Menopause is the ceasing on menstruation, in which women are no longer able to conceive primarily due to declining estrogen levels. Other sex hormones can be impacted during menopause, including progesterone and testosterone.
These reproductive hormones are not the only ones impacted during menopause, though. Menopausal women also often become resistant to the hormone insulin.
Unmanaged insulin resistance can cause short and long-term consequences, including hot flashes and diabetes. Fortunately, the metabolic condition can be reversed and controlled.
Learn how to manage insulin resistance and improve hormonal health here.
What Is Insulin Resistance?
First off, insulin is a fundamental hormone required for glucose utilization. It assists in glucose's entry into the cells following carbohydrate intake and can be thought of as a key. When glucose from carb sources is absorbed, insulin is released and helps unlock the cells' "door" for glucose to enter.
Insulin resistance is when cells do not respond well to insulin. The cells cannot easily take up glucose the blood, thus leading to high blood glucose levels. If left uncontrolled, blood sugars start to elevate overtime and raise the risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
People with insulin resistance have difficulty shuttling glucose into their cells, which essentially causes the cells to feel deprived and starved. The cells become quite desperate for fuel, which in turn causes them to send "I'm hungry!" signal to the brain. Food is often reached for to fulfill this hunger, which essentially increases calorie intake and the risk for added weight gain.
To make matters more challenging, insulin also acts as a chemical messenger that signals the liver to hold onto glucose. So rather than glucose being released in the blood, it is stored as fat for later use. This function makes it more difficult to hold onto weight rather than shed it off. And, truly, makes the link between insulin resistance and weight gain that much stronger.
Causes and Symptoms of Insulin Resistance
There is still much to be known regarding what causes insulin resistance. However, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases indicates excess and physical inactivity comes into major play.
Additional risk factors for insulin resistance include:
• Advancing age, particularly being 45 or older
• Family history of obesity and/or diabetes
• African American, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander American ethnicity
• History of various health conditions, including gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and sleep apnea
• Hormonal disorders, including Cushing's syndrome
• Certain medications such as antipsychotics and steroids
• Inadequate sleep
Signs of insulin resistance are not always noticed. However, one may experience the following:
• Cravings for carbohydrate and sugar-rich foods
• Elevations in hunger after breakfast and meals
• Feelings of weakness or shakiness, especially if meals are not consistent and balanced
• Difficulties losing weight
The Relationship Between Menopause and Insulin Resistance
Menopausal women may experience a decrease in glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, suggests an article published in Diabetes Care. They may also have an increase in plasma insulin levels. And according to data from the ILAR Journal, ovarian hormones influence insulin sensitivity in the menopausal transition.
The cause of insulin resistance during menopause may be related to a number of factors. One of which is declining estrogen, as low serum estrogen levels enhance the prevalence of insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance can also be the result of common body changes that come with aging. On average, women gain about 1.5 pounds per year during midlife. So within 10 years, this can lead to a total weight gain of 15 pounds. And again, carrying excess weight makes it more difficult for glucose to reach the cells.
Fat tissue also produces hormones and other substances that can contribute to chronic, or long-lasting, inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation has been linked to insulin resistance, diabetes, and heart disease.
Postmenopausal women often experience changes in body fat distribution, too. They are more likely to carry excess weight as abdominal fat. Fat carried around the abdomen increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic health conditions.
Waist circumference measures waist size just above the belly button and below the rib cage. Men and women are advised to keep waist circumference under 40 and 35 inches, respectively. Like inflammation, exceeding these measurements increases the risk of insulin resistance and other health risks.
Improving Hormonal Health
Improving hormonal health, including insulin resistance, may include hormone therapy and lifestyle changes.
Consult About Hormone Therapy
Some women may turn to hormone medicines during menopause, which is also known as hormone replacement therapy (HRT). These medicines help restore declining hormones and may improve insulin resistance.
However, the results are inconclusive. One study shows insulin sensitivity improves following hormone therapy. A conflicting study found taking estrogen with or without HRT are more insulin resistant than women not on HRT. Interestingly, too, research also shows the effects of coffee and hormone replacement therapy may benefit insulin resistance in post-menopausal women.
A doctor can help determine if hormone therapy may be of benefit.
Moderate Carb Intake
Diet is at the core of insulin resistance treatment and management. Moderating carb intake is a primary dietary recommendation, too. Following a low-glycemic diet can also stave from hot flashes, which have been linked to insulin resistance.
High levels of insulin can be triggered by carbohydrate sources, especially if consumed on their own or lack nutritional value. Nutritious carb sources include whole grains, fruits, veggies, legumes, and dairy products.
Reduce Added Sugars
Products rich in added sugars essentially offer nothing more than empty calories. High-sugar diets and foods are linked to weight gain, chronic inflammation, and health conditions. They can also spike insulin and blood sugar levels and worsen insulin resistance.
Women are encouraged to limit added sugar intake to no more than 25 grams daily. Limit sweet treats to naturally reduce sugar intake. Also be mindful of hidden sugar sources, including condiments, dressings, and sauces.
Consume Well-Balanced Meals
Instead of eating a meal rich in carbohydrate, balance with lean protein, healthy fat, and fiber sources. A well-rounded plate lessens the risk of dropped blood sugar levels, especially following meals.
The combination of nutrients also regulates hunger hormones and keeps appetite in check.
Importantly, too, do not wait extensive hours at a time to accommodate hunger. Eating consistent meals and snacks can keep blood sugars stable and reduce dramatic fluctuations.
If feelings of hunger during breakfast and lunch are marginal, slowly increase their intake to reduce ravenous cravings come afternoon.
Consider a Meal Delivery Service
Meal delivery services, including bistroMD, offer specialty plans to meet nutritional needs and assist in weight loss. What's more, women can receive menopausal meals straight to their doorsteps without the added stress of meal planning.
The bistroMD menopause plan is moderated in net carbs to stabilize both glucose and insulin. Net carbs are carbohydrates with the most impact on blood sugar, as fiber is non-digestible and bypasses the bloodstream.
Meals on the menopause provide an average of 25 grams of net carbs. They are also rich in lean protein and balanced with healthy fat sources. Members have the option of EATS (essential and tasty snacks), which supply 15 or less net carbs. Enjoying the meals and snacks every three to four hours further helps stabilize blood sugars and curb cravings throughout the day.
Meals are crafted by seasoned chefs using only the freshest ingredients! They are free of unwanted fillers and ingredients, including trans fats, artificial colorings, MSG, chemical fillers, nitrates, added sulfites, or aspartame.
Physical activity can help manage weight, improve hormone levels, and truly benefit overall health at any age.
Aerobic exercise burns calories while resistance training helps support lean muscle mass. And the more muscle present, the more calories are burned even when the body is at rest. The combination of the two helps maintain weight.
Also during exercise, active muscle cells help clear circulating blood sugars by using them as energy. With more muscle available, the greater the opportunity for blood sugars to stabilize.
Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly, or 30 minutes most days of the week. Brisk walking, jogging, biking, and any activity that elevates the heart rate is considered aerobic exercise. Incorporate strength-training exercises at least two or three times as well. Focus on targeting all major muscle groups, including the back, chest, core, arms, and legs.
Ultimately, dismiss a sedentary lifestyle and participate in physical movement throughout the day. This may include taking the steps over the elevator or walking the last 10 minutes of daily lunch breaks. The most importance is not solely on the type of activity, just that the body is up and moving.
Stress can wreak havoc on health in a number of ways. First off, there is a strong link between blood sugar and stress, which includes spikes and drops.
Stress also releases cortisol, also known as the "stress hormone," and linked to weight gain. Feeling stressed can also lead to emotional eating, particularly foods rich in sugar and fat.
To protect from these consequences, manage stress appropriately. Positive coping techniques include yoga, deep breathing, meditation, and exercise.
Ensure Adequate Sleep
A lack of sleep can lead to weight gain, so ensuring sufficient shuteye can reduce such risk. Adequate sleep can control hunger hormones, lessen cravings, and optimize energy levels to keep active.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours each night. Sticking to a sleep schedule can help ensure adequate sleep. And to protect from night sweats, maintain a cool room temperature.