The Bitter Combo of Sugar & Stress
words by Maria-Antionette Issa (she/her)
It will probably shock exactly zero-percent of the population that a sugar-rich diet isn’t doing your belt buckle any favors. But have you ever wondered what that extra scoop of ice cream is doing to your moods, hormones, or vagina? Put down the chocolate syrup and sprinkles and read on.
Sugar & Stress
You may have LOLed at the funny meme that declared: “DESSERTS spelled backwards is STRESSED.” But real talk? The effect of emotional eating—especially the sugary kind—on your stress levels is no laughing matter.
Let’s start with the sugar roller coaster metaphor. When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol, a hormone responsible for helping us manage stress. When you eat sugary foods to deal with said stress, your body releases more cortisol to balance your blood sugar. Cue the crazy highs and lows of that sugar life.
Even worse though, is the long-term damage caused if you regularly use cake to manage your moods. In addition to reports that blood sugar highs and crashes may accentuate the symptoms of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, studies have found that a chronically high sugar intake can cause literal physical stress to your brain. In particular, it messes with the hippocampus – a memory-controlling area of the brain. The proof is in the pudding.
Sugar & Hormones
It’s not just cortisol that has a complicated relationship with sugar. Almost all your hormones are affected by too much of the white stuff. This includes those that affect your metabolism, immune function, and reproductive cycle.
Take for example, insulin. According to nutritionist Meg Yonson @megandveg, “Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, which is secreted into the blood stream to help regulate the body's blood sugar levels. Eating too much sugar can trigger the excessive release of insulin, which has been found to cause a whole host of problems including polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)."
One study even found that insulin resistance affects up to 70% of women with PCOS! In addition, if your pancreas releases too much insulin, it can sometimes impact your reproductive hormones by causing your ovaries to produce more testosterone. This can influence the development of the follicles in the ovaries, which can affect ovulation as well as trigger symptoms such as acne, irregular periods or unusual body hair growth.
Sugar & Vaginal Health
Yeast (the vaginal kind) thrives on sugar like Beyonce fans waiting for Queen B to make her appearance at Coachella, which is why a diet rich in sugar provides the perfect environment for acquiring a vaginal yeast infection.
Essentially, when you’ve had too much sugar and your body can’t get rid of it, it ends up in your blood, running throughout your body—including to the vagina, where blood vessels abound. When that excess sugar passes through your reproductive region, otherwise healthy existing yeast has more than enough nutrients to overgrow.
But before you get your knickers in a knot about that brownie binge, check out this study, which says this issue is more likely to exist among chronic over-carb consumers.
Moral of the marzipan: Go easy on the sweet stuff, but don’t get too salty if you indulge in an occasional sugar fix.
The Bitter Combo of Sugar & Stress by Maria-Antionette Issa (she/her)
Eating DIsorders, Anxiety & Depression by Ro (she/her)