The blood sugar – hormone connection with Kate Vazquez and Laurie
In this interview, Laurie and Kate Vazquez discuss The blood sugar – hormone connection and what you can do to track your blood sugar and balance it.
To find out more about your blood sugar be sure to check out Laurie’s blood sugar quiz here and use the contact options to find out more about continuous glucose monitors.
This is a transcription of an Instagram live conversation. You can find the full video here.
Hello everyone, today we’re gonna be talking about the blood sugar hormone connection.
So Laurie is a functional nutritionist, health coach and biohacking adventure lover, who loves helping high achieving women optimize their health and their hormones to reclaim their vibrant brain power and body to get back to feeling fabulous, confident, and in control.
Running marathons around the world and leading a community of hundreds of international athletes was Laurie’s world up until her health and her life just turned upside down. Now she is an advocate for prioritizing women’s health in fitness work and life. She also is on a mission to help millions of women around the world to get the support that they need to reclaim their inner and outer badass, as well as play bigger in their lives and work.
So to begin, tell us a little bit about yourself and then we’ll dive in.
Sure. I work in women’s hormone health and I specialize in helping women balance their blood sugar to help fix anything from periods to skin, hair loss and weight gain. So many of the problems that women are facing can be related to blood sugar.
I myself have struggled with some of these problems and had a laundry list of problems, before I figured it all out. And it took me some time to figure it all out. I was doing it alone for the longest time. I was getting turned away by doctors who told me they didn’t know how to help me.
I went from doctor to doctor before I started to figure things out, before I started diving deeper into functional medicine. I ended up really going down that path, moving from the fitness world and working more in functional nutrition now. Especially after noticing that there was that gap of support that was lacking for women. The conventional medical system is great for so many things, but when it comes to figuring out hormone issues for women, there’s just this big gap. I felt like that was an area where I needed to provide more support, because I had also been there too and thankfully found my way out.
I love working with blood sugar. Probably because I come from two parents, who had diabetes while I was growing up. So I’ve been around this whole blood sugar thing since I was a kid. I was curious, I was interested in it. I used to take my blood sugar just to see where I was at. I didn’t have any problems. I’ve been doing that ever since I was a teenager.
I had a continuous glucose monitor at home and I could see that had great blood sugar. Suddenly when I started having some of the issues that I was having, I noticed that things were getting off track. I was like, “What’s going on with my blood sugar? Why is it going wacky all of a sudden?”
I was exercising regularly. I was eating really well. I was taking care of my sleep, taking care of my mindset and managing my stress. I was doing all of the things that I thought were supposed to be helping me stay healthy when you start to realize that your health is falling apart.
So then that’s how I got where I am. I’m now really quite specialized in helping women balance their blood sugar to help balance their hormones. That’s a piece of the puzzle that I’m so fascinated by and a very important one that can make a big difference in women’s lives.
It’s so huge and it’s crazy. We only really look at blood sugar when you’re diagnosed with pre-diabetes or diabetes. If a lot of chronic disorders are due to imbalanced blood sugar, poor glucose response and insulin resistance that lead to diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimers, obesity and even hormonal imbalances like PCOS, why aren’t we looking at glucose before these things develop?
I do believe we can really help, reverse and prevent a lot of chronic disorders from occurring if we can actually look at our blood glucose response. I did the continuous glucose monitor and it’s so mind blowing, how our blood sugar responds to food. Foods that we think wouldn’t spike our glucose can spike it. Even healthy carbs can spike glucose, especially if they’re not paired with fats, fiber and proteins to help balance out that response.
Everybody’s so different. This is why diets don’t work for everybody, because you have to look at how your body is responding on a cellular level.
Tell us a little bit about how blood sugar is connected to our metabolism, our mood, our mind, our skin, and so many other things.
I mean blood sugar is connected to everything in our body. We depend on blood sugar for energy, for fuel. Blood sugar is converted to ATP in our cells, which we use for energy and all of our cells need that energy.
When our body has a hard time getting the glucose into the cell, we can have issues and we need a hormone called insulin to get blood sugar into the cells. Sometimes women have issues getting the blood sugar into the cells. Sometimes women have issues with having blood sugar highs and lows. There can be a host of different issues that could happen with blood sugar long before you have pre-diabetes or diabetes.
We’re really dependent on blood sugar for an optimal metabolism for optimal energy, for optimal skin, for optimal hair and periods. It’s everything. So if you have symptoms and frustrations and you haven’t ever checked out your blood sugar, I think it’s so important, because blood sugar is connected to it all. That’s something definitely important to look at.
Often when we think of metabolism, women think metabolism just has to do with their weight and how quickly you burn calories, but metabolism affects everything. It affects everything in your body. Blood sugar doesn’t just affect your metabolism, it’s also going to be affecting moods and cravings. And again skin, hair and appearance. It goes deep and it’s much bigger than we even imagine when we talk about metabolism.
Another thing too, when people think of metabolism they think of the thyroid. It is responsible for metabolism, which is true. But yet if we look at the cells and what’s happening on a cellular level in our mitochondria, that’s where that energy is being produced. That’s why we need glucose.
The problem is if there’s too much glucose in the body. So it’s just having that balance, making sure everything is functioning optimally as it should and really supporting the mitochondria.
How or why can blood sugar balance be harder to achieve in women?
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Our female sex hormones play a part in helping us regulate our blood sugar. One of those important hormones is estrogen and in women estrogen fluctuates throughout the month. It’s kind of going up and down throughout the month and that’s going to impact our blood sugar care control throughout the month as well. At different times of the month, it’s gonna be easier or harder to regulate your blood sugar. In addition to that, after the age of around 35, these sex hormones start to decline. As they start to decline, women can start to struggle with blood sugar regulation.
We typically think about people getting type two diabetes later in life, like in your fifties, sixties or your seventies, but from the age of 35 or maybe even younger it can happen before that, if there’s something going on with estrogen or other hormones in your body. That’s affecting how we regulate blood sugar at a younger age. Then as those hormones decline from around the age of 35, it gets harder and harder to regulate our blood sugar levels.
This is gonna be a different experience for men. Of course, there are other hormones and other things that are involved with blood sugar regulation and men are gonna have struggles as well, but women have fluctuating hormones up to their menopause. So this is a challenging thing, women struggle with it all the time.
For sure. Estrogen’s a Goldilocks hormone, not too little and not too much, because if we have too much or not enough that can cause problems. The studies show that when women go through menopause, they’re more at risk of getting insulin resistance and diabetes, because they lose that protective effect. Women are more likely to gain weight, because they lose estrogen. But I believe that too much estrogen in the system can also contribute to insulin resistance. That’s why we have to have that nice balance of estrogen in the body. So that it’s working for us and not against us.
There are women going through early menopause in their thirties, which is crazy and unheard of. There’s a lot of factors at play if you’re experiencing those menopausal symptoms in your thirties. That’s the clue to get checked out right away. There’s so many things that can impact those symptoms like gut health, stress and a poor glucose response.
So if you’re experiencing those hot flashes and those menopausal symptoms get checked out right away. That’s a red flag, because we wanna make sure that your hormones are supported and that they do not decline too early. Because then again they are also more at risk of all these chronic disorders.
Yeah, absolutely. Let’s stop normalizing all of these symptoms that women are struggling with, stuff we think is related to periods. I know I struggled with a lot of stuff where people said it was normal. I know now that was a sign, my body was sending me that things weren’t normal and that I should do something now, before it becomes a bigger problem down the road. Which of course it did become for me, because I thought these things were normal. At first I first had really light periods almost non-existent. Then I had really heavy periods but then “those are just things women experience”. Yes, women do experience it, but it’s not normal.
Absolutely. Well how can everyone check how their blood glucose is doing?
Well there are a couple of tests you could check. There’s the HbA1c, which is giving you a picture of what it might look like over three months time. Then there’s fasting glucose tests that you might do with your doctor, which just is a prick in the morning, after you haven’t eaten for a while. That gives you a little bit of a picture of what your glucose looks like when you’re fasting.
I think both of those are okay tests. They can tell you something, but I also think that there is a much, much better way to see what’s going on. I’m a big fan of continuous glucose monitors and I’ve been using them for several years most of the time. I use them with all of my clients now.
What I’ve seen since using continuous glucose monitors is that HbA1c is great, but it’s not really matching up with what’s going on. You can also have somebody with a good HbA1c with really big highs and lows, really struggling with blood sugar spikes and blood sugar dips, causing lots of symptoms. You can also have what looks like a fine fasting glucose level, but that could be because your glucose level was really low in the night and then worked its way up in the morning to a fine level.
With myself, when I cycled in the morning to get my fasting glucose done, it was really high. For me when I do more strenuous exercise in the morning my blood sugar goes way up. So it’s nice when you can see your fasting glucose at home, when you wake up and check it that way, instead of your fasting glucose after you had to rush to the doctor to do a test. These are reasons I love continuous glucose monitors, because you get a better picture and you can see what your body needs to have stable blood sugar. It could be very different from the next person’s.
Then to help bring your body back into balance also see what you feel like when you blood sugar is stable on the continuous glucose monitor. Sometimes what I’ve seen with women that I work with is the symptoms start to go away. Even symptoms that they didn’t come to me to help them with. It just shows how everything is connected.
You definitely made some good points there. I wanna touch back on that HbA1c, which is what your doctor checks, when you go in for your physical. So even if it’s normal range, optimal should be less than five points, 5.2 or less 5.2. But even if you have really good HbA1c, it does not necessarily mean that you may not have issues with your glucose.
That’s why continuous glucose monitors are smarter, because you can actually see the changes. It should look like little hills, not mountains and valleys that you see on your glucose monitor.
Your blood work may say you’re not pre-diabetic or diabetic, but you can still be at risk of diabetes later on, because of a crazy glucose response you’re not even aware of.
Stress also affects whether you have stable glucose levels throughout the day. It may not necessarily always be food, sometimes it’s stress or exercising. Certain types of exercise may be causing too high spikes in blood sugar, which is important to find out. What are some of the symptoms that someone may experience if they have poor blood sugar control?
“Blood sugar affects everything.”
Yes. There are so many, since blood sugar affects everything. So it’s gonna manifest differently in different women. It could look like fatigue. It could be cravings. It could be acne, it could be your hair starting to fall out, anxiety, low moods, irritability, peeing more frequently, yeast infections, period problems, infertility, bloating or gut problems. The list goes on, there’s probably so much that I haven’t mentioned.
Weight challenges is probably one of the biggest ones that women are struggling with. Noticing changes in your weight and it becoming harder and harder to control it with a healthy lifestyle.
Yeah. I think that’s the biggest one too. If you find yourself eating salads and exercising really hard at the gym and the weight’s still not budging. That’s probably the biggest key that there’s something going on with your glucose.
In my practice, I would say 50% of the women have weight issues and blood sugar issues. And then the other 50% don’t have weight issues, but they have blood sugar issues. So I’d even say if you’re not struggling with the weight, you could still have blood sugar issues. A lot of the time we hear that weight is connected to possible diabetes or blood sugar issues, but it’s not always one of the symptoms that’s gonna show up for you.
Absolutely. That was a great list of symptoms for people to be aware of. So if you were experiencing any of those, it’s another reason to get checked out.
Do you have any tips or suggestions, you recommend that someone can do right away just to help balance those glucose levels? I know continuous glucose monitors are smart, but if they don’t have the option to get one right away, what are some quick tips they can do?
I would say as you had mentioned before, fat, fiber and protein together. So think about not just having your naked carbs. Instead of just having a banana, you can have a banana with nuts. For some people even carrots could spike blood sugar if they don’t have fat or protein with them. Everybody’s a little bit different, but if you don’t have a continuous glucose monitor to check it out, pair fat, fiber and protein together as often as possible. Typically I also find that if you have greens, a salad or your protein first and your carbs after that tends to help most people keep things balanced.
Then there’s regular exercise, but again following the Goldilocks principle. You want the right amount of exercise for you, because for a lot of people, it can be a stressor and in effect raise blood sugar levels. So I like to say incorporate regular movement. Keep your body moving, because your muscles are going to be using up that glucose and are going to be helping you become more insulin sensitive, which is what we want.
Then staying well hydrated and getting great sleep. That’s important. That’s a big factor in how well you’re going to manage glucose the next day.
Those are awesome things and it’s crazy, because it’s all lifestyle related, which is so important. We have to do these crazy things, but no at the end of the day just to start with the basics, the foundations of the food that you’re eating, exercising and movement and getting good quality sleep.
I’d also say managing stress.
Yes, that one is so important, because when you’re stressed your cortisol spikes and your glucose is gonna go up.
I’ve seen stress can be a much bigger problem than food for a lot of people. When it comes to glucose control, stress is a big player.
Oh for sure. I’ve seen it in myself but also with other clients as well.
Yeah. I’ve seen it in myself too. It definitely affects me worse than food when I’m under a lot of stress.
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This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, manage, or treat disease or serious conditions. Always check with your doctor before making any changes. It’s important to consult a well-informed health practitioner for personal advice about your situation before relying on general information — we’re all wonderfully unique.
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Laurie Villarreal, FNLP, CHWC, FNS, LMC, CPT, RYT
Hi, I'm Laurie, a functional nutritionist and health coach, athlete, dog-mom, and biohacking adventure-lover. After having struggled for years to find lasting solutions for my own debilitating hormone-related symptoms, I created my online practice to begin helping other active, driven women get the support they need. I now help women around the world elevate their health, energy, business and life by optimizing their hormones with personalized nutrition and lifestyle tweaks. Together, we discover new tools and strategies that keep you showing up at your best so you can play even bigger in your life and work.
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