If you’re a woman who has diabetes and is beginning menopause, you may be in for some challenging days ahead. But I want you to keep one thought in mind as you grapple with this double whammy: There are things you can do to keep menopause symptoms and insulin levels in check. It just takes awareness, monitoring and action.
The combination of menopause and diabetes may have several effects on the body, some more noticeable than others. For example, as your body acclimates to new levels of estrogen and progesterone during menopause, it is likely you will notice your blood glucose becoming more irregular. That’s because hormones play a role in how cells react to insulin. Some women also gain weight during menopause. Because maintaining a healthy body weight is critical to controlling diabetes, menopause may increase your need for more insulin or other diabetes medication. As if night sweats and hot flashes during menopause that often lead to lack of sleep isn’t bad enough, chronic tiredness can make diabetes management more difficult – not to mention exacerbate irritability!
Plan of Action
Here are my 5 tips for managing both menopause and diabetes:
- Check your glucose levels more frequently when you’re going through menopause. Keep a daily record. If you see a pattern developing where your level is too high or too low several days in a row, meet with your doctor. A change in your insulin dosage may be needed. If you don’t take insulin, try eating fewer carbs or sugars and exercising regularly.
- Watch what you eat. Eating nutritious foods and getting regular exercise are important aspects of both diabetes and menopause management. A healthy diet can help to prevent or shorten some menopause symptoms such as hot flashes or blood glucose fluctuations. Cut back on fats and add more vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and fish to your meals. If you’re not sure what to eat and what to avoid, check with your primary care physician, take a diabetes education class or consult with a registered dietitian.
- Women with diabetes are at an increased risk of heart disease. This risk rises with the onset of menopause. Have your cholesterol-levels checked annually.
- Exercise regularly, which will have multiple benefits. Physical activity helps to control blood sugar levels and studies show it relieves menopausal symptoms such as depression, stress and anxiety. You’ll also likely sleep better.
- Shed the excess weight. Losing just 10-15 pounds can lower blood pressure, cholesterol and high blood glucose levels, and possibly your insulin dosage.
By being proactive, and making the right adjustments, it is possible to simultaneously manage menopause and diabetes.
For those of you already experiencing this, what additional questions do you have?
Linda Ly, M.D., is a Family Medicine physician who cares for patients at Meyerland Plaza Clinic. Her clinical interests include preventive medicine, hypertension and diabetes.