Are you curious about the connection between menopause and insulin resistance? As you get older and enter menopause, your body goes through a series of changes including a shift in hormones.
This shift in hormones can lead to other physiological processes, such as the development of insulin resistance.
Feeling intense sugar cravings? How about being irritable throughout the day?
These are both signs of insulin resistance during menopause! In today's article, we will be going over what insulin resistance is, how it connects with menopause, and a dietitian's best tips to help. Keep reading to learn more!
If you haven't already, make sure you check out our full blog post on perimenopause and menopause. It is filled with tons of tangible tips!
What is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin is a hormone that is made by the pancreas. It serves as a messenger for the cells in your body to take in glucose (sugar) from the foods you eat to be utilized as energy. When the cells do not respond to the insulin, the messaging system does not work and we have what is known as insulin resistance.
This is a dysfunction of your body’s metabolic pathways that are supposed to be utilizing this glucose to power your daily movements. Because the communication system is not responding to the insulin, the glucose remains in your bloodstream causing increased blood sugar levels, high cholesterol and triglycerides, and fatty liver.
Insulin resistance can also cause increased inflammation in your body resulting in a tendency to gain weight, especially around the midsection.
Many women going through menopause and perimenopause have a hard time losing weight, which is why we don't recommend focusing on weight loss as a primary driver during this part of your life.
How Does Insulin Resistance Relate to Menopause?
During perimenopause and menopause, your sex hormones estrogen and progesterone begin to decline. This decline is what causes many of the unwanted symptoms of menopause including insulin resistance. This is why even those who have never struggled with insulin resistance before can begin to experience it during menopause.
The drop in estrogen plays the largest role in causing insulin resistance. This is because estrogen improves insulin sensitivity by suppressing the production of glucose.
During perimenopause, your estrogen levels are greatly fluctuating. Once your ovarian follicles are depleted and menopause occurs these estrogen levels greatly decline as the ovaries can no longer produce the hormone estrogen. Because of this drop, estrogen is no longer available to help improve insulin sensitivity resulting in the resistance you see.
There are also changes to the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA) that occur during menopause which increases insulin resistance as well. The HPA axis controls how you manage stress as well as playing a role in blood glucose management. The hormone progesterone helps to stabilize the HPA axis. Progesterone also decreases during menopause causing a dysregulation of the HPA axis and thus poor blood glucose management and insulin resistance.
Sleep disturbances are also common during menopause and cause increased insulin resistance. The hormonal shift occurring during menopause causes a decreased ability to handle stress and symptoms such as hot flashes that cause poorer quality sleep.
Do You Have Insulin Resistance?
Are you curious to know if you are becoming resistant to insulin? Check out these common signs and symptoms.
Signs/Symptoms of Insulin Resistance:
Intense sugar cravings
Irritability and mood swings
Blood sugar spikes
Elevated cholesterol levels
Elevated triglyceride levels
All of these signs of insulin resistance can put a great burden on your quality of life. Insulin resistance is important to look at during menopause because it can worsen the symptoms of menopause and lead to a decline in our metabolic pathways blocking our ability to use fat as energy.
Adding the hormonal changes of menopause with increased insulin resistance can make you feel like your body is changing uncontrollably which is why lifestyle changes are so important during this time.
Below we will be sharing a registered dietitian's best tips for managing insulin resistance during menopause and perimenopause.
Tips to Help Manage Insulin Resistance:
Pairing carbs and protein
Eating carbohydrates alone can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes as the glucose from the carbohydrates may not be able to be utilized efficiently for energy in those with insulin resistance. Pairing carbs with protein helps to slow the digestion of the food and provide more sustained lasting energy without the spike in blood sugar.
Eat more fiber and complex carbohydrates
Fiber is a form of indigestible carbohydrates that are found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates. Fiber helps to keep you feeling fuller longer while also helping decrease insulin resistance.
High-fiber foods to include in your diet: fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (such as quinoa, barley, brown rice, whole wheat)
Research has shown that those participating in strength training exercises have better insulin sensitivity than those who do not. This has to do with the muscle hypertrophy that is gained from strength training exercises.
You can choose to lift weights at home, in the gym, or even by attending a group strength training class. While you can absolutely still do cardio as a workout, too much cardio without weights may not be as ideal for hormone health.
Going prolonged periods of time between meals causes great dips in your blood sugar levels. Once the food is consumed, blood sugar levels drastically spike. It is important to note that you should not mindlessly graze or snack all day either as this will cause insulin to constantly be produced causing elevated levels as well (unless you feel hungry- then you should eat!).
You want to aim to eat at least 3-4 meals a day to avoid major dips in blood sugar from not eating.
Increased stress levels cause your body to pump out excess cortisol putting your body in a flight or fight state. This makes it even more difficult for your insulin to signal properly ultimately increasing your insulin resistance.
Practicing yoga, meditation, journaling, deep breathing exercises, and getting adequate sleep can all help reduce stress.
Work with NYCN to develop a customized plan
Working with a dietitian specializing in menopause and insulin resistance can be very beneficial to educate and developing a personalized plan that works best for you and your goals. Save yourself the trial and error and time it takes to try and improve your symptoms on your own and check out our service page!
We also have a trained herbalist on staff named Trina who is a pro at working with hormonal conditions such as menopause. Remember you can schedule a free complimentary call here!
Just because you may be nearing the age of perimenopause or menopause, doesn't mean you have to deal with the symptoms of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is reversible! There are many lifestyle interventions you can implement to improve your symptoms and quality of life before you feel like they are out of control.
Be kind to your body as it goes through these changes. Respecting yourself and your body throughout the changes will make implementing lifestyle interventions come from a place of love and gratitude for yourself. You deserve to thrive at whatever stage of life you are in!
If you need help as you enter this next phase of your journey, reach out to us today! We would love to assist you and help you live your healthiest, best life!