Menopause and Type 2 Diabetes: What's the Link and How to Reduce the Risk
When people think of menopause, hot flashes, increased weight and mood swings are common symptoms that come to mind. And while it is true that some females who are experiencing their menopausal transition will wake up drenched in sweat or find that their pants aren't exactly fitting like they used to, there is another factor associated with menopause, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, that is less forthright but deserves some serious attention.
The Link Between Menopause and Type 2 Diabetes
Postmenopausal status appears to be a significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes, with some data suggesting a prevalence of 13% among this population, per a 2019 study published in Menopause. This relationship can result from a few factors, some completely out of your control.
During perimenopause, estrogen levels decrease, causing the female body to no longer ovulate, and, thus, no longer menstruate. And along with the more known effects that the declining hormone level triggers, it can also "make us more prone to insulin resistance," explains Hillary Wright, RD, a registered dietitian and co-author of The Menopause Diet Plan. "Estrogens are involved in insulin sensitivity and signaling, which puts women with declining estrogen at higher risk for insulin resistance and weight gain, especially in the belly stored as visceral fat. This increased weight and inflammatory fat storage can lead to type 2 diabetes."
"Many women may also become less active through midlife, leading to loss of muscle and a slower metabolism, both of which worsen insulin resistance and increase diabetes risk," says Carmen Stansberry, a nurse practitioner and clinical educator at UCSF Center for Reproductive Health.
How to Reduce Your Risk
While it is clear that females who are undergoing the menopausal transition may be more at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, the good news is that some simple things can be done that may help reduce one's risk. While adopting these habits won't guarantee that a person will live their golden years free from a diabetes diagnosis, including these practices won't increase their risk of developing this disease.
"Unfortunately, research is telling us that many women wait too long to start changing their habits, often until they officially hit menopause, by which time their hormones and body composition changes have been happening for years," shares Wright. Because of this, it can be beneficial to start practicing these habits before the menopausal transition starts.
For females who want to do all that they can do to reduce their diabetes risk once they reach the menopausal stage of life, the best way is to "focus on keeping blood sugar stable with adequate sleep, decreased stress, a high-fiber and antioxidant-rich diet, and regular exercise, especially after meals," explains Stansberry.
Foods to Incorporate in Menopause
Here are five foods that can be enjoyed to help keep your blood sugars in check and help you enjoy your menopausal years diabetes-free.
Walnuts are a source of plant-based protein and fiber; they are the only nut that is an excellent source of ALA omega-3 fatty acids. These polyunsaturated fatty acids have been shown to improve various cardiometabolic risk factors—which are tied to diabetes risk.
Data shows that including walnuts in a diet may be linked to a reduced diabetes risk among adult women. According to the results of a 2021 study published in The Journal of Nutrition, higher walnut consumption may be associated with a significantly lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
Including more walnuts in your diet is incredibly simple to do. Top your salad with them, include them in your yogurt parfait or use them as a coating—like how they are used in this Walnut-Rosemary Crusted Salmon recipe.
Fish is a natural source of high-quality protein, key micronutrients and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. And while more data is needed to confirm this link, a 2019 review published in the journal Annals of the National Institute of Hygiene suggests that eating fish is linked to a reduced risk of diabetes. Data published in 2021 in Diabetes Care suggest that consumption of oily fish (like salmon), but not non-oily fish, was associated with this risk reduction benefit. Using fish oil supplements, especially regularly over time, was also associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
Cereal, especially fortified cereal, is a source of many important nutrients, including B vitamins. And when enjoyed with milk, it can be a satisfying meal or snack that is low-cost and simple to make. However, make sure to read the nutritional label and watch out for added sugars.
Data published in 2020 in BMJ shows that, among a mostly female study population, those who ate the most whole grains had a 29% lower rate of type 2 diabetes than those in the lowest intake category.
No matter whether you are enjoying them in a vegan lentil soup, a protein smoothie or a vegan lentil stew, lentils are a delicious and fiber-filled food that may help people reduce their diabetes risk.
Frequent consumption of lentils, especially when enjoyed within the context of a Mediterranean diet, may provide benefits for type 2 diabetes prevention in older adults—particularly for those at high cardiovascular risk, per a 2018 study published in Clinical Nutrition.
According to a 2020 publication in Nutrients, lentils may also help keep blood lipid levels healthy among postmenopausal females—another major benefit of including these tiny powerhouses in a diet.
Drizzling some olive oil on your veggies may do more than add some amazing flavor to your dish. Including olive oil in a diet may help reduce diabetes risk among females.
Why does olive oil have such a fantastic effect on diabetes risk? Evidence suggests that the type of dietary fat plays a more critical role in type 2 diabetes risk than the total fat amount. And, according to 2018 data published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, olive oil has anti-diabetes properties and may help improve blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of complications related to diabetes.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, menopause and type 2 diabetes risk are interrelated. And while some factors are out of your control, incorporating certain healthy foods can help you reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and live those golden years feeling your best!