Did you know that an estimated 88% of the U.S. population is metabolically unhealthy? Said differently: only a mere 12% of Americans are metabolically healthy. And metabolic health is key for almost all human functions—sustained energy, cognitive function, hormone health, and more. Speaking of hormone health, today we’re diving into female hormones. Specifically, how blood sugar plays a significant role in balancing hormones. Whether or not you’ve heard of blood sugar, consider it an under-appreciated window into your overall health. Is blood sugar driving your hormone imbalance? Read on to learn more.
What does it mean to be metabolically healthy?
Great question. From a clinical perspective, metabolic health is defined by normal levels of five markers: blood sugar, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference—without using medication. The opposite state is known as metabolic syndrome. And metabolic syndrome is closely tied with blood sugar imbalance. Good news is, you can improve most of these markers by routinely making choices to keep glucose levels in a stable and healthy range.
symptoms of poor metabolic health
Lack of metabolic health can impact a full spectrum of daily pain points. Think: chronic pain, infertility, hormone imbalance, fatigue, depression, acne, anxiety, and more. Eventually, poor metabolic health can manifest as insulin resistance, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even Alzheimer’s disease. All of that said, you can improve your metabolic health! And it’s not as overwhelming as you may think. Your current metabolic status is not permanent. You can make simple, informed decisions—every day—to improve the way you body functions. Getting a comprehensive panel of blood work is a great place to start (fasting glucose, cholesterol, etc.).
how are blood sugar and insulated related?
When you eat carbohydrates, they’re broken down into glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream. Your bloodstream transports that sugar to your cells. In order to get into the cells, where the glucose can be used for energy, the pancreas needs to release insulin. Insulin is a hormone. It shuttles glucose into your cells. When it works properly, insulin makes sure the levels of sugar in your blood aren’t too high or too low. It seems to maintain blood sugar balance.
However, when your blood sugar is chronically high, your body slowly becomes less sensitive to insulin. This is known as insulin resistance. The goal is not to be insulin resistant, but to be insulin sensitive, instead. Over time, as you become insulin resistant, it will take more and more insulin to shuttle circulating glucose into your cells. In turn, this causes blood sugar imbalance and host of hormonal imbalances.
Keep in mind that consistently eating simple carbohydrates aren’t the only thing that raises blood sugar. Poor sleep, chronic stress, inflammation, and even acute illness can all cause elevated sugar levels.
how do I know if my blood sugar is too high?
While you can buy a glucometer, there are certain symptoms that accompany imbalanced blood sugar. You may have chronically elevated blood sugar / insulin if these sound familiar:
- Fatigue, particularly after meals
- Inconsistent energy
- Regular, strong sugar cravings
- Feeling anxious between meals
- Trouble loosing weight
- Frequent hunger
- Sleep issues (falling asleep or staying asleep)
- Missing or irregular period
By contrast, when your blood sugar is balanced, you’ll feel consistent energy throughout the day, minimal cravings, better sleep, energy in the mornings, a stable mood, and less PMS. To know for certain, schedule an appointment with your PCP or healthcare provider to get your A1C tested. This will give you an understanding of your blood sugar over the past three months.
How insulin impacts female hormones
Studies show that blood sugar imbalance has a powerful impact on your hormones. This includes cortisol, progesterone, testosterone, and sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). First, elevated insulin levels stress the body and cause a spike in cortisol (even low blood sugar causes this), and then this spike has a ripple effect on other hormones. Since progesterone and testosterone compete for the same receptor sites, high cortisol causes low progesterone. This leads to symptoms like heavy periods, migraines, anxiety, acne, PMS, estrogen dominance, endometriosis, and more. Your ovaries also have insulin receptors, meaning that elevated insulin can cause the ovaries to produce more testosterone. This ultimately impacts—or entirely stops—ovulation. It causes issues like PCOS and irregular periods. Elevated insulin also lowers SHBG, which contributes to both high estrogen and testosterone, causing symptoms like tender breasts, heavy periods, and uterine fibroids.
tips for balancing hormones
Don’t fret. While elevated insulin causes a slew of issues, there are simple, effective habits you can instill to balance blood sugar.
don’t cut carbs
First and foremost, don’t cut carbs. There’s no need to go keto. In fact, I don’t recommend keto (long-term) for women. Instead, keep your plate balanced. When having a bowl of pasta, try to choose 100% whole grain pasta, or an alternative, like a chickpea or lentil-based pasta. Additionally, add protein and healthy fat. This could look like having grilled chicken on the side, sautéed shrimp, as well as a pesto-based sauce. Protein and fat don’t cause the same blood sugar spike as carbs, so they’re helpful to have on your plate. Watch this video for blood sugar-balancing snack ideas!
Manage your stress
Secondly, manage your stress. Chronic stress causes blood sugar to increase. Beyond implementing mindfulness practices during the day, figuring out your stress triggers, etc., consider taking a relieving supplement. This is my favorite blend of adaptogens to help fight stress. And this is my daily de-stress app.
Get quality sleep
Thirdly, clock your zZz’s. Getting quality sleep (7-9 hours) is essential. Poor (or little) sleep causes cortisol and blood sugar to rise. Here are helpful ideas for a calm nighttime routine. Along with doing a nighttime meditation, you may also benefit from taking an adaptogen or CBD tincture before bed.
Move your body
Last but not least, move your body. This doesn’t mean you need to begin a daily HIIT routine. In fact, that may cause more harm than good. Instead, opt for 15-30 minutes of strength training, go for a brisk walk, unroll your yoga mat, or dance in your kitchen. Anything you can do to get your blood circulating and your muscle fibers firing will support your blood sugar.
If you’re ready to feel more energized, improve your sleep, balance your hormones, understand how nutrition impacts gut health, and more, I can’t wait to chat. As a double-certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Nutrition Consultant I help women in all stages of their lives.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider.