How blood sugar can influence menopause symptoms
Sweet tooth or not, sugar is a common food ingredient and, as research on blood sugar and the impact it has on our health grows, so does interest in how it might influence our menopause symptoms.
Nutrition plays a huge role during the menopause and sugar, in particular, can influence several of the symptoms that occur. In fact, experts think that glucose can exasperate symptoms like hot flushes and mood swings.
While the occasional sugary treat won’t do any long-term harm, knowing how your blood sugar impacts your body could make all the different when it comes to midlife health.
What are blood glucose levels?
‘Blood glucose levels’ refers to the amount of glucose you have in your blood. Depending on your diet, you’re likely to experience fluctuations in your glucose levels throughout the day.
“When glucose levels in the blood peak outside an optimal range, your endocrine (hormonal) system is put on high alert to stabilise your blood sugar,” explains nutritionist and fertility expert Emily Barker.
“Peaks and troughs in blood sugar, or constantly being on a ‘blood sugar rollercoaster’, will also trigger the release of stress hormones like cortisol. These blood sugar dips can play havoc with your energy levels and mood.”
Can high blood glucose levels affect women going through menopause?
The term ‘high-sugar diet’ may have you thinking of sweet treats like chocolate and ice cream, but everyday, run-of-the-mill food items, such as white bread, pasta and even fruit, can spike our glucose levels too.
“When your endocrine system is focused on stabilising your blood sugar, it doesn’t prioritise regulating sex hormones like oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, which may mean that perimenopausal symptoms are more pronounced,” explains Emily.
“The additional stress high blood sugar can have on the adrenal glands can also indirectly make symptoms worse. The adrenals eventually take over the role of producing sex hormones from the ovaries. If this part of the body is already stressed and overworked, then it will struggle to produce enough of these hormones.”
How can we keep our blood glucose levels from peaking?
In recent years, there has been a rise in people investing in blood glucose monitors. As Emily explains, this can be a useful tool to have in midlife – particularly if you want to understand how certain foods influence your glucose levels.
“A CGM (a continuous glucose monitor), can help you to get a feel for your insulin sensitivity,” says Emily. “If you’re noticing extreme dips in your energy, are tired all the time, feel up and down emotionally, having lots of cravings and waking a lot in the night, wearing a monitor for a while could be a helpful tool to see if blood sugar is playing a part in driving your symptoms.”
However, you don’t have to invest in a monitor to see improvement in your wellbeing. Eating less sugar and implementing simple lifestyle changes can be equally transformative, says Emily.
How to stabilise your blood sugar levels
Pair up food groups
“Make sure you are having the magic combination of carbs with protein, fat and fibre (aka veggies) with all of your meals and snacks,” says Emily.
“The fat, protein and fibre will help to flatten the release of glucose into your bloodstream and hopefully take the edge off some of your symptoms. This is going to ensure that your blood sugars stay stable throughout the day.”
For example, don’t just have toast for breakfast or any carb on its own. Think about the food groups on the plate.
“Dress it with some healthy fats (smashed avocado) and protein (eggs) with some fibre (rocket or watercress on the side),” suggests Emily.
Take a stroll after you eat
A study from the medical journal Nutrients showed that light physical activity shortly after eating can bring down high blood glucose levels. This is because, as you walk, your muscles use up the extra glucose in your bloodstream. The sweet spot? Studies suggest that as little as two minutes of walking can make a difference to your health.
“This is a great way to flatten your blood sugar spikes and keep things nice and balanced,” adds Emily.
Pick up the weights
“We lose a small percentage of our muscle mass each year as we age,” says Emily. “In the perimenopause, our muscle mass starts to decline a bit more steeply.”
“Building muscle is the best thing we can do for our blood sugar balance as the more muscle we have, the more glucose we burn doing nothing.”
Get quality sleep
“If we’ve had a bad night’s sleep, our cortisol will likely be higher throughout the day and we are much more likely to have cravings and may find it difficult to balance our blood sugar,” says Emily.
“Broken sleep can fuel hormonal chaos and make symptoms like hot flushes, anxiety and fatigue so much worse. Trying to get into the habit of going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, as well as avoiding screens for a least an hour before bed, can help.”