It’s no secret that sugar affects our moods. Emotional highs and lows after a sugar-fuelled meal come as no surprise to many of us. But what if I told you it was causing our hormones to practice bellyflops rather than cartwheels? Sugar frazzles our hormones forcing them to ride a roller coaster of ups and downs, the aftermath of which leaves our bodies exhausted. When your hormones are affected in this way you can only imagine the kind of strain this puts on your fertility. Before we dive in let me just clear a few things up:
Fertility isn’t just about babies. It’s about your reproductive system working to the best of its ability, regardless of gender.
When we refer to sugar we’re talking fructose. Fructose is found in refined sugar, fruits, honey, agave, maple syrup and many processed foods.
Here are the top ways sugar directly affects your fertility:
Sugar messes with your hormones
As a natural fertility expert my main concern in the hormone department is the intricacy of our sex hormones.
You’ve all heard of the fight or flight response, right? Well we use that turn of phrase to describe the response of extended stimulation to the adrenal glands. When we consume sugar it drives our insulin levels too high, too quickly for a brief period of time, then it drops dramatically leaving a down-right hormonal mess.
When our sugar levels drop like this, our adrenals release both cortisol and adrenaline in an attempt to restore our sugar levels back to an even keel, eventually leading to a hormonal imbalance.
The reason that this impacts our fertility so greatly is because progesterone (the main hormone required for ovulation to occur) and cortisol compete for the same receptor binding sites in the body.
Cortisol will always win this showdown, and if it continues for an extended period of time it can disrupt the entire endocrine system. This in turn disrupts all your sex hormones: oestrogen, progesterone, the androgens DHEA and testosterone irrespective of gender.
Sugar causes inflammation
This is of particular importance to women who suffer from endometriosis. Endometriosis affects the uterine lining and making the implantation of an embryo difficult, in turn affecting fertility and conception.
Many endometriosis sufferers who cut out sugar from their diet notice substantial changes and in some instances completely recover. This is due to the immediate reduction of inflammation. You see, our bodies aren’t designed to consume the quantities of sugar we see in modern western diets and our gut goes into a frenzy trying to cope. Inflammation is our body’s reaction to this.
Sugar consumption affects PMS
This goes back to the whole sugar affecting our hormones thing. Fertility isn’t just about the babies. ‘That’ time of the month means hormones need to be happy in order to keep everything running smoothly. Healthy happy hormones will keep you feeling well all month.
Sugar leads to insulin resistance
Many women who suffer from PCOS have insulin resistance. Insulin is released by the pancreas to convert sugar to energy; ergo the more sugar we eat, the more insulin we release, eventually leading to insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is linked to issues with ovulation, maturation of the egg and implantation of the embryo into the uterine lining. It also puts women at a much higher risk of miscarriage.
Sugar depletes essential vitamin and mineral stores
In order for our hormones to function efficiently they require specific amounts of vitamins and minerals to be well fuelled. Fructose severely depletes our vitamin and mineral stores, and this can have a huge impact on our fertility.
When our stores are low, our entire body is compromised which contributes to amenorrhea, irregular periods, lower immunity, increased infection (which can be a factor in miscarriage), increased anxiety and depression and gut health issue like irritable bowel syndrome.
A deficiency of vitamins and minerals will also age you. If you knew that eating too many lollies would have you looking older than your years, would they taste as sweet?
The message here is simple: if fertility is important to you or is likely to be of relevance in the not too distant future, one of the best things you can do to ensure your hormones are in tip-top shape is to reduce your sugar intake.
Our bodies aren’t designed to tolerate sugar in the quantities in which we consume it, especially the refined, processed variety. But fructose is highly addictive, so the 3pm biscuits or sugar in your coffee habit can be hard to break.
If you're looking at cutting sugar, the I Quit Sugar program focuses on the foods you can eat rather than those you can’t, and makes quitting all the more easy. I encourage you to experiment with the idea of quitting of sugar. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised, period-pain free, looking younger and feeling sprightlier in no time.