. For example, finish dinner around 7pm and don’t eat again until 7am, 8am, or 9am the next morning—we always encourage you to do whatever feels right for you.
3. Honor your sleep.
Sleep deprivation⁶ and stress can be a major contributor to insulin resistance. The reason: Both trigger the release of stress hormones like cortisol, which in turn, causes the liver to release stored sugar⁷ into the bloodstream. To prevent this, aim for 7-9 hours of shut-eye per night.
4. Get active every day.
When you exercise, your muscles take up more glucose from the bloodstream for fuel, thus lowering blood sugar. Any kind of physical activity (even a light walk) can help lower your blood sugar⁸.