The Blood Glucose Level-Fertility Connection: How High Blood Sugars Can Contribute to Infertility
How Is This Even A Thing?
We’ve all been told that chronic hyperglycemia (high blood glucose levels) is bad for our health. We’ve known people who’ve had, or perhaps even experienced for ourselves, health problems related to poorly controlled blood sugars. But how do they affect fertility, and why should managing your blood sugar be high on your list of fertility musts? Today we’re going to get down to the nitty gritty of why maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is important in fertility for both men and women.
How Does This Work Exactly?
How in the world can extra glucose in my veins affect my ability to make a baby? Well, aside from the hormonal disruptions which are troublesome on their own, it comes down to blood vessel health, ultimately. You see, having consistently high blood sugar levels, such as we see in poorly managed diabetes and prediabetes, puts stress on your blood vessels by reducing their elasticity and narrowing them on the inside. It’s like the difference between a stiff, plastic drinking straw and warm garden hose; which one will be able to accommodate more liquid, and which one is flexible enough to go around corners? In short, which one would you prefer to water your garden with? The garden hose obviously. The plastic drinking straw is your vessels chronic hyperglycemia, tiny and stiff. If you have consistently high blood glucose levels, you probably don’t notice a difference in large blood vessels, such as the ones your doctor and phlebotomist occasionally torture in the name of a blood draw. But whether seen or not, it’s a massive concern for the microscopic vessels that supply blood to delicate tissues and organs ranging from your feet to your eyes to your ovaries or testes. If those tiny, microscopic blood vessels get much smaller, they may not be large enough to let blood flow in them anymore, at least not very much blood and that can cause some huge problems.
You see, our blood supplies the cells in our bodies with oxygen, food, immune function, and hormones among other things. Without adequate access to blood, tissue and organ functions decrease and can even eventually even die off. Have you ever seen a diabetic foot ulcer? That’s an example of an area of the body without adequate blood supply.
Is My High Blood Sugar Starving My Balls/Ovaries?
Our reproductive organs, and all the tissues that support them, need a healthy supply of blood to be able to function optimally, but poorly controlled blood sugar levels can reduce that vital blood supply by turning the garden hose of your vessels into tiny, impractical drinking straws. When blood supply is reduced, our reproductive organs may not be able to support creating new life. Both men and women can experience sexual and/or reproductive dysfunction if they have high blood glucose levels. In women it may manifest as vaginal dryness, loss of/reduced periods, poor egg quality, or a being prone to miscarriages.1 In men it can look like reduced sperm motility, poor sperm quality, or even erectile dysfunction.1-2 Both men and women with hyperglycemia may have more difficulty achieving orgasm as well.3 Additionally, women with chronic hyperglycemia who do achieve pregnancy are at much higher risk for other complications such as high blood pressure, miscarriage, and growth problems for the baby.3-4
I’m Legit Crying Right Now, What Can I Do to Fix This?
The good news is that no matter how serious your diabetes or blood sugar control issues are, you can control it if you put in the effort. The bad news is that sugar and carbs are addictive, and it can take a lot of effort.
Here are some tips to help you manage your blood sugar better and hopefully create a new little person that you can pass your newfound healthy lifestyle tools down to:
1. Portion Control: Decide before you start eating how much you’re going to eat. Want a cupcake or two? Decide before that first bite what your limit is and stick to it. It sounds so simple, and it is. It’s also pretty tough to do. We get it.
2. Make treats into treats again: Huh? What that means is don’t make sweet, sugary items and sugar-sweetened-beverages daily habits, but rather partake occasionally, as a treat. Once it’s a daily occurrence, it’s a habit not a treat.
3. Partake In Some Beg: Vegetables, especially non-starchy ones, are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, as well as that holy grail of nutrition, fiber. Instead of loading up your plate completely with mac n’ cheese, start a new healthy habit and try beginning with doing half mac, half broccoli. You’ll reduce your intake of saturated fat, refined carbs, and overall calories while simultaneously increasing your intake of vitamins, fiber, and other important nutrients. And who doesn’t love the cheese and broccoli combo?
Enlist A Friend To Help: While some of us may feel like lone wolves, no person is truly capable of going it alone. Humans run in packs and enlisting the help of your most-trusted pack members can go a long way in helping you stick to your goals. Moral support is super important!
Replace One Habit With Another: In psychology classes they teach you that just stopping an undesirable activity rarely works unless they replace the activity with desirable one. Like to eat junk food while you watch TV? Try finding a way to keep your hands busy while you binge Netflix without holding food. You could paint, draw, sew, do card tricks, or even throw wadded up paper into a waste basket across the room. Score!
Eat Regularly Throughout The Day: Maintaining a consistent and healthy blood glucose level means feeding your body healthy food on a regular schedule. Eat breakfast, enjoy some carrots and peanut butter in the afternoon, and go for that bowl of popcorn (in a predetermined amount and without tons of salt and fat) in the evening.
Choose Whole Grains: Whole grains are loaded with fiber to slow digestion and reduce any spikes or drops in blood sugar levels. Pretty much everything is available whole grain now, tortillas, pasta, bread, even panko breadcrumbs. You could try that mac n’ cheese idea with whole grain pasta…just a thought.
Feeling A Bit Better Now?
We hope you are feeling better and more in control of your health and reproductive journey. If you’re struggling with blood glucose-related fertility issues, or any kind of health problem related to diabetes or prediabetes, then talk with your healthcare provider about getting the support your body needs to work better for you. This can include diet therapy, exercise therapy, medications, and/or supplements. And good news, diabetes is one of the few conditions for which Medical Nutrition Therapy is covered, so you could even ask your doctor for a referral to see a Registered Dietitian who can help you on your journey. (Just check with your insurance company before hand to make sure you can afford whatever portion is not covered by insurance.)
Remember that blood glucose control is not a predetermined issue for most people and that modern medicine and healthy habits can make a world of difference for your body’s health and fertility. We hope the information in this blog post has made you feel more empowered to make the right choices for your health and the health of your family.
In parting, remember that eating healthy, whole foods, and lots of plants foods, is one of the simplest, safest, and most effective things we can do to promote good health in our bodies. As with every preventative/restorative measure though, sometimes these changes alone are not enough to help our bodies function the way we want or need them to. If you are struggling with health problems, please contact your doctor or other healthcare provider such a Naturopathic Doctor, Dietitian, or Mental Health Professional to see if they can offer appropriate guidance and care. We at Wholesome Story believe that healthy communities require community effort, so we advise you to keep your healthcare community aware and involved in your journey as you pursue better health.
- Hazlegreaves S. What effect can sugar have on fertility? Open Access Government. https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/what-effect-can-sugar-have-on-fertility/102007/#:~:text=Even%20in%20women%20without%20PCOS,poorer%20their%20egg%20quality%20was. Published January 22, 2021. Accessed February 25, 2022.
- The male and female reproductive systems have different roles but together allow the combination of the egg and sperm; resulting in development of new life. Diabetes.co.uk. https://www.diabetes.co.uk/body/reproductive-system.html#:~:text=In%20the%20long%20term%20diabetes,also%20diminish%20arousal%20for%20instance. Published March 6, 2020. Accessed February 25, 2022.
- Sex and diabetes. Sex and Diabetes | ADA. https://www.diabetes.org/healthy-living/sexual-health/sex-diabetes#:~:text=One%20of%20the%20main%20sexual,difficult%20to%20get%20an%20erection. Published 2022. Accessed February 25, 2022.
- NZ NWH. Blood sugar levels and fertility. Blood sugar levels and fertility | National Women's Health. https://www.nationalwomenshealth.adhb.govt.nz/womens-health-information/fertility/choosing-a-lead-maternity-carer/. Published 2022. Accessed February 25, 2022.