By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
Americans now consume an average of 150 pounds of sugar a year, which is 20 times as much as was the norm in 1700 when Americans were consuming only 7½ pounds per year! This crazy sugar consumption, about ½ a pound a day, has lead our country to obesity, disease, and all sorts of health issues that are now seen as normal. Today we are going to examine the causes and effects of sugar cravings, and what we can do to properly balance our hormones.
Causes of Sugar Cravings
Sugar cravings can be caused by blood sugar imbalances, which occur due to poor diet (including inflammation-inducing high doses of sugar) or going too long between meals. Blood sugar imbalance leads to more inflammation, hormone imbalance, and sugar cravings. The sugar cravings continue the negative cycle of eating sugar, crashing, and craving more, which only causes hormone imbalances to worsen over time.
The HPA axis, the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands, can be disrupted by a poor diet, stress, and emotional toil: all of which are symptoms of a sugar overdose. The disturbance to the HPA axis can lead to adrenal fatigue, which can lead to blood sugar imbalance and more cravings for something sweet.
Consuming sugar releases dopamine, a feel-good “rewards system” neurotransmitter which is responsible for motivation and emotions. This release of dopamine can be addictive, making it very difficult to cut out sugar, which effectively becomes an addition.
Sugar and Your Hormones
We know consuming too much sugar contributes to blood sugar imbalances, adrenal fatigue, and inflammation. But is goes deeper than that: overconsumption of sugar can throw our hormones out of whack, leading to serious health conditions. Weight gain or weight loss that’s unexplained by your diet and exercise, depression, anxiety, changes in appetite, low libido, irregular periods, fatigue, insomnia, digestive issues, hair thinning or hair loss are all signs of hormone imbalance.
Common hormonal imbalances include:
Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism: Hypothyroidism causes the metabolism to slow, meaning weight gain is a common issue. Hyperthyroidism is the opposite, causing the body to speed up and weight to be lost quickly. Both thyroid disorders can come with anxiety, sleep issues, and other irregularities.
Low testosterone comes with weight gain, fatigue, mood swings, erectile dysfunction, and muscle loss.
Low estrogen can lower your sex drive, cause menstrual and reproductive problems, and cause mood swings.
Estrogen dominance can change your weight, appetite, and sleep patterns. Easier to become overwhelmed by stress, and the metabolism slows.
Diabetes comes with weight gain, nerve damage, fatigue, skin problems, and vision loss.
Adrenal fatigue plagues many people in our over-stressed society. Fatigue, anxiety, depression, insomnia, brain fog, and muscle aches and pains are common.
PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, in which elevated androgen (male hormone) levels cause many cysts to grow in the ovaries of women of reproductive age. Infertility, weight gain, acne, and abnormal hair growth are symptoms of this condition.
How to Balance Your Hormones
Adaptogen herbs are a class of healing plants that are very powerful in protecting against stress. They can support the thyroid, reduce anxiety and depression, support the adrenals, and stabilize blood sugar. Ashwagandha is your go-to for balancing hormones. It can help with hyper- and hypo- thyroidism, as well as help with adrenal function. We recommend Ashwagandha Supreme, or a more complex supplement, like the ashwagandha-containing Adrenal Revive. Holy Basil, or tulsi, also regulates hormones and can help the body deal with emotional stress, as well as give protection against environmental and ingested toxins.
Vitamin D is more of a hormone than a vitamin. Vitamin D keeps inflammation low, and is a very important component of a healthy body; read more about vitamin D here. A high-quality vitamin D supplement, like Emulsi D Supreme, is very beneficial in protecting against hormonal imbalances as well as autoimmune diseases.
Healthy gut function is crucial in virtually all aspects of overall health. Leaky gut, inflammation of the gut lining allowing undigested food particles and toxins into the bloodstream, cause inflammations in other areas of the body, including glands such as the thyroid, which are responsible for regulating our hormones. A high quality probiotic, or probiotics from foods such as sauerkraut and kombucha, can repopulate the gut with good probiotics. Bone broth is also good for healing the gut, as it is soothing to the intestines and contains collagen and other healing compounds.
How to Beat Sugar Cravings
As we know, sugar feeds inflammation and messes with our hormones. Despite knowing that sugar is not good for us, strong cravings make it hard to resist! In the heat of the moment, apple cider vinegar, lemon, or lime water can help curb a sugar craving.
Sugar cravings can also be due to dehydration or a mineral deficiency. Using healthy pink himalayan salt on meals and maintaining proper hydration will allow your body to properly balance your hormones and improve blood sugar.
In the long-term, switching from a diet high in processed foods and carbs to a cyclical keto diet, or a lower carb diet rich in complex carbs and healthy fats, can help you feel satiated and balance your blood sugar.