What are Hormones?
Hormones are your body’s chemical messengers. Endocrine glands, which are special groups of cells, make hormones. The major endocrine glands in your body are the Pituitary, Pineal, Thymus, Thyroid, Adrenal glands, and Pancreas which is a glandular organ. In addition, men produce hormones in their testes and women produce hormones in their ovaries.
In the human body, hormones are used for two types of communication. The first is for communication between two endocrine glands, where one gland releases a hormone which stimulates another target gland to change the levels of hormones that it is releasing. The second is between an endocrine gland and a target organ such as the pancreas. For example, when you eat or drink something sweet (sugar); the pancreas releases insulin which causes muscle and fat cells to take up glucose from the bloodstream.
Since hormones are released into the bloodstream and can therefore be carried around the entire body, these chemical messengers can perform both of these actions on many different targets. The complex interplay between the glands, hormones and other target organs is referred to as the endocrine system. Hormones affect many physiological activities which include:
- Growth and Development
- Metabolism – how your body gets energy from the foods you eat
- Sexual Function
It is important to know that hormonal imbalance is never caused by a single condition. However, one of the more common causes of hormonal imbalance is consuming too much sugar or refined carbohydrates. Sugar and refined carbohydrates may be best known for their effects on weight gain, yet, their role in hormone imbalance is a discussion worth having. Why? Because uncontrolled blood sugar can cause a disruption in the body’s normal function to regulate hormones such as Insulin, Glucagon, GLP-1, GIP, Amylin, Epinephrine, Cortisol, and Growth Hormone.
Insulin, Glucagon, GLP-1, GIP, Amylin, Epinephrine, Cortisol, Growth Hormone
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates in the food that you eat for energy or to store glucose for future use. The hormone insulin helps keeps your blood sugar level from getting too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia). The cells in your body need sugar for energy. However, sugar cannot go into most of your cells directly. After you eat food and your blood sugar level rises, cells in your pancreas (known as beta cells) are signaled to release insulin into your bloodstream. Insulin then attaches to and signals cells to absorb sugar from the bloodstream. Insulin is often described as a “key,” which unlocks the cell to allow sugar to enter the cell and be used for energy.
Glucagon is released between meals and overnight. It is important in maintaining the body’s sugar and fuel balance. Glucagon signals the liver to break down its starch or glycogen stores and helps to form new glucose units and ketone units from other substances. This hormone also promotes the breakdown of fat in fat cells. In contrast, after a meal, when sugar from the ingested food rushes into your bloodstream, your liver doesn’t need to make sugar. The consequence? Glucagon levels fall. Unfortunately, in individuals with diabetes, the opposite occurs. While eating, their glucagon levels rise, which causes blood sugar levels to rise after the meal.
GLP-1 and GIP – GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1), GIP (glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide) and amylin are other hormones that also regulate mealtime insulin. GLP-1 and GIP are incretin hormones. When released from your gut, they signal the beta cells to increase their insulin secretion and, at the same time, decrease the alpha cells’ release of glucagon. GLP-1 also slows down the rate at which food empties from your stomach, and it acts on the brain to make you feel full and satisfied. People with type 1 diabetes have absent or malfunctioning beta cells so the hormones insulin and amylin are missing and the hormone GLP1 cannot work properly. This may explain, in part, why individuals with diabetes do not suppress glucagon during a meal and have high blood sugars after a meal.
Amylin is released along with insulin from beta cells. It has much the same effect as GLP-1. It decreases glucagon levels, which will then decrease the liver’s glucose production, slows the rate at which food empties from your stomach, and makes your brain feel that you have eaten a full and satisfying meal.
The overall effect of Glucogen, GLP-1, GIP, and Amylin is to reduce the production of sugar by the liver during a meal to prevent it from getting too high.
Epinephrine (adrenaline) is released from nerve endings and the adrenals, and acts directly on the liver to promote sugar production (via glycogenolysis). Epinephrine also promotes the breakdown and release of fat nutrients that travel to the liver where they are converted into sugar and ketones.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone also secreted from the adrenal gland. It makes fat and muscle cells resistant to the action of insulin, and enhances the production of glucose by the liver. Under normal circumstances, cortisol counterbalances the action of insulin. Under stress or if a synthetic cortisol is given as a medication (such as with prednisone therapy or cortisone injection), cortisol levels become elevated and you become insulin resistant. When you have Type 1 diabetes, this means your may need to take more insulin to keep your blood sugar under control.
Growth Hormone is released from the pituitary, which is a part of the brain. Like cortisol, growth hormone counterbalances the effect of insulin on muscle and fat cells. High levels of growth hormone can cause resistance to the action of insulin.
Blood Sugar, Hormone Balance, and You
Understanding that uncontrolled blood sugar, whether it is too high or too low, does have a direct impact on your body’s ability to regulate hormones properly. Upon gaining insight into the hormones listed in the aforementioned paragraphs, the words SUGAR and INSULIN were discussed in each of the chemical processes associated with your hormones. The question now is, “What are things that you can do to help regulate your blood sugar naturally?” Choosing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a step in the right direction.
Dietary fiber has an effect on your blood sugar. Soluble fiber, which dissolves in water, helps stabilize blood sugar levels by delaying stomach emptying. This process slows the rate of carbohydrate absorption, improving regulation of blood sugar, and lowering your body’s insulin requirements. Insoluble fiber, which doesn’t dissolve in water, increases the speed of waste elimination, helping to prevent constipation. Focus on low-carb, non-starchy fiber sources, such as spinach, kale, broccoli, and other leafy greens. Fruits, potatoes, peas, beans, lentils, winter squash, whole-grain breads, cereals and pastas are also rich in fiber, but higher in starchy carbohydrates.
Include Healthy Fats
Include healthy fats along with complex carbohydrates in your meal planning. Americans tend to eat excessive amounts of processed foods that digest very quickly and cause blood sugar to spike. Continual consumption of high-glycemic index carbohydrates can eventually lead to insulin resistance and type II diabetes. Eating healthy fats along with healthy carbohydrates can help buffer carb absorption by slowing down the digestive process. Avoid fried and processed foods packed with saturated fats. Instead, include healthy fats from sources like extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, flax seeds, chai seeds, avocado oil, as well as wild caught cold water fish.
Clinical studies suggest that people with diabetes have elevated levels of free radicals and lower levels of antioxidants that fight free radicals. Free radicals are molecules containing unpaired electrons that can damage cells and cause disease. Antioxidants vitamin E, selenium and zinc may help keep blood glucose levels in a normal range, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Fruits, such as blueberries, cherries, tomatoes, and vegetables, such as squash and bell peppers, are full of antioxidants. Leafy greens, wheat germ and whole grains contain vitamin E. Selenium-rich foods include seafood and walnuts.
Incorporating moderate exercise in your day is another step in naturally balancing blood sugar. Exercise lowers blood glucose and helps insulin work more effectively in your body. Exercising three to four times each week for 30 to 60 minutes per session provides the most beneficial effects. Even 20 minutes of walking, three times a week provides beneficial results. Discuss an appropriate exercise plan for you specific needs with your physician or another health professional.
Stress stimulates the nervous and endocrine systems in ways that increase blood sugar levels. That process causes an increase in the stress hormone cortisol. Being affected by stress can affect your glucose levels in two ways. First, when under stress, you may not eat right or exercise, which can wreak havoc on your blood sugar. Secondly, stress hormones may alter blood glucose directly. A stroll in the park, reading your favorite book, yoga, stretching, meditation and deep breathing exercises are all ways that reduce stress levels. Find something you enjoy which has a calming effect on you then incorporate it into your daily routine.
Supplements, such as chromium and magnesium, have been shown to lower blood sugar. Chromium appears to help insulin pull glucose from your bloodstream into your cells for energy, helping to regulate insulin levels. Supplements and food sources, such as vegetables, whole grains, fish and fruits supply chromium. Sugar Balance by Aceva is a clinically-effective formula containing powerful ingredients designed to improve insulin sensitivity and enhance blood glucose (sugar) control.* The formula includes the master antioxidant, Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA), a rare herb, Banaba (Lagerstromeia Speciosa Leaf extract), and key vitamins and trace minerals that help enhance or repair the glucose signaling pathways within the body. Always discuss your specific needs with your physician or another health professional before taking supplements.
Learn more about Aceva’s Sugar Balance at acevanutrition.com
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.