Lately, a word keeps popping up in my wellness readings: glycogen. Its persistent appearance got me curious.
I took it as a sign to do some further digging into it this week and I understand now why glycogen has made its way into my vocabulary.
It’s a pretty big deal, especially for those of us on the quest to find hormonal balance.
Allow me to share with you today the connections I uncovered 🙂
Glycogen & Cortisol Connection
Most recently, the term glycogen turned up in my readings of The Hormone Cure by Dr. Sara Gottfried. She wrote about it in connection to the all-master hormone, cortisol.
According to Dr. Gottfried, cortisol’s main job is to increase your glucose levels and store excess in your liver through a process called glycogen storage.
Your body gets glucose from food. Glucose gives you energy. If you don’t have enough of it then your cells wilt.
Glycogen is used as a longer term fuel between meals or when your blood sugar drops.
If you do not have enough glycogen to fuel these periods of time then blood sugar issues arise and in turn, cortisol increases.
This is a stressful situation for your body.
Higher levels of cortisol in your body blocks progesterone. This is not a good thing with endometriosis, which is governed by excess estrogen.
Glycogen & Estrogen Detoxification
Speaking of estrogen, glycogen comes into play here too.
Glycogen is necessary for the production of glucuronic acid, which is necessary for the detoxification of estrogen. This happens in your liver.
If you liver is clogged up with excess estrogen (much of which is picked up from the environment) then your liver has a harder time providing your cells with glycogen.
In fact, it’s been shown that estradiol inhibits glycogen synthesis.
Estradiol is the growth promoting type of estrogen that, when out of balance, feeds endo.
From this, I infer that those of us with endometriosis could have a harder time accessing glycogen, our long term energy source. The absence of glycogen causes hormonal disruption…
This loops back to blood sugar issues, higher levels of cortisol (or too low of levels if our adrenals are tired), and lowered levels of progesterone, which means higher levels of estrogen and a breeding ground for endometriosis.
Estrogen Dominance & Thyroid Hormone
As estrogen builds up, your liver has a harder and harder time detoxifying all of it, so it gets re-circulated back into your system.
Excess estrogen then builds up in your tissues and further suppresses your thyroid function. Excess estrogen directly blocks your thyroid gland from releasing thyroid hormone.
This leads to an under active thyroid or hypothyroidism.
Studies have shown that there is a link between estrogen dominance and the autoimmune form of hypothyroidism called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Do you have this sister condition too?
I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s a couple of years ago, but am only now learning of this connection with endo.
Glycogen & Sleep
Glycogen also comes into play with the quality of your sleep. This is because glycogen serves as a secondary long-term energy storage.
Sleeping time is actually an active time for your body and energy-driven. Even though you are sleeping, your body still needs fuel to perform the important tasks of replenishment.
When your body does not have enough glycogen then you wake up during the night. This can be the case if you wake up between 2-4 am.
Does that happen to you?
If you are constantly waking up during the night, or wake and struggle to fall back asleep, then this throws your hormones even further out of whack and sets the stage for cortisol/blood sugar issues the next day.
So What Do We Do?
#1. Address Blood Sugar
First of all, we need to be address blood sugar through food choices.
Simple carbs and sugar quickly raises blood sugar and causes a harmful, cascading effect on your hormones. So these should be avoided.
If you tend to have low blood sugar, it’s helpful to eat every couple of hours.
Make sure you eat breakfast before 10am and don’t skip meals.
To provide your body with glucose, it’s good to eat complex carbs. These provide energy without dramatically raising blood sugar. Some examples of complex carbohydrates include things like beans, gluten-free whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Pay attention and listen to your body. If you have signs of low blood sugar, then eat something! Fruit is a great snack and provides nourishing glucose for your body and brain. It’s good to eat fruit by itself so all that glorious glucose is absorbed.
Signs of low blood sugar include sudden mood changes (hangry!), headache, shaking, feeling light headed, having trouble thinking or concentrating, rapid heartbeat, hunger and sweating.
#2. Eat a Raw Carrot a Day
To help our livers get back to synthesizing glycogen (among its many tasks), we need to support estrogen detoxification.
Did you know that a raw carrot a day can help release estrogen from your body? This is what Dr. Ray Peat found.
Raw carrots contain a unique fiber that helps your body perform its natural detoxification process more efficiently. This fiber binds to excess estrogen and other toxins and helps to remove them from your body.
This fiber found in raw carrots prevents the reabsorption of estrogen in your gut. This helps shift the imbalance from cortisol and estrogen, towards progesterone and thyroid hormones.
On a side note, fellow endo sister Marilyn Monroe used to eat a lot of carrots. She was on to something 🙂
#3. Raw Honey Before Bed
To help with the issues of low glycogen and sleep, one suggestion is to eat a little bit of raw honey before bed. Raw honey contains an adequate supply of liver glycogen.
Your body consumes about 10 grams of glycogen per hour, so if you eat dinner at 6pm and go to bed by 11pm then your body will have used up to half of your liver’s supply of glycogen, leaving less than what is needed for sleeping hours.
When you eat a little raw honey before bed you re-stock your liver with glycogen so that your body is fueled for the night to come.
On the Positive Side?
I love putting together all the hormonal connections that come into play in the continued quest for balance. Dr. Gottfried’s book was very helpful – highly recommended 🙂
When I first started researching I was very much tuned into balancing the primary sex hormones: estrogen & progesterone. I was inundated with messages on how endometriosis is fueled by estrogen, so this is where my focus was.
But in reality, its not just about one hormone. Your body is a complex system that is impacted by so much. It’s not possible to just isolate one factor if you want to find balance.
I’ve seen more and more just how important a role blood sugar plays in all of this.
And as I finished up yet another book on hormone balance my primary take away and course of action is addressing stress and this is a multifaceted issue that is not limited to just the emotional component.
One key factor in relaxing your body and stimulating an environment of reduced stress is your breath. Conscious breathing stimulates a feeling of calm in your body which helps reduce stress, anxiety and pain.
As a reminder to breathe, I put together a Guided Breather. It includes five guided breathing exercises aimed at bringing a moment of peace to your day.
You can download the Guided Breather here.
I hope that this bit on glycogen has been informative and provided you with another piece of the puzzle on the road to balance.
This was a very informative article that I am so glad I read! Experiencing a lot of the symptoms as I deal with some pretty stressful issues. I have found myself lately not caring so much, as I have in the past year, in regards to what I’m putting in my body thinking well I should have “something” and then feeling my whole body reject and bloat up to high heaven. My pain came back with a vengeance and I feel like I’ve undone a whole year’s worth of work in a mere three and a half months! Sleep is in intervals and wide awake starting anywhere at 2-4am. Your article definitely has me wanting to try the raw honey as well as get back on track. So glad I read this 😊
Hi Lorraine – Happy to hear that you found it helpful. It’s easy to fall off track with food, but our bodies sure do tell us so 🙂 All we can do is get back on track. Curious to hear how the honey goes for you. Much love.
OMG! Thank you do much for sharing your findings on the glycogen cortisol Hashimoto connection! I been struggling for 50 years and diagnose about 8-10 years ago with Hashimoto. Strict Diet is only thing that somewhat helps. Just from out this past month that cortisol levels are too high. Waiting to see endocrinologist but that’s not till May 2023. This is a huge find for me because I have had way too many days where I felt like I was dying. You have given me hope again. 🙂