Sugar & Sex: Sure to Vex
After all the indulgences and ‘sweet treats’ over the festive season, have you noticed any negative effect on your libido? If you have, you’re not alone. It appears that an excessive and continual supply of sugar, especially refined sugar, may kill your sex life! This applies to both genders.
By ‘high levels’, consider the statistics. In North America, the average American now eats at least 22 teaspoons of added sugars per day (ref1) That is an increase of about 6% in just over three decades, says researcher Dr Miriam Vos. (ref 2)
Even worse, is that all this excess sugar, which is metabolised quickly, increases your insulin and leptin levels - as well as your waist line.
In turn, this may lead to a host of health problems like high levels of cholesterol, blood pressure and heart disease, as well as diabetes, weight gain and premature aging.(refs1-2)
However, what most doctors won’t tell you (or even know), is that such high sugar levels in your bloodstream, may have at least two key disruptive effects on your hormones.
These relate to a low libido and even impaired fertility.
Let’s see how....
How Excess Sugar May Damage Your Sex Life
1. Sex gene switches off
The simple sugars, glucose and fructose, are metabolized in your liver, with the excess stored as fat lipids.
Excess fat synthesis deactivates your Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) gene (ref 3. The SHBG gene is a glycoprotein that binds to the sex hormones, testosterone and estradiol. So when SHGB is deactivated, the levels of testosterone and estradiol are negatively affected.
Thus, SHGB acts as the master regulator of your sex hormone levels, maintaining the delicate balance between estrogen and testosterone critical to overall health in aging humans.
Too much or too little SHGB in both sexes may lead to a variety of disorders. These may include diminished libido and poor sexual performance in both sexes, fatty breast tissue, cognitive decline, chronic fatigue and testicular cancer.in men, and acne, infertility, polycystic ovaries, and uterine cancer in women.
2. Impaired Fertility
According to the World Health Organisation (ref 4), one in every four couples in developing countries is infertile. Contrary to what mainstream media may say, this is actually not reflective of any recent increase in prevalence. On the contrary, as the WHO and others point out, this rate has remained similar over the last 20 years.
What has undeniably declined however, is the male sperm count and quality. Between 1989 and 2005, studies (ref ) 5 indicate that average sperm counts fell by a third, and the amount of healthy sperm was also reduced by a similar proportion.
The scientists said the results constituted a "serious public health warning". Moreover, they point out that the global fall in sperm counts has been accompanied by a rise in testicular cancer – rates have doubled in the last 30 years – and in other male sexual disorders such as undescended testes, which are indicative of a "worrying pattern".
As with the decline in male fertility, experts are also indicating that female ovulation problems and polycystic ovarian syndrome (‘PCOS’) are becoming common. (ref 6)
What then are the causes of this impaired fertility? Experts cite a range of factors from lifestyle issues (especially stress and poor diet), environmental toxins, genetic inadequacies, and more.
But increasingly, evidence is indicating how excess sugars, especially refined sugars are a major contributor.
Studies showing a likely excess sugar – infertility link
A study looking at female infertility published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (ref 7) shows how excess carbs and refined sugars are linked to problems with ovulation (ovulatory infertility).
Two measures of carbohydrate used by the researchers were the glycaemic index (GI) and glycaemic load (GL) of the diets.
The researchers found that compared to women eating diets of lower GL values, those eating diets with the highest GL were 92% more likely to suffer from ovulatory infertility. Highest carbohydrate intakes were also linked with a 91% increased risk compared to the lowest intakes. GI was also associated with enhanced risk, but only in women who had not had children.
Similarly, in men (ref 8) studies indicate a likely link between male infertility and excess refined sugar intake. For example, one study showed how sugar laden soda decreases male sperm count and increases female mortality.
While this study was done on rats, the results were so striking that researchers concluded: "Our results provide evidence that added sugar consumed at concentrations currently considered safe exerts dramatic adverse impacts on mammalian health. Specifically females died at twice the normal rate and males were a quarter less likely to hold territory and reproduce….This demonstrates the adverse effects of added sugars at human-relevant levels.”
Summary and Recommendation
The message is clear: excess refined carbs and sugars spike blood sugar and insulin levels, which appear to lead to a cascade of hormonal and sexual imbalances.
If you are suffering from sexual complications, please seriously consider how your intake of sugars and carbs, especially if refined, may be a key contributory factor.
Please also review this in the light of your total lifestyle. Several factors in addition to diet, such as insufficient (or excessive) exercise, stress, smoking, and environmental toxins may contribute to hormonal imbalances.
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1. Daily US added sugar consumption
2. Dr Miriam Vos’s research on sugar consumption increase
3. How SHBG works
4. WHO Global fertility stats http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/infertility/burden/en/
. 5 Sperm count decline http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/scientists-warn-of-sperm-count-crisis-8382449.html
6. Ovarian problems + POCS
7. Study showing excess carbs and refined sugars intake linked with infertility - Chavarro JE, et al. A prospective study of dietary carbohydrate quantity and quality in relation to risk of ovulatory infertility. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2009;63:78-86
8. Study on sugar-male infertility and female mortality link.
- James S. Ruff, Amanda K. Suchy, Sara A. Hugentobler, Mirtha M. Sosa, Bradley L. Schwartz, Linda C. Morrison, Sin H. Gieng, Mark K. Shigenaga, Wayne K. Potts. Human-relevant levels of added sugar consumption increase female mortality and lower male fitness in mice. Nature Communications, 2013; 4 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms3245
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