HORMONES SERIES | Balance Your Blood Sugar, Part 1.
When it comes to skin issues and our hormones, the Internet seems to offer endless solutions to try. But before you dive into the obscure herbs and pricey super foods (don’t worry, we’ll get to those too!) you need to master the basics, aka balancing your blood sugar. Remember that supplements are just that – supplements. If your daily diet is not serving you, there is no supplement in the world that will magically fix your skin. With that being said, you might be curious as to why balanced blood sugar matters. You might also think that your blood sugar is balanced. But those sugar cravings tell a different story.
Why Balanced Blood Sugar Matters?
By now, you have likely heard about the connection between sugar and obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. You might also have heard about sugar’s damaging effect on your skin (in a process called glycation, excess sugar molecules attach themselves to collagen fibers causing them to lose strength and flexibility). Even worse, sugar suppresses our immune function. Like I said, this probably isn’t news to you. What might surprise you though, is the effect that sugar has on our delicate endocrine system.
A bit of background, when we consume the standard American diet (think breads, baked goods, desserts, soda, etc.), we inevitably find ourselves riding the blood sugar rollercoaster. Our blood can only handle approximately 5 grams of glucose at any time. So what happens when we eat that artisan chocolate salted caramel donut for breakfast? Our pancreas releases insulin (a hormone!) to mop up the excess glucose in our blood stream, insulin errs on the side of removing more glucose than less, and as our blood sugar levels crash, the pancreas releases another hormone called glucagon to help settle our blood sugar levels. When we consume a big bowl of pasta for lunch, the rollercoaster ride starts again!
Yeah, yeah, but what does this have to do with your hormones? Well, the rollercoaster ride doesn’t end well. In fact, it can lead to insulin resistance. Signs of insulin resistance include fatigue, brain fog, sleepiness after meals, and sugar cravings. Sound eerily familiar to anyone? And insulin resistance is directly correlated to a number of conditions plaguing young women these days, including PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), PMS, and thyroid hormone imbalance. We’ll delve deeper into a lot of these topics later, but for now, just know that balancing your blood sugar can help tremendously (even almost miraculously) if you suffer from any of these conditions.
The Connection to Our Skin
The way in which sugar affects our hormones and thereby our skin, varies from person to person. Our ovaries have insulin receptors and prolonged high levels of circulating insulin can trigger them to produce androgens, rather than estrogen and progesterone. Excess androgens can lead to acne. Alternatively, insulin resistance can lead to the overproduction of estrogen (not by the ovaries, but by the peripheral muscle) and a condition called estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance not only causes PMS symptoms, but you guessed it, acne. And as mentioned above, sugar directly impacts our skin by weakening our collagen leading to wrinkles and sagging.
But I Don’t Drink Soda or Eat Pastries.
Unfortunately, even if you avoid soda and processed foods, you are likely consuming more refined carbohydrates than you realize especially if your goal is optimal hormonal health (and it should be!) In fact, managing your blood sugar without putting in a little thought and effort is virtually impossible. How do I know this? Because I learned the hard way.
I’m a reformed dessert addict. I wasn’t drinking soda all day and I had already nixed processed foods, but I did rely on something sweet after every meal. I also loved organic pasta and had a standing order at our local artisan bakery for bread (why else eat soup?) I knew that the average American consumed 3 pounds of sugar every week (!) and by comparison, I figured my habit wasn’t that devastating. Other people may have had blood sugar imbalances, but not me. Except I craved sugar, always felt sleepy and sluggish around 2 pm, and couldn’t clear my stubborn acne. Nothing I tried was working. FINALLY, I decided to give my diet a second look and start making small changes. Surprise, surprise, my sugar cravings vanished, my energy levels stabilized, and my acne, slowly, but surely stopped cropping up (especially the nasty cystic variety).
Ready to hop off the blood sugar rollercoaster? Excellent. In Part 2, we’ll discuss dietary strategies and in Part 3, we’ll delve into supplements!