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How blood sugar can impact hormonal health in teens

How blood sugar can impact hormonal health in teens

Adolescence is a crucial period in a person’s life as it marks the transition from childhood to adulthood.


During this time, the body experiences several hormonal changes that can affect the teen’s physical and emotional health. The balance of hormones is essential for maintaining overall health, and disruptions in this balance can result in several health problems.


One such factor that can impact hormonal health in teens is blood sugar levels.


Blood sugar, also known as glucose, is a type of sugar that the body uses as its primary source of energy. The body regulates blood sugar levels through the release of hormones such as insulin and glucagon. When blood sugar levels rises after a meal, the body releases insulin to bring blood sugar levels back to normal. On the other hand, when blood sugar levels drop (e.g. due to fasting or exercise) glucagon is released to increase blood sugar. 

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Figure 1: How normal blood sugar levels are maintained by the hormones insulin and glucagon

In healthy individuals, the body’s insulin and glucagon levels remain balanced, and blood sugar levels remain stable. However, in individuals with blood sugar imbalances, these hormones may not function as they should to maintain a normal blood sugar level. This leads to an imbalance in other hormones.


The causes of blood sugar imbalance in teenagers

There are several factors that can cause blood sugar imbalance in teenagers. Some of them are:


  • Unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity: Consuming a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar can cause blood sugar levels to spikes and crash (ref). Over time, this can lead to insulin resistance, in which the body becomes less responsive to insulin (decreased insulin sensitivity).  A sedentary lifestyle can also lead to insulin resistance via weight gain. 


  • Stress: long-term stress can raise levels of the stress hormone cortisol which can raise blood sugar levels (1)


  • Hormonal changes: During puberty, hormonal changes can decrease insulin sensitivity (2)


  • Lack of Sleep: Lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can affect insulin sensitivity and blood sugar regulation (3)


The consequences of blood sugar imbalances in teenagers


Research has shown that high blood sugar levels can cause an imbalance in key hormones in teens, which can lead to several health problems:


  • Cortisol: high blood sugar levels increase the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. When levels of Cortisol remains elevated, insulin sensitivity is decreased. This can result in several health problems, including diabetes, obesity, and imbalances in sex hormones. For instance, female teens may experience irregular periods, more severe pre-menstrual symptoms and fertility problems later in life.


  • Growth hormone: Another hormonal imbalance that can result from elevated blood sugar levels is a reduction in the level of growth hormone. Growth hormone is essential for growth and development during the teenage years. Research has shown that high blood sugar levels can reduce the production of growth hormone, which can impact a teen’s physical development.


  • Sex hormones: high blood sugar levels can also impact the levels of other hormones, including estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone. This can result in several health problems, including menstrual irregularities, decreased fertility, and decreased muscle mass.


  • Leptin: Leptin is a hormone that regulates appetite and energy balance in the body.  Leptin signals the brain that the body has enough energy stored in fat cells, reducing the drive to eat and promoting weight loss. High levels of insulin, due to high blood sugar levels, can lead to leptin resistance, whereby the brain does not receive these signals effectively. This leads to increased hunger and decreased energy expenditure, and contributing to obesity and other health problems.


How to maintain balanced blood sugar levels

It is essential for teens to maintain stable blood sugar levels through a healthy diet and regular physical activity to avoid hormonal imbalances.


Teens who experience symptoms of hormonal imbalances, such as menstrual irregularities, and decreased muscle mass, should consult with their healthcare provider to determine if blood sugar imbalances are contributing to their symptoms.


Here are some of the best ways for teens to keep their blood sugar balanced:


1. Eat a balanced diet: Eating a diet that is rich in fiber, healthy fats, and protein can help regulate blood sugar levels. Teens should aim to eat more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. Avoid processed foods and sugary drinks, as they can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes. It is important to include dietary fiber in the diet as it helps slow down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates. 

2. Control portion sizes: Consuming large portions of food can cause blood sugar spikes, especially if the food is high in sugar or carbohydrates. Teens should control portion sizes and aim to eat small, frequent meals throughout the day to help regulate blood sugar levels.


3. Engage in physical activity: Regular physical activity can help regulate blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. Teens should aim to engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week.


4. Manage stress: Stress can cause elevated cortisol levels, which can impact blood sugar levels. Teens should aim to manage stress through activities such as meditation, yoga, or exercise.


5. Get enough sleep: Sleep is essential for overall health, including blood sugar regulation. Teens should aim to get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to help regulate blood sugar levels.


6. Avoid skipping meals: Skipping meals can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes, making it difficult to maintain balanced blood sugar levels. Teens should aim to eat small, frequent meals throughout the day to help regulate blood sugar levels.


7. Limit caffeine consumption: Caffeine can impact blood sugar levels and should be consumed in moderation. 


In conclusion, maintaining balanced blood sugar levels is essential for overall health, especially during the teenage years when the body is undergoing several hormonal changes. A dysregulated blood sugar can have dire consequences. A balanced diet, regular physical activity, stress management, adequate sleep, and limiting caffeine consumption can all help regulate blood sugar levels and promote overall health and well-being.

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