Major hormonal fluctuations at different stages in life have wide-reaching impacts, both physically and emotionally. But for people with diabetes, hormonally-mediated changes to blood sugar levels can directly impact how to manage the condition.
People with diabetes know all too well that certain commonplace factors, such as stress or even tiredness affect blood sugar levels. Times when the body is undergoing significant changes, like puberty, menopause, and pregnancy, are bound to have a substantial effect on blood glucose levels.
Understanding the interaction between diabetes and hormone levels tells you what to expect as you move through life.
Diabetes and Age-Related Hormone Changes
While it’s true that shocks to the body, like stress and illness can throw blood sugar levels off-kilter, merely growing older also causes blood glucose to be more challenging to control. This is because as we age, our bodies become less effective at using insulin.
Lifestyle changes also tend to happen as we age. Less physical activity and increased weight gain over the years can elevate blood sugar. What’s more, older individuals are more vulnerable to infection and illness, which when coupled with diabetes, can pose a more significant threat than you might think.
The types of hormones your body produces, and the relative quantities of these hormones, change as you age. Some hormones, like human growth hormone, are down-regulated, meaning your body makes less of it as you get older.
Hormonal changes are often sex-specific. Women create less estrogen and progesterone as they age while men generate less testosterone. These are the primary hormones involved in type 2 diabetes.
Let’s take a closer look at what changes in the production of these major players might mean for men and women managing diabetes.
Progesterone, Estrogen, and Diabetes
The rise and fall of hormones during the menstrual cycle are linked with changes in blood sugar. Many women with diabetes notice a spike in blood glucose levels in the week before starting their period and a decline after it ends. While these are fluctuations to keep an eye on, hormonal changes differ from person to person, and different forms of birth control drastically impact these fluctuations.
However, women who have ceased menstruation have also ceased production of estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen is thought to enhance the body’s sensitivity to insulin while progesterone does the opposite, increasing insulin resistance.
A woman is said to have officially reached menopause when she hasn’t had a period in at least a year. Here is a glimpse of what diabetes and hormone imbalance looks like in women approaching or going through menopause:
- Low blood sugar levels. This can be a sign that the body is slowing down the production of estrogen and progesterone. They body may require less insulin.
- Hot flashes, moodiness, and trouble sleeping. Side effects of menopause like irritability, dizziness, and mood changes can be easily mistaken as low blood sugar levels or the other way around.
- Weight gain. Fluctuations in hormones can lead to a few extra pounds, which can cause blood sugar levels to rise.
- Increased stress. The emotional ups and downs and the physical discomfort that comes with menopause can be stress-inducing, potentially raising blood sugar levels.
It’s important to note that overweight women with type 1 diabetes may reach menopause earlier. In contrast, overweight women with type 2 diabetes may experience changes later, corresponding with a delay in the decline of estrogen levels. Not much is known about how hormone imbalances differ from women with and without type 1, but the same factors should be taken into account when it comes to type 2 diabetes management.
The rise and fall of hormones, emotions, and blood sugar levels, among other variables, which take place with menopause can be overwhelming. These fluctuations may call for more frequent testing and adjustments, but not to the point where monitoring itself becomes stressful. We recommend getting in touch with a doctor to form an action plan to ease any worries.
As men get older, their testosterone levels decrease, which can lead to insulin resistance — similar to progesterone. Low testosterone can impact sex drive, emotions, muscle mass, and sleep patterns, among other aspects of life. One reason your doctor may choose to advise testosterone therapy is to improve blood sugar levels.
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