Hormones are the messenger part of a very powerful system in the body called the endocrine system. These hormones exert control over many functions of the body, including regulation of your blood sugar. Several hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and cortisol have some relationship with blood sugar.
Loss of estradiol, the primary human estrogen, from either natural or surgical menopause causes an abrupt reduction in metabolic rate, a tendency to increased fat around the middle, increased problems with cholesterol and triglycerides, and increased progression to metabolic syndrome. All of these effects have blood sugar as a component to them. There is one study where the risk of diabetes was reduced by 62% in women currently using HRT (hormone replacement therapy with estradiol included) compared to women who had never had HRT. Another study indicated that for women who have existing cardiovascular issues, a low dose of estrogen with progesterone could stabilize the fasting glucose levels and decrease the rate of new diagnoses of diabetes by 35%, while higher doses decreased that effect. The take-away from this is that proper levels of estrogen and progesterone reduce blood sugar levels.
The effect of testosterone on blood sugar levels is more complicated. Studies show both high and low levels of testosterone are associated with increased insulin resistance. This is another indication that we need to keep the hormone levels within the normal levels. We also know that there is a strong link between diabetes and low testosterone, because men with diabetes tend to have low testosterone, and men with low testosterone can go on to get diabetes later in life. There are several factors here including that low testosterone tends to increase fat in the body, which then elevates blood sugar. At this time, we don’t know which condition causes the other or if there is some underlying factor we don’t yet know about.
Cortisol is another hormone which is known to affect blood sugar. It is produced by the adrenal glands on a daily basis to help the body handle stress. During a stressful time, the body makes a larger amount of the cortisol in response to the stress (the fight or flight response). This has many effects including that it raises blood sugar so the body will have enough energy during the stressful time. Unfortunately for most of us, the stress we experience does not require the extra energy, so rather than being burned for fuel, the blood sugar rises. If the stress continues for an extended period of time, the elevated sugar could become a factor in the risk of diabetes. Another effect of cortisol is that in the long term, high levels can make fat and muscle cells resistant to the effect of insulin (insulin resistance). This effect would tend to increase blood sugar levels, leading to diabetes.
Taken together, these effects show that hormones are very involved in the regulation of blood sugar in the body. When dealing with high blood sugar levels, we should not overlook keeping a good balance of hormones to do their part in keeping blood sugar within normal ranges.