What, Me? Pre-Diabetic?
You’ve probably heard that sugar is bad for you. The sweet stuff has been in the news a lot lately, implicated as the ultimate dietary villain. It’s associated with a whole bunch of grim health outcomes (diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease) and it’s major factor in packing on extra pounds.
But you’re young (or young-ish, like Yours Truly) and chronic conditions feel like a distant concern. You might like to drop 5 or 10 pounds, but your weight is generally stable. Diabetes seems like a remote possibility.
So you think: how bad is mismanaged blood sugar really? How much do I really need to pay attention to how my body uses sugar?
While every body and every health situation is different, mismanaged blood drives a whole host of health problems, both big and small. Everyone should have blood sugar on their mind, especially considering that sugar has big – big – implications for your hormones.
Why you – yes, YOU – should pay attention to sugar
Recent research suggests that half the U.S. population has diabetes or pre-diabetes, and that as many as one in three of those cases are undiagnosed.
Feel immune because you’re skinny? Not so fast. The functional medicine community has recognized a new phenomenon: the ‘skinny fat’ person, or someone who looks thin on the outside but is medically obese on the inside. Obesity (whether visible to others or not) is driven by insulin resistance and high blood sugar.
And many leading doctors, including director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, Mark Hyman, MD, considers being ‘skinny fat’ even more dangerous than being obese.
Feel immune because you’re young (or at least younger than most people with dementia or heart disease)? The seeds of chronic disease are planted young and are fed with poor nutrition and unhealthy lifestyle choices. Allopathic/Western medicine treats disease as an all-or-nothing proposition – either you’re sick or you’re not. It’s like being pregnant. You’re either pregnant or you’re not.
But disease doesn’t work that way. It exists on a spectrum, and you can be well on your way toward a chronic condition long before Western medicine acknowledges that there is a problem (or that there will be a problem one day).
Okay, fine, you think. Mismanaged blood sugar can lead to all these big problems later, but that still seems far off and I feel fine right now.
That’s fair. It can be hard to wrap our minds around health problems that might happen one day. Humans are masters at generalizing what’s happening in the present and extrapolating it into the future. I feel fine right now so I will always feel fine. Or, I feel sad now so I will always feel sad.
But do you really feel fine right now?
Mismanaged blood sugar fuels a shocking number of hormonal complaints that range from big to small. Here’s a partial list of what sugar does to your hormones:
Insulin resistance is a key characteristic of PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), which is the number one reason women struggle to get pregnant.
Really, really bad PMS
Mismanaged blood sugar puts strain on your liver, which is responsible for eliminating excess estrogen and other toxins from the body. When the liver gets diverted away from its elimination duties because of mismanaged blood sugar, estrogen builds up (short-term estrogen dominance) and can exacerbate PMS symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating, and cramping.
Do you assume that being hungry/angry when you haven’t eaten in awhile is just the way hunger works? It’s not. When blood sugar is stable, you get hungry without all that irritability, anxiety, and desperation.
Giving up sugar can be challenging initially, but once you do it your cravings largely vanish. Eating sugar triggers a hormonal cascade in the body that leads to you craving more sugar. Give up the sweet stuff, and your body won’t hijack your mind and compel you to eat more of it.
Rogue dark hairs
High circulating androgens fuel excess hair growth on the upper lip, chin, breasts, between the breasts, and thighs. High insulin causes the ovaries to make excessive amounts of androgens.
Wonky blood sugar at night can keep you from falling asleep and it can also trigger you to wake up in the middle of the night.
Anxiety and other mood problems
“Even among lean women with PCOS (characterized by insulin resistance), there is an increased rate of body dissatisfaction and depression symptoms, as well as more anxiety, depression, withheld anger, diminished sexual satisfaction, and lower health-related quality of life. Anxiety correlates with androgen levels and insulin resistance, but not with body mass index or age,” write Sara Gottfried, MD, in her book The Hormone Cure.
Loss of that lovin’ feeling
Sugar kills sex drive.
Those stubborn 10 pounds
The extra weight that just won’t come off, no matter what you do? High circulating insulin and high glucose are likely to thank. Get your sugar under control, and you will more easily hit your healthiest weight.
All health situations are complex and unique, and healing often requires more than just balancing blood sugar.
But blood sugar is often where the healing journey starts – and without it under control, none of the other changes will make much of a difference.
If you want to learn more, you can get Jill’s ebook, Balance Your Blood Sugar. Also know that I’m working on my own iteration of a blood sugar management guide, which will go deeper into the well-researched lifestyle factors that are known to affect how we manage insulin and blood sugar.