Sugar is well known for providing major up's and down's in mood and energy, the sugar high is all fun and games until that dreaded sugar crash appears, which the majority of people have experienced at some point in their lives.
Sugar can also disrupt one of the most powerful hormones in the body: insulin. Insulin is closely connected to all of the other hormones in your body, including estrogen and testosterone. Our bodies and brains prefer to use glucose as fuel – so we can utilise some sugar, but probably just not as much as we tend to consume.
Did you know there are over 50 different names for sugar? Despite what you call it or how it is marketed, all types of sugar can cause insulin fluctuations at different rates. Firstly, we have the dreaded refined white sugar we are told to avoid but there is also raw sugar, cane sugar, brown sugar, beet sugar, coconut sugar and fruit juice. White carbs like bread, pasta and potatoes are converted into sugar in the body and finally, there are basic simple sugars like: fructose, dextrose, maltose, sucrose and lactose.
To make things even more complicated, there's a variety of sweetener options to choose from, including: agave, maple syrup, honey, rice syrup, sorghum syrup and molasses. There are so many ways in which sugar is now packaged and so many alternative sweeteners available and although marketed as healthier, while they are marginally better than refined sugar, at the end of the day they are still sugars and still have the same negative impact on our blood sugar levels and therefore our overall health.
When insulin spikes, typically after a meal high in sugar or white carbohydrates, lower levels of an important protein known as 'sex hormone binding globulin' (SHBG) occur. SHBG binds excess estrogen and testosterone in the blood, but when SHBG is 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.
Additionally, your fat cells in your body also secrete estrogen. The more sugar you eat, the more fat cells you create, the more estrogen they secrete. This extra estrogen is in addition to the estrogen your endocrine system already produces.
Don’t forget to add in xenoestrogens in our environment. All this has a knock on effect leading to estrogen dominance meaning the ratio of estrogen to progesterone is way too high and there is a hormonal imbalance. This hormonal imbalance is a root cause of common symptoms of PMS like cramps, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, irregular cycles, period pain, acne, along with PCOS and infertility issues. And as women reach menopause, symptoms get more intense and can include hot flashes and night sweats as well.
Another area of the body that is important to consider with sugar consumption is the gastrointestinal tract (gut) as this can also be linked to your PMS symptoms. So what happens in the gut when we consume sugar?
Sugar is mostly absorbed into the body in the small intestine, where we find some good bacteria, but if consumed in moderate amounts sugar should not pass to the large intestine, interact and imbalance the good bacteria in that section of the GI tract. However, most people are not consuming moderate amounts and the small intestine can only process a certain amount of sugar at one time (approximately 30g).
The most harmful sugars that can affect the gut flora are sugars found in processed foods like cake, biscuits, fizzy drinks, sweets, white breads and pastas. Sugar not only feeds the bad bacteria that are in the gut, but its absorption also uses up a lot of body energy and numerous nutrients that otherwise could be utilised from other body systems.
In summary, an improper diet results in hormonal imbalance, inflammation, weight gain and nutrient deficiencies that may contribute to PMS. Do what you can to cut down or avoid added sugar and sugary foods.
Sugar simply creates adverse conditions that encourage overgrowth of bacteria, which then put more strain on the levels of friendly flora that have to try to deal with it. Taking a microbiotic supplement daily with a minimum of 30 billion viable cells at expiry will help to grow the good bacteria and offset any imbalance.