The Interesting Interplay Between Menopause and Diabetes

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Lately, I’ve been writing about the “gifts” that menopause brings you, such as an increased chances of vertebral fractures, hair loss (on your head), and growth of hair in strange places (like your face). So finally, some potential good news – going through menopause may not increase your chances for developing one of the major illnesses facing Americans, diabetes. However, aging might.


    Previous studies had suggested that going through menopause increased the speed that diabetes progressed in postmenopausal women due to our relatively higher levels of testosterone (which is a risk factor for diabetes). Yet the University of Michigan Health System’s study, which was led Dr. Catherine Kim and her colleagues in the Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group, found that women who have gone through natural menopause do not have a higher risk for diabetes. Furthermore, there was no increased risk for postmenopausal women who had their ovaries removed.

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    Kim’s study participants were part of a clinical trial of adults with glucose intolerance. This intolerance often precedes diabetes, which according to the American Diabetes Association, is “a group of diseases characterized by high blood glucose levels that result from defects in the body’s ability to produce and/or use insulin.” According to HealthCentral.com’s Diabetes site, “Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of this disease, accounting for 90 percent of cases. An estimated 19 million Americans have type 2 diabetes and half are unaware they have it.” Historically, this disease has been recognized as striking older people; however, 26 percent of all Americans now are considered pre-diabetic with more than 73 million having diabetes or are considered at risk for the disease. Risk factors include age, family history, inactive lifestyle, high blood pressure, weight, low level of the good cholesterol, and a history of disease in the blood vessels, heart or legs.


    The University of Michigan research study, which involved a national clinical trial of 1,237 women ages 40-65 who were at high risk for diabetes, was published in the August issue of Menopause. This study was the first to specifically analyze diabetic tendencies among women who went through menopause naturally as well as women who had their ovaries removed. According to ScienceDaily.com, other studies often mixed these two groups together or excluded one of the groups.


    The researchers found that for every year that 100 women were observed, 11.89 premenopausal women developed diabetes, compared to 10.5 women who went through natural menopause and 12.9 women who had their ovaries removed.


    However, the Mayo Clinic reported that if women who already have diabetes may have additional challenges in going through menopause.  This combination can lead to increased changes in:
    -    Blood sugar level.
    -    Weight gain that may result in the need for additional insulin or oral diabetes medication.
    -    Urinary tract and vaginal infections.

  • -    Sleep problems.

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    -    Sexual problems.


    There are ways to slow and even stop the progression of type 2 diabetes. The University of Michigan researchers found that that lifestyle interventions and the drug metformin, which lowers blood sugar levels, can prevent diabetes in people who are glucose intolerant, including women who have gone through menopause. These lifestyle changes included losing 7 percent of their body weight and exercising for at least 150 minutes a week. For instance, women who had their ovaries removed and who engaged in lifestyle changes were found to have very few cases of diabetes; only 1.1 of these women developed diabetes for every year 100 of these women who were observed. “The results among this group were surprising considering almost all of the women who had their ovaries removed were on hormone replacement therapy, a regime that women and doctors fear puts them at risk for a host of health issues,” ScienceDaily.com reported.


    It’s good to know that going through menopause doesn’t up a woman’s risk of diabetes. However, that information shouldn’t give middle-age and older women permission to avoid making healthy lifestyle choices. It’s those choices that will play a major factor in determining their susceptibility to type 2 diabetes as they age.

Published On: August 17, 2011