Many women and men today suffer from undiagnosed hormone imbalance, which can lead to a myriad of health concerns including unexplained weight gain, hair loss, insomnia, mood swings, anxiety, irritability, PMS and even low libido. Many of the causes of hormonal imbalances may sound familiar: stress, taking certain medications, excessive drinking and smoking and lack of exercise. Other causes are less well-known. These include exposure to estrogen-like chemicals in the environment and in personal care products, hormones in food and the typical American diet, which tends to promote estrogen dominance. There’s one more cause of hormonal imbalance that might really surprise you: Too much sugar!
The Dangers of Too Much Sugar
The human body is made up of countless processes that work together seamlessly during times of good health. Not one bodily system works on its own; everything is inter-connected. This includes seemingly unrelated hormones like insulin, responsible for maintaining healthy blood sugar and the sex hormones testosterone, estrogen and progesterone. When you eat sugar or sugary foods (including refined carbohydrates), your body releases a wave of insulin to help clear the sugar out of your bloodstream and usher it into your cells, where it is used for energy.
When normal amounts of sugar are consumed, this process works well and accomplishes its goals: 1) removing the excess sugar from the bloodstream and 2) providing your cells with the sugar (glucose) they need to function. However, when large amounts of sugar or refined carbs are consumed, there is too much for your cells to use at once. Not only do high amounts of sugar create a huge insulin surge in your body’s attempt to deal with it all, but the excess that your cells can’t use for energy gets stored in your fat cells, leading to weight gain—especially around the abdomen (the so-called “wheat belly”). Over time, the constant consumption of large amounts of sugar and refined carbs and the resulting insulin rush can lead to a condition called insulin resistance in which the cells fail to respond properly to insulin—in effect, they stop listening to its signal to absorb the glucose they need for energy.
Insulin resistance leads to increased blood sugar levels, high cholesterol, increases the risk of diabetes and ultimately promotes hormonal imbalance. Some warning signs are hair loss, low libido and irregular cycles in women and loss of libido, inability to perform in bed and feminine characteristics like breast growth in men.
Sugar and Your Hormones
When insulin resistance develops from eating too much sugar, testosterone levels go down. Low testosterone levels are responsible for reduced libido in men and also affect sexual function and performance. Men with low testosterone levels tend to gain weight while at the same time losing muscle mass. Low testosterone in women can cause low libido, excess body fat and loss of mental clarity, along with mood swings and anxiety.
High insulin levels also contribute to high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Together elevated levels of insulin and cortisol can exacerbate weight gain and problems with low libido. In addition to its effect on insulin, eating too much sugar also causes a decrease in growth hormone, a hormone sometimes called the “Fountain of Youth,” which is associated with maintaining healthy muscle mass, proper fat metabolism, healthy testosterone levels and sex drive. And so the sugar and libido plot thickens…
How Else Does Sugar Affect Libido?
Have you ever gotten a “sugar crash” after eating something high in sugar or refined carbs? An initial energy boost from sugary foods is always quickly followed by a crash, making you tired, sluggish and fatigued. But why? When your blood sugar levels go up, insulin’s job is to lower blood sugar levels. When refined carbs or sugars cause a quick, drastic spike in insulin, the result is often that it lowers your blood sugar TOO much, making you suddenly feel tired, shaky and possibly even hungry again. This constant up and down can increase feelings of stress and anxiety and even lead to mood swings. It’s a vicious cycle.
In the long run, sugar may provide a quick energy boost, but ends up leaving you tired in the end, which is not very conducive to keeping up your sex drive! Sugar also has been shown to decrease levels of a neurotransmitter called orexin, which is responsible for maintaining a healthy appetite, as well as for keeping you awake. Not surprisingly, low levels of orexin are also associated with low libido.
What Can You Do When it Comes to Sugar and Libido?
If you experience symptoms of hormonal imbalance, such as anxiety, mood swings, unexplained weight gain, “brain fog” and low libido, it’s always a good idea to see your doctor and get your hormone levels checked just to be safe. In addition, something as simple as taking a look at your diet and lifestyle factors like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and lack of exercise might be the key to feeling like your old self again. Eliminate sugar and refined carbohydrates as much as possible. Instead, eat a diet rich in lean proteins, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and green vegetables, and you could be back on track to healthy hormonal balance and a healthy libido.