Is it just a coincidence that a woman is more likely to experience higher blood sugar levels, higher insulin levels, and weight gain during menopause? No, there are real, and significant, metabolic changes that occur in a woman’s body after menopause that are often ignored in the medical community. When we talk about menopause our conversation is often brought to the cessation of fertility and the annoying, and sometimes debilitating, symptoms of hot flashes and night sweats. The concept that menopause also creates a metabolic state that facilitates the onset of diabetes is often left out of the dialogue with women as they go through this change.
This is a new way of viewing menopause, and the aging process, and is essential for women to understand as they observe how their bodies, or maybe even just their lab values, change during menopause.
Here is what we know about Type 2 Diabetes:
- Type 2 Diabetes is a state of metabolic imbalance where the hormone insulin is being ignored by cells in the body causing glucose levels to rise in the blood.
- Insulin is essential for life and is crucial in the body’s absorption and regulation of blood sugar.
- Type 2 diabetes happens gradually overtime. One big contributor is the intake of high amounts of sugar and the corresponding elevated levels of insulin produced to properly metabolize the sugar. After a while, the body’s cells start to ignore the presence of insulin (almost as if the cells are tired of listening to insulin’s message that blood sugar needs to be absorbed). This leads to insulin resistance which causes blood sugar and insulin levels to rise in the blood. When blood sugar levels reach a high enough level, diabetes is diagnosed.
- Diabetes is major risk factor in the development of heart disease and dementia. In fact, Alzheimer’s is often referred to as “Diabetes Type 3” , due to the neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative effects of elevated insulin and glucose.
Here is what we know about sex hormones and Type 2 Diabetes:
- Menopause is characterized by the loss of estrogen and progesterone.
- When estrogen levels decline, women are more likely to gain weight around their middle. This central fat is a risk factor for diabetes by increasing insulin resistance and reducing adiponectin.
- Low estrogen levels may actually interfere with the normal secretion of insulin from the pancreas. Insufficient insulin can causes the liver to produce more glucose into the blood which can further increase a woman’s chance of developing diabetes. This is especially so when a woman is also consuming a lot of processed foods since they are get are getting glucose both from their diet and the liver.
- Low levels of estrogen can cause increased levels of inflammation in the body. High inflammation can further impair the action of insulin, and contribute to diabetes onset.
- Estrogen help insulin work better by increasing cell’s response to the presence of insulin and blood sugar. Estrogen seems to help increase insulin sensitivity in the body.
- Metabolic imbalance and aging is also accelerated by poor nutrition and lifestyle factors. Which is why improving diet, increasing exercise,and making lifestyle changes is essential for healthy aging and diabetes prevention.
What we can do to prevent diabetes and slow the metabolic changes that accompany menopause:
- Improve nutrition. Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet: eliminate (or, at least, significantly reduce), processed foods and sugar; increase vegetables; include low glycemic fruit – such as berries, apples and pears; include healthy sources of fat (avocado, coconut, nuts and seeds) and protein (lentils, beans, organic free range chicken and turkey, grassfed beef, and lean lamb).
- Increasing exercise.
- Detox your body by supporting the liver, gluthathione production and methylation pathways.
- Optimize your gastrointestinal tract.
- Prioritize getting adequate sleep.
- Correct nutrient deficiencies.
- Include specific nutrients that help balance blood sugar and reduce insulin resistance.
- Make sure you are experiencing joy in your life.
- Be mindful of the stressors in your life and have stress reducing tools you can use to help your body and mind manage stress.
- Replace the hormones lost during menopause with bioidentical hormones given in the right form and right schedule to slow down, and even reverse, the metabolic changes that come with menopause.