Dr. Donata Girolamo, ND
Maintaining a tightly controlled insulin and blood sugar relationship is crucial for conception. This means ensuring the pancreas does not produce too much insulin in response to your meal. You may have a problem with blood sugar balance and insulin resistance if you have trouble with weight loss, have been diagnosed with Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), live a sedentary life, or have been consuming a diet high in sugars, alcohol, refined flours and processed foods, or have high stress levels. However, many people don’t know for years because there may be no symptoms, or they may be subtle. Simple lab tests such as A1C, fasting glucose, and random glucose may be helpful, along with hormone tests.
Fertility expert Jane Lyttleton writes, “it appears that levels of blood sugar need to be stable at the time of ovulation and conception. If they are not, there is an increased risk of chromosomal abnormalities in the fetus or developmental abnormalities”,1 and as we know, a common cause of miscarriage in the first trimester is due to chromosomal abnormalities.2
Not only are there chances for abnormalities, but ovulation may actually become impaired if this relationship is not regulated. Sat Dharam Kaur, N.D. writes, “high insulin prevents ovulation and stimulates the ovaries to produce more hormones called androgens which include testosterone.” 3 This is a well known component of PCOS.
Cortisol during stress can cause insulin resistance
Cortisol, the well known stress hormone, contributes to the reduction of insulin sensitivity. This means that the body does not respond efficiently to the insulin that is released, so it thinks it should produce more insulin. In a study, cortisol caused increased insulin release to a glucose challenge, exacerbating the progression towards insulin resistance.4 For more on cortisol and how it affects fertility, click here.
Foods that promote a well balanced blood sugar and insulin relationship
Grains such as pearl barley, bulgar, buckwheat, and wheat berries when eaten in moderation and in their whole form cause a low glycemic load on the body. If the grains are pulverized like in bread, even healthy grains can cause an increase in the glycemic load just the same as a white piece of bread. Beans such as lentils and chickpeas, kidney and adzuki beans provide fiber and protein, which are helpful in regulating blood sugar and are less acidic for the body than meat. However for many people chicken, turkey, wild fish, and grass fed lean meats are also a good idea since they have a very low glycemic load. A colourful array of veggies should be the basis of your meal planning. Leafy greens, orange, yellow, red, and cruciferous veggies should all make a rotated appearance on your plate. These provide wonderful anti-oxidants and minerals, both helpful in glucose management. Nuts and seeds are excellent as snacks or combined with a vegetarian meal for added protein, fiber, and essential fatty acids.
A study performed on women with PCOS, the syndrome well known to have the symptom of insulin resistance and high androgens, found that caloric cycling decreased insulin, glucose, and testosterone, and promoted ovulation. Breakfast consisted of 980 calories, lunch 640 calories, and dinner 190 calories.5
Top 3 tips to restore your blood sugar and insulin relationship
- Shift to a diet that is low in refined carbohydrate and animal fat but high in low-glycemic foods, phytoestrogens like sprouted beans, olive oil, flax, and fish oil. This has been shown to decrease insulin resistance, help with weight loss and lower both testosterone and estrogen levels.6
- Supplements – If you are on a quality prenatal already, it may provide you with a baseline of b vitamins, vitamin D, and minerals like chromium that help to balance blood sugar. Depending on your specific needs, you may require more of these, or a more targeted support. A clean fish oil will increase insulin receptors and improve glucose metabolism. Magnesium and Alpha lipoic acid will help insulin’s movement into your cells. If you have a problem with absorption such as low stomach acid, parasites, or leaky gut syndrome, you should heal this as part of a comprehensive treatment plan so that you can maintain your benefits long-term. Speak to a licensed Naturopathic Doctor for help with the root cause.
- Exercise – Exercise is one of the most empowering things you can do to lower and stabilize your blood glucose. Walking as little as 40 minutes per day may be enough. Weight lifting has many benefits including glucose regulation. For some, High Intensity Interval Training may be appealing. Short bursts of intense intervals such as sprinting or jumping lowers insulin resistance and enhances fat oxidation and improved glucose tolerance.7 These are also great exercises to help with weight loss.
There is so much you can do to help your fertility. Regulating your blood sugar is 1 factor out of 5 pillars. Stay tuned for the third next month.
After graduating from the University of Toronto with an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree, Dr. Donata Girolamo then pursued her passion for holistic medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto, becoming a licensed and registered Naturopathic Doctor.
Dr. Donata Girolamo maintains a private family practice with special interests in fertility and mental wellness. Her mission is to optimize your health care by combining evidence-based medicine with the art and wisdom of traditional medicine. To address your health concerns she uses acupuncture, herbs, homeopathy, nutrition and lifestyle counselling.
She maintains inspired through continuing education, and has extensive training in homeopathy, biotherapeutic drainage, auricular medicine, and medical intuition. She has additional certification in Wilson’s Temperature Syndrome, First Line Therapy; a lifestyle program for weight loss and chronic disease prevention and treatment, and Psychosomatic Energetics. Due to her interest in the link between mind, body and spirit, Dr. Girolamo has taken intensive courses in Vipassana and Mindfulness meditation, and mind-body medicine through The Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body medicine.
She is certified by the Board of Directors of Drugless Therapy Naturopathy and an active member of The Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors, the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors, and the Association of Perinatal Naturopathic Doctors. She is a regular contributor to Health Wellness and Safety magazine, and has written for Canadian Health and Lifestyle. She is a guest speaker at Niagara College, teaching stress management with meditation, and is active in the community, giving health talks to groups like Run Girl Run, Happy Hearts, Niagara Pain Program, and Form Fitness. She is appearing in a fertility segment on CHCH news, and has been interviewed on 610 CKTB newstalk radio regarding menopause. Understanding and sharing the body’s wisdom is not only a passion, but her calling.
- Moley, KH et. al. Hyperglycemia induces apoptosis in pre-implantation embryos through cell death effector pathways. In Nature medicine.Vol 4. 12th ed.; 1421–1424,1998.
- Lathi, RB et. al. First trimester miscarriage evaluation. Medscape. 2011. Available at: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/755264_4. Accessed June 13, 2015.
- Kaur, SD, Dean, C, Danylak-Arhanic, M. The complete natural medicine guide to women’s health. In The complete natural medicine guide to women’s health. Toronto: R. Rose; 2005: 378.
- Adam, TC, Hasson, RE, Ventura, EE, et al. Cortisol Is Negatively Associated with Insulin Sensitivity in Overweight Latino Youth. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmc3050109/. Accessed June 13, 2015.
- Jakubowicz, D. Effects of caloric intake timing on insulin resistance and hyperandrogenism in lean women with polycystic ovary syndrome | DeepDyve. Clinical Science. 2013. Available at: https://www.deepdyve.com/lp/portland-press/effects-of-caloric-intake-timing-on-insulin-resistance-and-hb0tyuffhb. Accessed June 13, 2015.
- Kaur, SD. Chapter 3. In The complete natural medicine guide to breast cancer: a practical manual for understanding, prevention & care. Toronto: R. Rose; 2003: 86.
- Boutcher, SH. High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss. High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss. 2011. Available at:http://www.hindawi.com/journals/jobe/2011/868305/. Accessed June 13, 2015.