When you hear the words ‘hormone imbalance’ – most of us think of debilitating fatigue from a thyroid out of whack, stubborn belly fat from estrogen changes, or plummeting sex drive from low testosterone. But let’s not forget the foundation on which our entire metabolic health rests – blood sugar balance.
The hormones of insulin and cortisol are responsible for maintaining a constant energy supply to the body and brain. The most basic energy source is glucose or blood sugar. Glucose is tightly regulated as either extreme of too much or too little is detrimental to the body. When food is ingested, insulin is excreted from the beta cells of the pancreas to shuttle this fuel into the muscle, liver, and fat cells. When energy is low (like between meals or sleeping), cortisol releases these stores into the bloodstream to keep glucose levels from falling too low. This process is called metabolic flexibility and works in perfect synchrony to constantly supply the body with just the right amount of glucose!
However, 88% of Americans are metabolically inflexible as defined by:
- Fasting blood sugars >90 mg/dL
- Triglycerides >150 mg/dL
- Hemoglobin A1c >5.5
- Waist to Hip Ratio >0.5
- Fasting Insulin >7
Do any of these lab markers relate to you? If so, it’s time to retake control of those blood sugars! Under these conditions, the cells no longer respond to insulin’s signal. Cells feel “starved” for energy as glucose cannot get in. As a result, the pancreas secretes more and more insulin to keep blood sugar levels stable. Over time, this hyperinsulinemia leads to diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer growth, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. By the time someone is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, they have probably had undiagnosed insulin resistance for more than a decade.
Aside from lab markers, the body presents other signs and symptoms of insulin resistance and hormone imbalance, including increased abdominal fat, feeling tired after meals, excessive hunger, cravings, skin tags, or dark patches of skin (known as acanthosis nigricans).
The question becomes how do we lower insulin, and how do we improve/restore insulin sensitivity?
Focus on blood sugar balancing meals.
I would venture to bet that the last thing you’re thinking about when putting together a meal is your blood sugar. Most of us are considering things like calories, carbohydrate content, or convenience. Instead, learn how to view meals as an opportunity to make or break your insulin sensitivity. Center every meal around a balanced bowl of protein, fiber, and fat. Your portions and choices will be bio-individualized based on age, gender, diet history, and activity levels, but the balanced bowl concept is the same. Minimize foods and drinks that increase insulin production, such as processed plant oils and added sugars. Opt for high-quality animal proteins, nutrient-dense food sources, and cook more meals at home! Watch how hormone balance, energy & weight loss take care of themselves when blood sugars are more stable day-to-day.
Control your cortisol.
Cortisol has a bad reputation, but it’s doing its job to save the day when your body is under stress. It liberates energy from storage to ensure you are ready to “fight or flee.” But in the exact moment, it shuts down thyroid production to conserve energy and inhibits sex hormone production (stressful times are not great for procreation!). Unfortunately, many of us are under chronic, unrelenting stress every day. This stress elevates our blood sugar, stimulates insulin, and accelerates insulin resistance. Focus on removing controllable stressors: ditch low-calorie diets, work smarter, not harder in the gym, and hydrate with water and minerals. Your blood sugars (and waistline!) will thank you.
Move it or lose it.
Exercise decreases blood sugars independent of insulin. Meaning, get those muscles moving, and zero insulin is required to get the glucose inside the cell. Even 10-20 minutes of walking after a meal reduces blood sugar and insulin by 25%. Exercise is an essential means of reducing overall insulin and improving insulin sensitivity! Any regular movement can help – high-intensity interval training (HIIT), resistance training, and cardio training. Building muscle over time improves overall metabolic flexibility, lowers fasting blood sugar, and lowers insulin. Find a variety of movements that you enjoy and make it a daily goal to move after meals.
Insulin resistance is the foundation of our hormone hierarchy. It is much more than a surface-level “cut carbs, do keto” solution – you may have removed some sugar from the diet, but you haven’t addressed the root of the cellular dysfunction. Need help navigating a blood sugar balancing diet and lifestyle for you? Energy hormone balance is the key. Visit re-newinstitute.com to schedule your complimentary bio-nutrition coaching consult today!