Sugar may contribute to infertility?! That’s right, consuming sugar regularly may lead to infertility, or make fertility issues you already have worse. As we move through the holiday season, we are bombarded with little treats filled with refined sugar at every turn. The cakes, cookies, cocktails, wine, fudge, candies; the list goes on. So why even care; are we not supposed to enjoy ourselves and indulge a little? Well, while that may be fine for others, but if you are struggling with fertility issues, it may be a good idea to look into alternatives to sugary foods, most importantly refined white sugars. This includes white table sugar, white flour, white corn (including corn syrup, darn no pecan pie!), white rice and alcoholic beverages. Most treats we love are made from these ingredients. High-fructose corn syrup is found in most pre-packaged foods at the supermarket!
The Cascade of Fertility Problems Created by Sugar
Food containing these ingredients are broken down quickly by the body, this raises our insulin levels too quickly. But how does this affect my hormone levels? This quick spike in sugar levels creates a ‘high’ in our bodies that lasts from 15-30 minutes. After that, our sugar levels plummet, leaving the body drained and exhausted. This creates what is referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ reaction in the body, due to continued stimulation of the adrenal glands. This drop in sugar levels signal the adrenal glands to release the hormone cortisol and adrenalin in an attempt to replenish sugar levels. Repeated stimulation of the adrenal glands to release cortisol and adrenaline weakens the adrenal glands. Hormones produced by the adrenals are not produced in abundance; the adrenals become sluggish. This may lead to hormonal imbalance. Not enough hormones are being produced or released. Other endocrine glands are not being signaled to release their hormones and the entire communication of the endocrine system becomes broken. All of this repeated adrenal stimulation affects the hormone levels of estrogen, progesterone, and the androgens DHEA and testosterone. This goes for both women and men.
The pancreas secretes insulin to convert the sugar in our blood into energy in our cells. Over-consumption of sugary foods requires the pancreas to release more and more insulin. Over time, continued release of too much insulin may create insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is known to disrupt normal ovulation by preventing the body from ovulating or limiting the maturation process of the egg. Insulin resistance also may disrupt the ability of the egg to implant in the uterus after conception. Women with insulin resistance are 4-5 times more likely to have a miscarriage. Insulin resistance is a key factor for most women with PCOS.
While a yeast infection may not directly cause infertility, it can hinder the ability of sperm to reach the egg. A vaginal yeast infection makes it almost impossible to have sexual intercourse, which we all know is necessary to become pregnant.
Too much sugar consumption may cause hyperglycemia. Hyperglycemia is known to contribute to PMS, or to make it worse.
Research has shown that just 1 tablespoon of sugar can lower your immunity for up to 4 hours at a time. No wonder we get so sick in the winter holiday season and have a harder time recovering from illness! Lowered immunity means that we are more susceptible to infections of all kinds; this includes yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis, but also sexually transmitted diseases as well, all of which greatly affect our fertility.
Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency
For the body to continually release insulin and cortisol, it has to use up vitamin and mineral stores. Vitamins and minerals that are often depleted are B vitamins, especially B6, vit. E, magnesium and copper. Lowered levels of vitamin E have been linked to miscarriage.
Healthy Alternatives to Sugar
There are many healthy natural alternatives to refined sugars. I have included the glycemic index for these sweeteners. The glycemic index tells you how quickly the carbohydrates turn to sugar in your blood. The higher the GI rating, the greater the spike of glucose in the blood stream and the more insulin released. To give you a point of reference, refined white table sugar has a GI of 80 and is considered a high GI. High-fructose corn syrup has a very high GI rating of 87. Most processed foods contain some amount of high-fructose corn syrup. Read the labels of the products you purchase; if they contain high-fructose corn syrup, try to avoid them!
What About Raw Honey and Agave Syrup?
While many people think that honey or agave are good alternatives to refined sugar, studies have shown that they still can raise blood sugar levels. Agave not as much as honey. So for women with insulin resistance, it is still a good idea to only consume honey and agave in very small amounts. Refined honey that is not raw is just as bad as table sugar with a GI rating of 75! GI rating of raw honey=30, Agave=15-30
Stevia is a plant that is very sweet. The plant part used is the leaf. It is an excellent substitute for sweetening foods all naturally. It does not cause a spike in blood sugar. It has been consumed for 1,500 years with little to no side effects. Stevia has 300 times the sweetness of sugar. A little Stevia goes a long way, so you don’t need to use very much. Stevia is sold in a powder or liquid extract. Stevia is the best sweetener choice for women with PCOS or diabetes.
Xylitol is a hydrogenated carbohydrate extracted from fibers of many different plants. Most often it is extracted from the birch tree. Xylitol is a low-calorie natural sugar substitute. Because it breaks down much slower than sugar, it does not contribute to insulin resistance or other blood sugar-related disease. Some studies have shown that xylitol may help control yeast infections. Because xylitol is a sugar alcohol, it is not completely absorbed by the body, which may cause digestive upset in some people. GI=7
5 Tips for Avoiding Sugar and Eating Right Through the Holidays
1. Use sugar alternatives where possible. Try out new recipes using one of the natural sugar substitutes above. Make desserts with these alternatives and take them to holiday gatherings; that way you will know you have at least one healthy dessert option. I often use sugar alternatives in baking and they taste just as wonderful as ones made with white sugar.
2. Use whole grains rather than white grains. This means limit white flour consumption. Choose whole grain flours as a substitute. Choose whole wheat, amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa or millet.
3. Avoid alcoholic beverages. Any holiday season can be stressful, but the winter holiday season may be the worst. Many people tend to use alcohol to deal with stress. This year, try something different when stress begins to arise. Get out of the situation, go for a walk. Invite family or friends to go with you. Play a board game. Make a cup of hot herbal tea.
4. Choose fresh fruits or high-protein foods instead of sweets. Whenever you get a craving for sweets, baked goods or comfort foods, choose a piece of fresh fruit or a high-protein snack instead. Any piece of fresh fruit will do. As far as high-protein snacks, choose a handful of nuts instead of a piece of candy.
5. Drink 1 Fertility Smoothie or fresh juice a day! Before heading out to a party for the holidays, make sure you drink a Fertility Smoothie with fertility superfoods or make a fresh juice. Fertility Smoothies are filling, they curb cravings for sugary foods, and they are packed full of nutrition! If you do slip up and eat some treats during the holidays, at least you will know that you have gotten a ton of nutrition, plus a digestion aid, by drinking a smoothie or fresh juice. If you need smoothie or fresh juice ideas, check out our great Fertility Smoothies eBook or 21 Day Fertility Diet Challenge eBook for super healthy and delicious recipes!
We want you to be able to enjoy the holidays, without going overboard on your sugar intake. We know that many of you desire to increase your fertility naturally; avoiding sugar helps you achieve that goal!
- Chang, R., & Oumano, E. (2007). What your doctor may not tell you about getting pregnant: boost your fertility with the best of traditional and alternative therapies. New York: Warner Wellness.
- Edwards, M. (n.d.). Healthy Sugar Alternatives & More. Retrieved from: http://www.organiclifestylemagazine.com/healthy-sugar-alternatives-more
- Northrup, C. (2010). Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. Bantam Books.
- Monte, T. (1997). The complete guide to Natural Healing. Boston Common Press.
- Stevia. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stevia
- Xylitol. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/xylitol