Menopause is a natural event in a woman’s life however the symptoms associated with it can have a big impact on daily life including family relationships, social life, and work.
The risks of having unstable blood sugar in menopause are starting to be acknowledged and a balanced blood sugar after consuming a meal or snack may help to ease the cascade of uncomfortable menopause symptoms.
Growing evidence suggests that hormonal changes during perimenopause and menopause can cause chaos with blood sugar levels.1
Menopausal women are more susceptible to post-meal fluctuating blood sugar levels and therefore potentially diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome if it is not controlled.2,3. Interestingly, many signs associated with blood sugar fluctuations are identical to menopausal symptoms such as fatigue, mood swings, irritability, difficulty concentrating, brain fog, dizziness and food cravings.
Perimenopausal symptoms usually start in the late 40’s and early 50’s and include weight gain, brain fog, worsening PMS and aches and pains. Menopause marks the end of the reproductive years and symptoms include hot flashes, night sweats, depression, anxiety, insomnia, tiredness, sleep issues and mood or libido changes.
Menopause can last between 3 to 10 years and during this time reduced oestrogen and progesterone production in the ovaries affect how your cells respond to insulin and can cause post-meal blood sugar to fluctuate. Spikes in oestrogen can make the body more sensitive to insulin, while progesterone spikes can increase insulin resistance. Stabilizing post-meal blood glucose is particularly important for perimenopause and menopause due to the relationship between hormones and blood sugar.
Optimizing diet, exercise, sleep and mental health can all support a healthy menopause.
Low-carb and low glycemic diet
One of the long-term and more upsetting consequences of a change in hormones during menopause is the slowing in metabolism which may lead to weight gain. Both oestrogen and progesterone impact hunger, weight gain, and fat distribution. The weight is stored around the belly area which in turn makes one more resistant to the effects of insulin. When oestrogen levels decrease, women experience more hunger which can lead to overeating and weight gain. There is evidence that women who are overweight and have higher levels of insulin resistance have more severe menopausal symptoms.4
Consuming a healthy low-carb diet rich in low glycemic index (GI) foods along with plenty of fiber and protein will help balance blood sugar levels and support maintaining a healthy body weight.5 Fast carbs have a higher GI value and are rapidly digested leading to spikes in blood sugar levels. Slow carbs have a lower GI value releasing blood sugar more slowly and steadily, helping you maintain normal, healthy blood sugar control. Fiber moderates the insulin response by slowing down the release of glucose into the blood. Protein tends to help stabilize blood sugars by both blunting the absorption of carbs and sugars and breaking down into glucose more gradually over a few hours.
Menopause can impact mental health causing symptoms ranging from forgetfulness, anxiety, mood swings, loss of confidence, and depression to suicidal thoughts. Learning to relax through meditation, deep breathing, exercise and relaxation techniques are extremely important to help manage and control stress and for supporting mental health for women in mid-life.
If we are stressed the body releases the hormone cortisol which increases glucose in the blood stream, elevating blood sugar and creating cravings for sugary and refined carbs. Prolonged and unresolved stress can increase insulin resistance and result in weight gain especially around the belly.
Sleep deprivation, a common concern during menopause, elevates cortisol which in turn causes more sleeplessness. Poor sleep habits and insomnia make it harder to control blood sugar, weight gain, appetite, and aggravates menopause symptoms.6
When our blood glucose spikes, insulin gets released, to help bring our blood sugar levels back down, and excess glucose gets stored in our liver, muscles, and fat cells. This is one of the ways in which we gain fat on our body. Daily exercise helps your muscles burn glucose and fat thus lowering blood glucose levels, may help in maintaining a healthy body weight, and can make your body more insulin sensitive. Exercising regularly can release endorphins, the happy hormones, which help reduce menopausal symptoms making irritability and mood swings easier to cope with. Thirty minutes of daily exercise, especially after meals, flattens the glucose curve. Exercise can be a combination of moderate and vigorous and should be done daily. Weight bearing and resistance training exercises are particularly encouraged. Even going for short walks or doing gentle stretches can reduce postprandial (post-meal) glycemic response.7
Research shows that the symptoms of menopause are more pronounced in women who have high glucose and high insulin fluctuations. To support our brain and our body’s use of glucose more effectively it is essential to maintain healthy blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity. By adopting a healthy low-carb diet, a healthy exercise regime, and using techniques to manage stress you can learn to balance blood sugar fluctuations to ease brain fog, poor sleep, weight gain, mood swings, anxiety and tiredness before, during and after menopause.
- Otsuki et al. Menopause, but not age, is an independent risk factor for fasting plasma glucose levels in nondiabetic women. Menopause, 2007; 14(3 Pt1): 404-407.
- Bermingham et al. Menopause is associated with postprandial metabolism, metabolic health and lifestyle: The ZOE PREDICT study. EBioMedicine, 2022;85:104303
- Thurston et al. Vasomotor symptoms and insulin resistance in the study of women’s health across the nation. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2012; 97 (10): 3487-3494
- Lee et al. Obesity and Risk of Diabetes Mellitus by Menopausal Status: A Nationwide Cohort Study. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 2021; 10(21): 5189.
- Saslow et al. Twelve-month outcomes of a randomized trial of a moderate-carbohydrate versus very low-carbohydrate diet in overweight adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus or prediabetes. Nutrition & Diabetes, 2017; 7 (12): 304.
- Gangwisch et al. High glycemic index and glycemic load diets as risk factors for insomnia: analyses from the Women’s Health. American Journal of Clinical Nutritrion, 2020; 111(2): 429-439.
- Bellini et al. Walking attenuates postprandial glycemic response: What else can we do without leaving home or the office? International journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2022; 20(1): 253.