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Experts say younger women with diabetes need to keep a close eye on their blood sugar levels. Johner Images/Getty Images
  • Researchers say women who develop type 1 or type 2 diabetes at a younger age are more likely to start menopause early.
  • Experts also note that menopause can also raise the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • They say diet is an important component of managing diabetes during menopause.

Women who develop diabetes earlier in life are more likely to enter menopause earlier.

That’s according to a new study being presented at the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) annual meeting this week.

The findings have not been published yet in a peer-reviewed journal.

In their study, researchers analyzed data on more than 11,000 women and found a direct relationship between the age of diabetes onset and the age of natural menopause.

They said in women with premenopause diabetes, hormone changes can influence the earlier development of menopause.

They said this applies to type 1 and type 2 diabetes but not diabetes during pregnancy or gestational diabetes.

Dr. Stephanie Faubion, the director of the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Women’s Health in Minnesota and the medical director for the NAMS, told Healthline that an earlier age at onset of diabetes means a woman has been exposed to inflammation as well as higher glucose levels over a long period of time.

“In this study, these women were found to have an early age at the onset of menopause, which is not surprising given that this longer exposure to diabetes and inflammation is likely to lead to accelerated ovarian aging,” Faubion said. “As for a take-home: Women who have early onset diabetes should be monitored for earlier onset of menopause.”

The research demonstrates the impact of having diabetes on menopause.

But the relationship works both ways.

So when someone enters menopause, their body’s natural estrogen and progesterone levels continue to fluctuate and their ovaries stop releasing eggs as their menstrual cycle ends.

This change in hormone levels has a direct impact on body weight, weight distribution, and insulin activity (sensitivity). These are all factors in diabetes care and management.

“We know that age alone is a risk factor for diabetes. When you add going through menopause on top of it, we see a huge increase in risk for developing diabetes during this phase of a woman’s life,” Caroline Thomason, a certified diabetes educator and registered dietitian, told Healthline.

“The hormone changes that occur during menopause can increase a woman’s risk for high blood sugar by decreasing insulin sensitivity,” she explained.

Amy Kimberlain, RDN, CDCES, a registered dietician, certified diabetes educator, and Eatright Pro Academy media spokesperson, says checking your blood sugar levels can help you become more aware of what’s happening and how to better manage these levels.

“It’s important to know your target blood sugar level,” she told Healthline. “If the numbers are slowly increasing, you’re able to see how they’re being impacted.”

For example, Kimberlain says, if you have a hot flash and/or a change in mood, it’s a good time to write down your symptoms, check your blood sugar level, and begin to check for patterns and trends.

This provides more information to give to your medical provider in order to possibly adjust or change your regimen, she explains.

Getting tested for diabetes by a healthcare provider is also a good idea. If you’re over 45 years old, it’s recommended you get tested for diabetes every 3 years, especially if you have serious weight issues. If you have additional risk factors for diabetes, including a family history of the disease, testing should happen more frequently.

Kimberlain adds that other symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes and night sweats, can impact sleep quality and quantity, which also impact insulin levels.

Diet becomes even more important during menopause to help prevent or manage high blood sugars, says Thomason.

“It might be helpful for women going through menopause to focus on making positive nutrition changes because this is something that she can control,” she said. “During menopause, so much may feel out of control in a woman’s life. Hormones are shifting, stress levels are high, and many of the symptoms are unpleasant.”

“While nutrition changes may be challenging to make, it can also be empowering that there’s something in a woman’s life that she’s able to control here,” added Thomason.

NAMS offers healthy living tips for women with diabetes and menopause. They include increasing omega-3 fatty acids with fatty fish or nuts. Limiting alcohol intake, sugar, and fat is also recommended.

Julie Cunningham, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator, tells Healthline the following tips may be helpful for managing diabetes and menopause with diet.

Avoid or limit caffeine

“Caffeine not only spikes blood sugar in many people living with diabetes, but coffee and other hot beverages can also aggravate hot flashes,” says Cunningham.

Consider iced decaf (sugar-free) coffee instead to minimize blood sugar spikes and hot flashes, or try something new like chilled herbal tea, she adds.

Reach for more vegetables

“If menopause causes your appetite to increase, fill up on lean protein and whole, unprocessed high-fiber foods,” says Cunningham.

“You can’t go wrong with more vegetables,” she adds.

Consider weight training

“Menopausal hormonal changes can push women towards less muscle mass and more weight gain, causing increased blood sugars,” explains Cunningham.

“If weight training is not already a part of your exercise routine, consider adding it 2-3 times per week to preserve your muscle mass and keep your metabolism firing,” she adds.

Make sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D

“Bone loss becomes more concerning around the time a woman goes through menopause and calcium and vitamin D help to prevent osteoporosis,” says Cunningham.

“Most people know that dairy foods are good sources of calcium, but dark green leafy vegetables like kale and broccoli also provide calcium, and vitamin D can be found in dairy as well as fatty fish like salmon and tuna,” she adds.