The Diabetes-Menopause Connection

As if there weren't enough unpleasant aspects of menopause, such as hot flashes, insomnia and forgetfulness, it now appears that this change may actually be associated with Type 2 diabetes.

"There has been some research where we see women going through menopause and developing Type 2 diabetes," says Tracy L. Breen, M.D., clinical director of the Mount Sinai Diabetes Center in New York City. "One theory is that every year as we get a little older, our risk of diabetes goes up a little. We tend to get more insulin-resistant as we age."

Steven Joyal, MD, vice president of scientific and medical affairs at the Life Extension Foundation, agrees. "A decrease in insulin sensitivity comes about as women grow older.  Couple that with the pretty significant hormonal changes that are going on in a woman's body, and it is not surprising that women who are maybe on the cusp of developing Type 2 diabetes actually get it."

According to Joyal, women typically gain five to seven pounds during menopause, and being overweight increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes. In fact, he says, about 85 percent of people with Type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. "Having the extra pounds does increase the risk for developing diabetes," Joyal says.

Breen has found that one of the chief complaints of menopausal women is that they develop belly fat, which is typical when estrogen production dwindles and ceases. The abdominal fat that results is more associated with getting Type 2 diabetes than fat in other areas of the body.

"There are probably other hormonal or metabolic changes that a woman goes through in menopause that we haven't quite teased out to know what the mechanism is, what the link is between menopause and Type 2 diabetes," Breen says.  

She is quick to add that the link between menopause and Type 2 diabetes is an association, nothing more. "It's not a conclusion," she says. "But it is something for women to keep in mind."

Breen points out that any of the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes mimic the feelings you may experience during menopause. "There can be feelings of fatigue, and not sleeping well, which can make you more prone to gaining weight," she says. "We believe that not sleeping well can actually slow down the metabolism and cause you to gain more weight."

Since some of the symptoms of diabetes and menopause can be similar, it's important to be checked for diabetes once a year once you hit menopause. And to combat weight gain, get out there and find a form of exercise that you enjoy and that you'll stick with. By maintaining a healthy weight during and after menopause, you may not only reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes, but you'll sleep better and feel better, too.