Have you ever felt tired and unable to concentrate and reached for the nearest sugary treat for that familiar, quick rush of energy? It’s true, stimulants like sugar, caffeine, and chocolate do provide a shock of energy, but this is often short lived and followed by a huge dip in blood sugar, resulting brain fog and even less energy than before that sugary goodness.
This is a vicious cycle that plagues most modern adults.
And the problem is, if the cycle is not corrected, dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar levels can affect our weight, sleep patterns, hormone regulation, even our mood. One condition that is heavily influenced by our intake of sugary foods is anxiety.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting more than 40 million adults age 18 and over. These numbers are a bit overwhelming, but the good news is that anxiety is highly treatable.
Symptoms of anxiety include:
- Brain fog
- Obsessive anxiety & worry
- Flat mood
- Feeling overwhelmed
While anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of factors, from genetics to brain chemistry, to life events, there are some pretty dramatic ways we can help treat the condition with nutrition alone.
How Blood Sugar Dysregulation Contributes to Anxiety
Low blood sugar and the physical response that comes with it – brain fog, irritability, weakness, nausea – are the body’s response to hunger. This is an biological mechanism designed to make food a priority.
This is great, until modern life gets in the way. Instead of making mealtime a priority, most humans tend to reach for a sugary or highly processed snack or will put off eating at all.
This can result in severe blood sugar dysregulation, which can trigger a hormonal cascade that spikes cortisol, resulting in symptoms that mimic an anxiety attack – blurry vision, difficulty thinking, shaking, and tension.
These symptoms can, in turn, increase worry and fear, thus exacerbating the condition. The inevitable sugar crash is a another fluctuation in hormones, a deep dip in cortisol and the resulting feelings of crippling fatigue and brain fog.
Your blood sugar may be at the root of your hormone imbalance.
In women, blood sugar imbalances over time can increase testosterone and damage the adrenal glands.
Adrenal dysfunction can suppress pituitary function and affect the production of healthy sex hormones, which can affect sex drive and fertility.
Download a free copy of my eBook, Dr. Brighten's Quick Guide to Balancing Your Hormones
Hidden Sources of Sugar
Hidden sources of sugar have gotten so insidious that we can barely order a salad at a restaurant without thinking of possible concealed sugar content.
Names for sugars can be tricky, so look for ingredients like corn syrup, brown sugar, honey, brown sugar syrup, dextrose, and fructose.
It’s important to stay away from artificial sugars as well – xylitol, tagatose, sucralose, sorbitol, saccharin, polydextrose, neotame, mannitol, aspartame are just a few.
Besides the obvious baked goods, candies, and ice cream, here are a list of possible hidden sources of sugar:
5-7 grams of sugar in 2 tablespoons? No thank you! Sweeter varieties like raspberry vinaigrette or French dressings are the biggest offenders, but there’s really no way to make sure you’re getting a low sugar option unless you opt for simple oil and vinegar or make it yourself.
Pasta sauces (and other sauces for that matter).
They may not taste sweet, but many store bought and restaurant sauces contain added, processed sugars. Make your sauces at home or look for brands with no added sugars instead.
Many granola bars, especially those with “yogurt” or chocolate coating can contain upwards of 15 grams of sugar! Instead, try nut-based granolas with fewer added sugars or a protein-packed bar like Epic Bars (my 3-year old loves these!)
Instant oatmeal and other granolas.
Add berries and coconut cream to oats and other hot cereals instead of opting for the “instant” variety. Avoid any cereals with processed grains and added sugars, which can add up to 10-15 grams of sugar per serving.
Most yogurts are highly processed and packed with added sugars. Instead, pick out organic, grassfed varieties in plain flavors. Add a tsp. of raw honey or fruit for some added sweetener.
Dried fruit may look healthy, but take a peek at the ingredients. Many dried and other packaged fruits contain obscene amounts of added sugar.
Like salad dressings, many condiments (ketchup being the most notorious offender) contain unnecessary amounts of sugar. Read your labels and opt for lower to no sugar or switch to mustard!
When diet isn't enough…
Dietary changes alone may not cure anxiety, but they can greatly diminish symptoms, boost healthy energy levels, and help the body cope with stress. You can boost important neurotransmitters like serotonin and GABA naturally to help calm anxiety, reduce cravings, and get control of your emotions:
7 Natural Ways to Curb Your Anxiety & Control Your Blood Sugar:
Fix Your Gut.
Your gut must be working optimally for your hormones to be functioning optimally. GI dysfunction can raise cortisol and cause detoxification issues, so talk to your doctor if you believe you’re having gut issues or hormone dysfunction.
Eat every 3-4 hours.
Set an alarm on your phone if you have to, but be sure to eat regular meals. For some people, even going 4 hours is far too long for their body to be without food.
Take 21 days off.
Try eliminating processed grains and added sugars completely for 21 days. Elimination of sugars and processed grains will help to balance blood sugar and get your hormones on track. Work with a nutritionist to support you in making these changes.
Protein at every meal.
Eat good quality protein at every meal to keep you feeling full and maintain consistent blood sugar. Protein is a source of the amino acids, which are needed to form neurotransmitters.
Grassfed and finished organic beef, lamb, pastured, organic eggs and chicken, and wild fish and other seafood are good examples of quality protein.
Eat your veggies.
Eat plenty of veggies! Aim for 50-75% of your plate to be covered in greens and other vegetables. These vegetables contain cofactors such as magnesium, vitamin B6, and zinc. These cofactors are necessary for making neurotransmitters.
Soak up the sun!
Get plenty of natural sunshine. Spend at least 15 minutes per day in direct sunlight, with some skin exposed. During dark winter months, consider purchasing a full-spectrum lamp.
Ask your doctor for the following labs to help assess your body’s response to sugar:
- Fasting insulin
- Fasting glucose
- Hemoglobin A1C
Take Charge of Your Hormonal Health
Women who are under an immense amount of physical and emotional stress for weeks and months at a time are especially susceptible to the effects of sugar. And while many women will turn to stimulants like sugar to help boost energy and mood throughout a busy day, this can actually lead to blood sugar imbalance, poor sleep quality, and hormone dysregulation over time.
In many instances, it is our hormones that are driving our mood and our anxiety. By addressing your relationship with sugar you can begin to create amazing hormonal health!