When people say you’re sweet, it’s usually meant as a compliment. But when your blood is too sweet or your blood sugar (glucose) is too high, it’s a warning sign for prediabetes or diabetes.
And unless you act quickly, your body won’t like it.
According to the American Diabetes Association, in 2012, 29.1 million Americans had diabetes, and more than half were women. And of the more than 29 million with diabetes, 21 million were undiagnosed.
It’s not surprising that many women in perimenopause and menopause don’t realize they have diabetes — the symptoms can be confused with symptoms of menopause. Frequent urination, night sweats, anxiety, mood swings, foggy thinking, dry itchy skin, and vaginal infections are common to both.
It’s important to know if you have prediabetes or diabetes because diabetes is one of the most silently dangerous diseases we face. It’s the No. 6 killer of women ages 45 to 54 and the No. 4 killer of women ages 55 to 65.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 10 U.S. adults has diabetes now, and if current trends continue, that figure could rise to 1 in 3 by 2050.
Why is diabetes so dangerous? Chronically high blood sugars silently damage blood vessels and nerves, and that can lead to:
- Heart disease
- Nerve damage (neuropathy) that leads to tingling and pain in feet and hands
- Kidney disease
- Loss of vision
- Feet infections and in some severe cases, amputation
- Bone and joint problems
- Skin infections and wounds that don’t heal
- Teeth and gum infections
There are two kinds of diabetes.
Type 1 (sometimes called insulin-dependent or juvenile diabetes) occurs when the beta cells of your pancreas produce too little or no insulin. It usually occurs in children or young adults.
Type 2 (often called adult-onset, but can occur at any age) represents over 90% of diabetes and it occurs when the body produces too little insulin or the body resists the effects of insulin so it can’t control blood sugar.
In general, women with diabetes lose more years of life than men do. And while the death rate for women with diabetes has risen dramatically since the 1970s, it hasn’t risen for men with the disease. It’s estimated that girls born in the year 2000 have more than a 1 in 3 chance of getting diabetes in their lifetime.
Diabetes and Menopause
While the statistics are alarming, the good news is that there are things women can do to support their heath.
While menopause does not specifically cause weight gain, menopause is associated with a change in body composition. As estrogen levels drop, body fat shifts more to the belly and muffin tops start to appear. In general, the lower the estrogen level, the wider the waist circumference.
Without regular exercise, muscles get smaller and that results in the body burning less sugar — muscles burn more calories than fat does. In my book, “The Estrogen Window,” I explain how a combination of exercise and estrogen help to maintain muscle mass beyond menopause. All this leads to better control of glucose levels.
Why does this matter? Because the excess glucose that occurs with diabetes gets deposited in the small blood vessels of the kidneys, eyes and nerves.
Controlling blood sugar levels helps prevent and reverse this damage. Poor blood sugar control leads to complications. Poorly controlled blood sugar is the reason why retinopathy (disease of the nerve layer of the back of your eye) is the number one cause of new cases of blindness in adults aged 20 to 74, and diabetic kidney disease is the leading cause of end-stage renal disease.
In addition, the impact of high blood sugar levels on the brain causes doctors like Mark Hyman to call dementia Type 3 diabetes.
Tests for Diabetes
There are three main tests for diabetes:
1. Blood glucose level (best done after fasting). Blood glucose values tell your blood glucose level at that moment.
2. HbA1C (heem-uh-GLOW-bin A one see) Can be done without fasting and estimates an average blood glucose level over the past 3 months.
3. Oral Glucose Tolerance Test is done after fasting. The person drinks a high concentration of sweet liquid and several blood tests are taken over the next few hours).
7 Tips to know about Diabetes and Menopause
1. Get tested. Women in menopause are at particular risk and every woman over 45 who is overweight should be screened and retested at least every 3 years.
Overweight women at any age with any one of the following risk factors should also be tested: inactive, have a first-degree relative with diabetes, have polycystic ovaries, delivered a baby over 9 pounds, have high blood pressure above 140/90 or take blood pressure medication, have low good cholesterol. Be sure to measure your blood sugar regularly.
2. Women with Type 1 diabetes go through puberty later and menopause earlier than women who don’t have diabetes. Pay attention to your symptoms.
3. Transdermal (through the skin) estrogen is more effective than oral estrogen in moving glucose from the blood stream into the cells to be used for energy.
It’s also more effective in protecting lean body mass and preventing belly fat than oral estrogen. Oral progestin (synthetic progesterone) lowers insulin sensitivity.
In other words, it increases insulin requirements to move glucose from the blood stream into the cells.
4. Women with Type 2 diabetes who take estrogen have a 0.5% lower HbA1C than women who don’t take estrogen.
5. The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study found that women who take estrogen have a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. I explain this in detail in “The Estrogen Window.”
6. Exercise, eat healthy, control weight. Regular exercise can lower your risk for diabetes and help control your weight. It also lowers the risk of breast cancer and heart disease.
Eat whole foods and limit sugary drinks, processed and fried foods, fast foods and desserts. Eat more vegetables, and speak with a dietitian.
The good news is, you don’t have to lose a lot of weight to make a huge impact. A 7% loss of weight can greatly lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease. For a woman who weighs 150 pounds, a 7% weight loss is approximately 10 pounds.
7. Regular check-ups for your eyes, blood pressure, bones and heart. People with diabetes are at increased risk of vision loss, heart disease and osteoporosis (thinning of bones). The best way to stay well is to have regular check-ups, measure your blood sugar frequently and have regular bone density tests from the time menopause begins.
Dr. Mache Seibel is one of America’s leading women’s wellness and menopause experts. Find out more at www.DrMache.com. Get a free subscription to his magazine, The Hot Years, at www.MyMenopauseMag.com.
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[The content provided through this article and www.nydailynews.com should be used for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the advice of a relevant professional with any questions about any health decision you are seeking to make.]
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