I had an eating disorder from about 11 years old. Recently, I found an old diet plan I had written to encourage me to eat a bit more. This “eat more” plan consisted of apples and bananas at various intervals during the day, occasionally accompanied by a glass of milk. On some days, I allowed myself a jacket potato.
Fast forward 10 or so years. I had met a guy who had managed to get me to eat, but his idea of eating wasn’t healthy either. I still wanted to stay a certain shape, so my diet became more about high fat, sugary foods, staggered throughout the day with long breaks in-between. I remember eating a chocolate bar on the way to college in the morning, chugging down a coffee midday, and having kebab shop chips for dinner, followed by a tub of Ben & Jerry’s.
Over time, as I grew to respect my body, my diet evolved to feed my body with the correct fuel and nutrients, but I’ve never really gotten over the highs and lows of the unstable blood sugar levels that began as a result of my high-sugar, yet restrictive diet.
I’ve lived my life with chronic fatigue due to endometriosis, and also with huge and regular crashes in energy all day every day, as well as constant hunger, irritable moods, and fuzzy thinking. I was told years ago by a nutritionist I saw for endometriosis, that the first thing we needed to fix was my blood sugar, but it wasn’t really explained to me why this was important, so I kind of just forgot about it.
These days, as I continue to embark on my studies into hormone health, I am now beginning to understand the huge importance of balanced blood sugar levels. For those of us with fatigue, stabilizing our blood sugar, so we don’t have extreme highs and terrible lows, means we can enjoy more sustainable energy levels. Even without the rest of the benefits, that’s good enough for me.
Sugar affects a hormone you’ve probably heard of: insulin. Insulin will increase after you eat something with a high amount of sugar in it (I don’t just mean sweets, foods like pasta and bread convert into high levels of sugar, too). Higher levels of insulin are associated with lower levels of SHBG, which is a protein that binds to the sex hormones.
This is what the Women’s Health Network has to say about the impact of insulin and SHBG:
“SHBG binds excess estrogen and testosterone in the blood, but when it’s low, these hormone levels increase. Insulin also increases the production of testosterone, which is then converted into even more estrogen by fat tissue in the belly.
“These effects mean the ratio of estrogen to progesterone (known for keeping us calm and happy) is way too high, leading to irritability, anxiety, insomnia and more.”
This also means for those of us with endometriosis, we could be encouraging the growth of the disease. Endometriosis is an estrogen-dependent disease, and studies now suggest many of us with endometriosis are estrogen-dominant, so we want to reduce our estrogen levels, rather than increase them.
Alisa Vitti is another hormone expert who feels passionately about blood sugar levels. Alisa explains that glucose is essentially what feeds our entire body and the systems that function within it. The endocrine system governs our hormones, and when our blood sugar levels aren’t balanced, the body sees this as a stressor and turns on those good ol’ stress hormones: adrenaline and cortisol.
Nicki Williams of the blog Happy Hormones for Life sheds further light on this issue: “You need a good level of progesterone to balance out the effects of estrogen. Cortisol and progesterone are made from the same mother hormone pregnenolone. So when the body needs cortisol, the production of progesterone gets sacrificed, leaving higher levels of estrogen in your system.”
As I mentioned earlier, we really don’t want this as people with endometriosis, and we want our hormone levels to be as balanced as possible. Estrogen dominance doesn’t just affect endometriosis, but our whole body, too. Equally, cortisol and adrenaline, while necessary in certain quantities, can cause damage to our health when in excess.
There are so many other ways that imbalanced blood sugar levels can have a negative effect on our hormones; from preventing ovulation to even contributing to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). So, what can you do about it?
In my next column, I’ll be exploring what you can do to balance your blood sugar and live well with endometriosis.
Note: Endometriosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Endometriosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to endometriosis.