As women, we are fully accustomed to the overabundance of hormones that disrupt our daily lives. We become well versed with the rollercoaster of navigating through mood changes, unexplained weight gain, skin problems and a whole glut of other symptoms.
I want to highlight the importance of the insulin balancing act during menopause and how supporting your hormones can offer a less bumpy ride.
What is insulin and why is it important?
Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that allows glucose to enter cells where it is used for energy. When you eat, your blood glucose levels increase, resulting in the pancreas distributing insulin through the bloodstream. Insulin takes the role of reducing the glucose levels back within a steady range.
Insulin properties generate a domino of responses throughout your body and hormones, wreaking havoc on the body's ability to keep the symptoms of menopause at bay.
When your body is disadvantaged at processing sufficient levels of insulin, your sugar levels run higher than the ideal range - this is called insulin resistance. A whole host of risk factors are in play, including family history of diabetes, high carb diets, an inactive lifestyle, certain medications and even holding on to damaging emotions.
What does that have to do with my hormones during menopause?
Our bodies are constantly developing and releasing an accumulation of hormones that act as chemical receptors guiding the way our organ’s function. These hormones work in tandem with insulin to control blood sugar. During perimenopause and menopause, we can develop insulin resistance as our bodies are unable to respond appropriately to the excess of insulin.
The body finds it much harder to cope with elevated levels of carbohydrates, causing the escalation of sugar to cause disorder with our hormones and the symptoms of menopause – all those symptoms that make us want to run to the chocolate shop and curl up on the sofa in our softest pj’s! Hormones at risk include progesterone, estrogen, insulin, oxytocin, cortisol, and adrenaline.
Progesterone – the sex hormone experiences frenetic cadence with disrupted levels of progesterone leading to the body needing more insulin, or PMS style symptoms.
Estrogen – during menopause estrogen is no longer created by the ovaries, but by fat cells, these levels dramatically decrease leaving the inability to generate equilibrium in hormonal fluctuations.
Adrenaline – the exhilaration hormone is released during stressful circumstances such as infection, substantial emotion, or illness, and can prompt the liver to release more glucose for energy, creating an increased level of glucose in the bloodstream.
Cortisol – the stress hormone showcases prominent levels throughout menopause, a stressful lifestyle which is almost impossible to avoid, as you well know! Heightened levels steal other hormones from the body increasing blood sugar levels. The perpetrator for the decline in our sexual appetite, increased weight gain particularly in the midriff insomnia, burnout and more.
Oxytocin – the love hormone is present during intimate moments of connection, attachment, and love, when you experience touch, laughter, or orgasm oxytocin floods the body. A ‘therapeutic hug’ lasting at least 20 seconds, is known to release the bonding hormone which can lower your blood pressure and reduce pain, acting as nemesis to cortisol, offering calmness, and dulled anxiety.
How can the right exercise and diet help?
“Science has proven that while your genes control your biology, a rather simple, nondrug formula of nutrient-rich food, targeted supplements to address missing precursors, and lifestyle changes can keep your genes in perpetual “repair” mode.”
Sara Gottfried, The Hormone Cure: Reclaim Balance, Sleep, Sex Drive and Vitality Naturally with the Gottfried Protocol
We all strive to feel good – to help you get there, food and lifestyle can be used as your toolkit to keep insulin resistance at bay:
- An ideal diet consisting of an abundance of vegetables and legumes, high-fiber grains, a small quantity of proteins and lean meats, and a balance of fruit is a great start
- Ensuring healthy fats play a part in your diet, regulating your carbohydrates, sustaining a low intake of refined sugar and avoiding processed foods will all help
- Decreasing your stress concentrations whilst introducing and maintaining 30 minutes of solid physical movement will all help to counteract resistance
Link between menopausal weight gain and insulin resistance
Being overweight after menopause results in worsening Insulin Resistance (and elevations in adipocytokine levels). While BMI is the most important factor, abnormal adipocytokine secretion may enhance insulin resistance and increase cardiovascular risk in postmenopausal women.
TOP TIP: Keep your Body mass index within the safe ranges to prevent obesity. The World Health Organisation states that, worldwide, at least 2.8 million people die each year as a result of being overweight or obese, and an estimated 35.8 million (2.3%) of global DALYs are caused by overweight or obesity.
- Check your BMI, and keep within the healthy ranges in order to keep your weight and health under control.
- Take a look at this article from the Mayo Clinic with top tips on how to manage blood sugar.
Healthy Lifestyle is the best defence against insulin resistance in menopause
Effectively the main requirement to avoid insulin resistance is a lifestyle change – we’ve all heard the saying, work smarter not harder, so let’s consider this in terms of eating well and exercising smart, not making our bodies work harder than they really need to.
By moving more, you will generate more energy. We need to change our mindset of ‘what fitness is’ to create the chemical changes needed, reverse the signs of ageing and prepare our bodies to utilise fat and glycogen.
Living for tomorrow and using the right training modes, through time and consistency and yes, more of that golden egg patience, you can make the right changes. If you feel you could benefit from investing in yourself, whilst gaining the support of a community of women focusing on self-love, begin your tomorrow today, and reach out – I’d love to hear your story.
Insulin Resistance & Prediabetes | NIDDK (nih.gov)
How To Reverse Insulin Resistance At Midlife | Christiane Northrup, M.D. (drnorthrup.com)
How to Avoid Insulin Resistance – Women’s Health Network
How Diabetes Affects Estrogen and Progesterone | Viveve | US
Blood Sugar & Stress :: Diabetes Education Online (ucsf.edu)