Sugar has a bad reputation since its association with obesity and other health problems. But how much do we really know about sugar and the influence it has on our hormones?
What is sugar?
Sugar is the main fuel source utilised in our bodies and is required for our major internal organs, glands and muscles to function properly. Sugar occurs naturally as a carbohydrate in the structure of monosaccharides.
There are different types of monosaccharides: glucose, fructose and galactose. They are the most common forms of sugar, also known as simple sugars and are present in many processed foods, table sugar and soft drinks. The body all these sugars are converts all these sugars into glucose to be used for energy.
Testosterone is a very important hormone in both men and women. It is a major sex hormone in men but women also require small amounts. Sufficient levels of testosterone are required for many aspects of health.
Low levels of testosterone are associated with a reduction in muscle mass, an increase in body fat, osteoporosis, depression and decreased libido.
But how does sugar consumption affect testosterone levels?
Whenever you eat, your body releases a hormone called insulin. Insulin is the hormone produced in your pancreas that regulates the amount of glucose in your body. In other words, it balances out your blood sugar levels. The higher the sugar content in foods, the more insulin released to regulate blood glucose levels.
Research shows that insulin also directly affects testosterone causing a drop in levels. Therefore, the more sugar consumed the greater amount of insulin released and the more significant the drop in testosterone levels.
Although the reduction of testosterone levels with sugar consumption is only short-term, the consequences over a longer time period are unclear. Nevertheless, there is evidence to suggest a link between type-2 diabetes and low testosterone levels in men.
Type-2 diabetes occurs as a consequence of insulin resistance. A diet high in sugar causes higher amounts of insulin to be released into the bloodstream, which can result in cells becoming insulin resistant.
As cells become resistant to insulin, the pancreas produces higher quantities of insulin to bring down sugar levels. Eventually, the pancreas cannot keep up with the demand of producing enough insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels, which is then classed as diabetes.
Finding a balance
It is important to bear in mind, there are many other health issues associated with high sugar consumption such as weight gain, fatty liver disease, high cholesterol and cancer.
Healthy levels of testosterone help to maintain muscle mass and lower body fat percentages. Yet, higher levels of testosterone are linked to higher rates of cancer particularly prostate cancer.
To ensure healthy levels of testosterone naturally, it is important to consume a balanced diet and keep active. Exercise especially weight training and HIIT can help to boost testosterone levels. A diet low in simple sugars and a good balance of proteins, complex carbs (vegetables and whole grains) and healthy fats (fish, nuts and seeds) will also help to prevent hormone imbalances.
Click here for more information on how key hormones affect your health.