Constant ingestion of glucose-rich foods negatively affects both male and female fertility, and coupled with stress makes a devastating combination. It’s not only sweets and cold drinks you need to be aware of, but also the highly accessible glucose in wheat products such as bread, pastries, pizzas and pasta.
Sugar has both hormonal and direct chemical effects on the metabolism and tissue pH that can negatively influence reproductive health. The most obvious of these is its effect on insulin, the sugar control hormone. High-glucose diets and high-fructose corn syrup can create an insulin spike that in turn causes a rapid drop in blood glucose levels and can result in a hypoglycaemic state (low blood sugar), with light-headedness and even anxiety and fatigue. This rapid rise and fall of blood sugar creates a crisis in the body similar to that caused by stress, and can induce a stress response and production of the stress hormone cortisol.
Cortisol ‘theft’ of the reproductive hormone progesterone away from testosterone and oestrogen is one way in which sugar influences reproduction negatively. Another is that the presence of cortisol may create what the body thinks is a starvation state, so it stores sugar as belly fat instead of using it for metabolic energy – this can also lead to sugar cravings, as cortisol and insulin seesaw the sugar levels. The result of this process is rapid weight gain in the belly and no sugar being used for metabolism in organs such as the reproductive system.
It is nature’s way of protecting us from having babies in a starvation state, but the irony is that the body in fact has surplus food, but is prevented by cortisol from using it where it is needed.
The combination of high insulin and cortisol levels also interferes with thyroid hormone function to further reduce energy demands on the body (remember that the system thinks it is in starvation mode, and must conserve and not use energy). The result is lowered stimulation of reproductive tissue growth, as high cortisol steals the reproductive hormones and low thyroid hormone prevents both egg and sperm growth. In this situation it is common to see slow-growing, poor-quality follicles, commonly associated with conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Sugar also has a pro-inflammatory effect in the body, as the belly fat produces inflammatory chemicals.
Raised acid levels in the tissues also result from excessive sugar intake, and interfere with hormone triggering of reproductive tissues. So even if the interference in hormone manufacture described above is not enough to disrupt things, the acidity disrupts communication at a cellular level. High acidity caused by sugar can also result in yeast thriving in the vagina, creating a hostile environment for sperm, which die before they can get into the uterus – putting paid to the chance of conception before it even gets started. High glucose levels also interfere with prostate enzymes, causing sperm viscosity problems.
The bottom line is that sugar and trying to conceive are not friends! Rice, maize, oats, millet, sorghum and rye are good alternatives to wheat. Green tea, cinnamon, blueberries, beans and legumes, seeds, safflower oil, pears, cayenne pepper, turmeric, papaya, shitake mushrooms, broccoli and sweet potatoes all help to reduce inflammation and belly fat. Reducing belly fat prevents the vicious cycle of insulin and cortisol stimulating each other.
Editor’s note: For more articles on fertility, see Spotlight on Fertility and Healing your Hormones.