Sugar vs. Hormones

I read this article in the NYTimes yesterday and it got me all sorts of fired up: Puberty Before Age 10 – A New ‘Normal’?.

You guys, there is nothing NORMAL about going through puberty when you’re 6.  I can’t believe doctors can actually make statements like that just because it’s becoming more and more common.  The endocrinologist mentioned in the article, Robert Lustig, seems to be the only one who has a clue.

Here’s a 60 Minutes exposé he is in, by the way, while we’re on the topic: Is Sugar Toxic?

I didn’t get my period until I was 14 years old.  I was probably the last person I knew to get it, and it was so late that basically no one my age thought it was a novelty anymore.  My breasts didn’t really come until two years later (and then they came in full force!).  Suffice it to say, my hormones were pretty delayed and despite my intellectual interest in boys, my hormonal interest in them didn’t really join the party until midway through college.  And as it turns out, that’s not normal either.

I’ve learned some pretty crazy things about what sugar does to your hormones in the past few months.  It can directly impact your hormone levels in very simple ways (by way of altering your insulin response, giving you blood sugar spikes and crashes) or in more complicated ways mentioned in the NYT article, by creating estrogen outside of the ovaries, causing breast growth in 6 year olds.  It can also cause hormonal development delays in other people, like it did with me.

While learning about how sugar is linked with hormones, I also discovered that a lack of healthy saturated fats in your diet can cause more severe sugar cravings.  Makes sense I guess, doesn’t it?  Fat is an energy source, after all, but people have forgotten that in the past few decades.

As it turns out, some of these hormonal delays I experienced could be related to my low-fat diet growing up.  From about the age of 4, the moment I had the opportunity, I was hunting for sugar.  I would head straight for the cookies after church and stuff as many in my mouth as I could before I got caught, go to the candy jar at my grandparents house before even saying hello to them, and if I had any cash in my pocket, it went towards feeding the cravings.  I remember doing candy bar sales for fundraisers at school and eating half the box myself, having to then fund my fundraiser out of my own pocket.  I was like a heroine addict, always needing a fix.  It was a huge source of stress for my mom to try and control my sugar consumption.  See, she KNEW sugar was bad, and so she did everything in her power to keep it away from me.  What she didn’t know, was that part of the reason I had such killer cravings was because I didn’t have enough fat in my diet.  While we were definitely on the forefront of the healthy, organic food movement in our family, which meant no margarine or vegetable shortening in the house (thank god), we were also raised to understand that fat is bad like everyone else.  And when a growing child doesn’t get her energy from fat like she’s supposed to, she goes for the next best thing: the instant high of the world’s most favorite drug, sugar.

As an adult, those sugar cravings only got worse.  Especially after a couple years of eating primarily carbs (aka: sugar) during my vegetarian days.  It wasn’t until I met my boyfriend back in 2010 that it was not-so-subtly pointed out to me that having a blood sugar crash so bad I couldn’t function until I put sugar in my mouth at 3pm every day was NOT normal.  I had spent the past two years in New York at a stressful job where I mindlessly stuffed candy and chocolate into my mouth on a DAILY basis.  I didn’t even realize I was doing it.  And eventually I started to have side effects from it.

I had initially presumed that heavy cramps, spotting between periods, gaining five pounds every month before my period, and being emotional just went with the territory of being a woman.  I also blamed my copper IUD for the spotting and occasional heavier-than-normal-heavy periods, and even went to my lady-doctor a few times to make sure it hadn’t embedded itself in the lining of my uterus.

I have always been paranoid about anything related to my reproductive system because I can’t handle the idea of someday not being able to have my own children.  Poor Dr. L would get an earful about my latest goings on every time I came to her with a new concern, bless her heart.  Once we ruled out a reproductive problem, pregnancy, severe vitamin deficiency, the fact that some people (not me) just have irregular periods…the only possible solution could be stress.  I mean, I was living in Midtown, Manhattan, after all.  And working 60 hours a week in Finance.  Stress was obviously a factor here.

But when I moved to Denmark and my stress level all but disappeared, and the problems I had didn’t go away, I started to really worry.

One of the reasons why I ended up cutting sugar out of my diet last November in the first place was because I had read that sugar consumption effects your hormones, and I began to wonder if my recent increase in sugar consumption (by way of a mostly carb diet) since having become a vegetarian had anything to do with all those symptoms I was having, and that maybe it wasn’t stress after all.  I figured I was a perfect candidate to be my own guinea pig in order to find out, and so off I went, cutting sugar and anything that becomes sugar in your blood, out of my diet.

After two weeks of severe and miserable punishment by way of what I call The Drug Detox, I got my period a week early, with no cramps.  The next time I got my period, I only had cramps for one evening, and killed it with ibuprofen.  The next cycle was completely cramp-free, and so was the next, and so was the next.  According to my boyfriend, starting in about late January I stopped having such vicious mood swings (he’s thrilled about this part, and I have reason to believe it’s why he’s being so supportive), and finally, I’m not gaining five pounds every month anymore.

BUT HERE’S THE CRAZY PART.  I stopped spotting between periods also after that first cramp-free period.  And now, whenever I eat a good dose of sugar (no one’s perfect, and I’ve had a few benders), I spot immediately.  If that’s not a sure-fire sign that sugar was my problem, I don’t know what is.

So here I am, approaching 30, finally figuring out how I can control PMS after spending several cycles during my 20’s vowing to remove my uterus with my bare hands, and never leaving home without ibuprofen and extra tampons in my purse.  I feel like I’ve also found some resolve for why I wasn’t even remotely interested in being sexually active in high school like everyone else (though I will say, that was probably for the better).  For me, the fix was as simple as limiting my sugar consumption.

I would never go so far as to say that there is an “easy” button and that button is removing sugar from your diet.  Like everything, it’s a piece to the puzzle.  It’s also important to remember that our bodies are not the clean genetic slates that we like to believe they are.  So much of my quality of health was determined by my mom’s diet while she was pregnant with me, and also by her diet while she was young, and also by her mom’s diet while she was pregnant with her (this is called epigenetics, by the way, and you should read up on it).  And let’s not forget about the dads out there.  Most of us have several generations of the industrial revolution’s high-carb diet under our belts at this stage in the game, and at least one generation of the low-fat movement, so if we want to reverse any of those effects, it will take some time, and more importantly, a little dedication.

But signs of PROGRESS sure are encouraging, aren’t they?


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2 thoughts on “Sugar vs. Hormones

  1. Are you still echoing these same sentiments over one year later? I’m definitely interested in knowing more about the long-term impact of sugar reduction.

    • antesa says:

      I am definitely still echoing these sentiments. I am approaching two full years on a reduced sugar diet (obviously with a few binges here and there, like any normal person) and I have never been healthier. I actually even recently got my blood work done just to see where I was at, and my vitamin levels have also improved quite a bit.

      The biggest change I’ve seen is related to my hormones, though. I haven’t had any PMS (bloating or mood swings especially) or cramps for about seven months, and my periods have drastically improved (used to make it through a whole box of super plus tampons in one cycle which often lasted 7 days, now I’m back to regular with a few supers in 4-5 days).

      My skin is clear, my ability to focus is high, I no longer have crazy FEED ME NOW blood sugar crashes in between meals, I sleep well, I have energy…

      Gosh I could go on forever about how happy I am about the results, honestly. 🙂

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