Making Changes for the Change of Life

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This week’s posting is really aimed at women (sorry, men) who are or who will be soon entering menopause. Menopause marks another phase of a woman’s life, signaling that her reproductive years have ended. Technically, menopause is the point at which a woman has not had a menstrual period for one year. For most women, this occurs at around the age of 50 or so, but some women experience menopause at an earlier (or later) age and for a variety of reasons.

Menopause and Diabetes
As if it weren’t challenging enough to deal with the changes that come with menopause, women with diabetes need to contend with the effects of menopause on blood glucose levels. If you’re close to menopause, it’s important to be aware that your own blood glucose levels may change so that you can be prepared and take any necessary steps to improve them. Here’s what may happen:

Weight gain. Not all women gain weight at this time, but let’s face it, it happens. Levels of certain hormones drop and of course aging continues, so keeping weight off gets harder. And not only are your clothes possibly tighter, your blood glucose levels may be higher, too. Weight gain at this time is also linked with a higher breast cancer risk.

Hormone changes. Hormone levels of estrogen and progesterone change during menopause, which in and of itself may lead to more swings in glucose levels.

Sleep problems. Some women find that sleep is disrupted due to hot flashes and night sweats. Changes in sleep patterns can affect blood glucose.

Menopausal women also need to keep in mind that other health issues can crop up at this time, such as an increase in the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. Menopausal symptoms can be treated and managed, so it’s important to work out a treatment plan (much like your diabetes treatment plan) with your physician. As with diabetes, everyone’s different, so treatment options should be individualized.

Menopause and Diet
You may or may not have the typical symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, irritability, trouble sleeping, and anxiety. Symptoms vary from woman to woman. But all menopausal women should use the “change of life” to focus on eating healthfully (of course, any time of life is time to eat healthfully). The food choices that you make may help you better manage menopause side effects, manage your blood glucose, and prevent or manage other health-related issues, such as osteoporosis and high blood pressure. Here are a few tips to think about:

Revisit your eating plan. When did you last meet with a dietitian? Ten years ago? Never? Now’s the time to revamp your eating plan. If you’re gaining weight, or your schedule has changed, or your glucose levels are acting up, it will likely help to work out a plan with your dietitian to address these issues and work towards a realistic weight if weight loss is your goal.

Help limit hot flashes. If you’re suffering with hot flashes, pay attention to your food choices. Caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods may trigger them or make them worse. Adding flaxseed to your diet may help lessen them — add 1–2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed to your foods each day. Soy foods, such as tofu, soy milk and soy nuts may help you deal with these annoyances, too.

Get in your calcium and vitamin D. Bone health is especially important at this time so make sure you’re getting 1200 milligrams of calcium and at least 600 international units (although 1000 IUs is probably better) of vitamin D each day. Talk to your dietitian or physician about taking supplements.

Boost the good fats. For heart health, make sure you’re getting omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. These fats may also protect again cognitive decline and even hot flashes, too. Fatty fish, like salmon, tuna, and mackerel are good sources, and plant sources include walnuts, canola oil, soy, and tofu. Consider taking a fish oil supplement if you find that you’re not eating much fish or getting other sources of these healthy fats.

Fit in fiber. Make sure you’re getting at least 25 grams of fiber each day. Fiber helps with so many things, including lowering heart disease risk, promoting digestive health, helping with weight and blood glucose management, and maybe even those pesky hot flashes. Whole grain breads, cereals and pasta, fruits, vegetables and beans are all ways to get your fiber fix.

So what about soy? Soy foods (tofu, tempeh, miso, soy milk, soy nuts) contain phytoestrogens, which are natural plant estrogens that are similar to the estrogen that your body makes. Eating soy foods may help keep your heart healthy and lessen hot flashes. However, if you’ve had estrogen-dependent cancer, you should check with your physician before adding soy foods to your diet. Also, focus on eating whole soy foods, not taking soy supplements, like isoflavones, as the jury is still out about their safety.

Go easy on fat and sugar. Healthy fats, like fish oil, olive oil, nuts, and avocados are important to eat, but all fats are loaded with calories, so go easy with them. Also, sugary foods may taste good, but they can leave you feeling tired and irritable, not to mention how they can affect your blood glucose and weight. Save these foods for occasional treats.

Other Tips
Not surprisingly, exercise is crucial for menopausal women for a number of reasons, especially if you see the scale creeping up. And of course, it goes without saying that exercise can help your diabetes, too. Aim to be active every day. Also, if stress and irritability are affecting you, seek out ways to help you relax (deep breathing, meditation, yoga, massage). You deserve it! Make the change of life a positive one.

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