Midlife is a time in a woman's life when changes are happening. Your children are leaving the nest, you're becoming more confident in your own skin, and suddenly your health takes a detour. And now, your focus shifts to surviving menopause with diabetes.
As I approached perimenopause in my late 40s, I noticed my focus, energy and steady blood sugar levels had turned upside down. I was confused and frustrated, that my consistent eating and exercise habits were no longer doing the job. My estrogen was dropping, and my insulin resistance was rising.
I had to accept that this time of life was going to feel different, and I needed to understand why my body and blood sugar was changing. I learned how my insulin, sex hormones, and lifestyle needed to be in balance, and this helped me to ease through menopause.
Whether you are a woman managing diabetes and approaching midlife or if you are not yet diagnosed but your doctor warns that your fasting blood sugar is starting to creep up, know that your hormones may affect blood sugar control and you need an action plan.
I spoke with Dawnie Adams, in episode 25 of the Type 1 In Midlife Podcast, a remarkable woman managing type 1 diabetes while mentoring others. She shared her journey, from diabetes diagnosis to conquering menopause. Listen in and learn the connection between diabetes, hormones, and the power of community.
The Menopause Facts
Natural menopause is when menstrual periods stop permanently and is determined after at least 12 consecutive months without a period. The reason menstrual periods stop is that all (or nearly all) of the ovarian follicles (eggs) are gone, and estrogen levels decrease. The average age of menopause is between 45 and 55.
Symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, sweating, sleep disturbance, depression, vaginal dryness, sexual dysfunction, changes in thinking (memory, concentration), and joint pain.
The first stage of menopause, known as perimenopause, is when the symptoms first occur and can be as earlier as age 40. Often this time in a woman's life can come with a warning of prediabetes. This is very common when women experience hormonal changes and the lifestyle they've always followed no longer works.
During menopause, you may experience stress, lack of exercise, poor sleep, estrogen drops, and blood sugar rises. Your body needs some intervention.
What you are experiencing is normal and there are solutions to surviving menopause with diabetes. First, you must understand why these changes occur.
Here are 5 tips to survive the physical and emotional changes of menopause with diabetes:
1. Get in tune with your body.
Start by looking closely at how menopause and diabetes affect you both physically and emotionally. Hot flashes, mood changes, less energy, insulin resistance, and weight gain are just a few signs that a woman's hormone levels are dropping.
Despite all the work I was putting into my diet and exercise routine, it wasn't enough, and it just didn't add up. I needed to increase my basal insulin by 3 units, and I gained 7 pounds around my waistline. It wasn't until I looked at other symptoms, I was experiencing that I finally put it all together. My hormones were dropping and so was my insulin sensitivity. I noticed a slower metabolism and some extra pounds.
The tricky and often frustrating part is deciphering if symptoms such as hot flashes and sweating are from menopause or from hypoglycemia/hyperglycemia (low or high blood sugar). You may also find it hard to tell if symptoms are from menopause or from diabetes complications, like vaginal dryness and decreased libido.
Once the physical symptoms, such as missing monthly periods start to occur, journal how you are feeling and how your blood sugar is responding. Notice all the symptoms you experience and evaluate how this impacts blood sugar control for you.
2. Have a conversation with your doctor.
Just like the blood tests you get done managing diabetes, request that your doctor also test your sex hormone levels. As insulin resistance during menopause is a result of lower levels of estrogen in the body, connect these levels with your average blood sugars.
Your doctor will guide you through your hormonal changes while connecting them with your A1C average. Hormone replacement may be an option to help you balance sex hormones with your insulin needs.
"Women with diabetes may have trouble determining what is causing some symptoms because the symptoms themselves may occur from diabetes and/or from menopause." – Dr. Polsky, expert physician for DiabetesSisters
3. Accept this natural stage of life.
These different shifts in your body and how you feel emotionally can be frustrating but also liberating. Childbearing years have passed, the nest is emptying and hopefully, you are in a time of life with more freedom and self-confidence.
Insulin is a hormone just like the sex hormones, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Hormones impact one another and if one is out of balance, it can tip the others out of balance as well. Leading to insulin resistance and weight gain and making the other common symptoms of menopause even worse.
All of your hormones need to be in balance for you to function your best.
4. Adjust your insulin needs.
As you progress through menopause, lowering estrogen levels change the way your body processes and uses glucose and starches. This can increase the amount of fat deposited in the body and lead to weight gain. Higher levels of estrogen usually improve insulin sensitivity, while higher levels of progesterone, cause insulin resistance.
Testing blood glucose more often and bolus before a meal is recommended. This will keep you more aware of changes in insulin needs to maintain your goal A1C.
Achieving a sweet balance in your hormones takes time and patience. The sooner you recognize the connection between your sex hormone levels and how it's affecting insulin sensitivity the sooner you can get back in control of your diabetes and how you want to feel.
5. Balance is key.
This journey is unique for each woman as your hormone levels drop. The time it takes until you reach menopause and post-menopause will vary. Hormone replacement therapy and or adjusting your diet and other lifestyle factors are options to consider and discuss with your doctor.
Read more about balance:
As you go through the hormonal changes of menopause, your blood sugar levels are affected, and this can change how you manage diabetes. With support and an action plan, you can survive menopause with diabetes and thrive in this new stage of life!
Comment here and share your journey of surviving menopause with diabetes and how it affected your diabetes care!