Menopause and insulin
As estrogen levels decline through the menopause the body becomes less responsive to the hormone insulin. This is commonly referred to as insulin resistance. This, unfortunately predisposes menopausal women to type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, heart disease and certain cancers, particularly if they are also overweight. Essentially what that means is that the postman (insulin) has gone on strike and the letters (sugar) are left undelivered, and a backlog of letters (sugar) developed (in the blood).
Insulin is like the body’s postman. It facilitates the transport of nutrients, such as sugar and proteins from the blood into cells. Much like a postman would facilitate the delivery of letters and parcels from your house to another house. When the postman goes to work, all letters are delivered with no issue. However, when the postman goes on strike, then problems ensue and letters pile up.
Common symptoms of elevated blood sugar include a large waistline of 35 inches or more, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol and high blood pressure. Dark skin patches can often appear in more severe cases of insulin resistance.
Rising blood sugar may be detected and diagnosed as prediabetes. It is currently estimated that 87 million American adults have prediabetes. At this stage you have some decisions to make. Do you adjust your diet and lifestyle to reverse the progression to diabetes or do you continue on the same track?
Insulin resistance can double your risk of heart attack and stroke, and significantly increase the risk of many cancers such as breast, colon and the cervix, while also increasing risk of Alzheimers and other cognitive decline issues.
Fortunately the nutrition and exercise team at Reverse Health are well aware of this issue and accounted for this when developing your custom meal and exercise plans. Below are some top tips to improve insulin sensitivity:
Regular exercise and activity is the number one way to improve insulin sensitivity. When the muscle moves, it contracts and those muscle contractions generally require carbohydrate as a fuel. That means sugar is sucked out of the blood and into the muscle where it is burned as energy. Exercising regularly, weight training, aerobics, walking and being active is the best way to improve insulin sensitivity. In fact, a single 60 minute workout is enough to improve insulin sensitivity for two whole days.
- Lose weight
Excess body fat, particularly in the abdomen can reduce insulin sensitivity by producing hormones that promote insulin resistance. Reducing belly fat and weight in general can significantly improve insulin sensitivity.
- Reducing energy intake
Research has shown that a hypoenergetic diet is effective in improving insulin sensitivity. That is a diet that provides less energy than your body requires for energy balance, therefore it becomes reliant upon stored energy to make up for the missing energy from the diet. Consistency with a negative energy balance will produce weight and fat loss, both also effective in improving metabolic health.
- Reduce carbohydrate intake slightly
Both carbohydrate and protein trigger the release of insulin. Reducing the carbohydrate content of the diet slightly, to 30 - 40% of total calories can have a beneficial effect on insulin sensitivity, while also adjusting the type of carbohydrate that you eat. Also spreading your daily carbohydrate intake over multiple meals, equally throughout the day will help to improve insulin sensitivity.
- Avoid added sugars
There is a huge difference between the sugars found naturally in foods such as fruit and added sugars in processed foods. Naturally occurring sugar is consumed alongside fibre and various vitamins and other nutrients when consumed in whole food form, whereas processed foods do not contain fiber and very rarely contain other nutrients. That means the sugar in processed food can be accessed easily, driving up your blood sugar rapidly, stimulating a huge surge in insulin. This will ultimately negatively impact your sensitivity to insulin. So avoiding added sugar is most certainly a wise idea.
- Stock up on soluble fiber
As the name suggests, soluble fiber dissolves in water, to form a gel like substance. It’s found in foods such as oats, peas, beans, flaxseeds, apples, carrots, barley and psyllium. Research has shown that soluble fiber has beneficial effects on blood cholesterol, appetite, gut health and also insulin sensitivity.
- Aim for a rainbow of color on every plate
Fruits and vegetables of various colors are rich in phytonutrients which act as antioxidants, protecting the body against damage and inflammation. Eating a wide variety of colorful vegetables can help maximize your intake of these powerful plant phytonutrients and also improve insulin sensitivity. Aim to create a rainbow of colorful vegetables at each meal and add some colorful fruit as a snack, berries are particularly good.
- Use cinnamon and other spices
Cinnamon is actually known in nutrition science circles for its ability to mimic the actions of insulin and support the transport of carbohydrate into cells, thereby improving insulin sensitivity. So the addition of cinnamon to carbohydrates such as your breakfast oatmeal, sweet potato or berry bowl snack can certainly help.
Similarly spices such as garlic, fenugreek, turmeric and ginger may also help improve insulin sensitivity and should be used in cooking where possible.
- Sleep and stress
Lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can literally wreak havoc on all aspects of our health, insulin is no different. Poor sleep of insufficient duration ultimately prevents your body from resetting, recovering and preparing for the next day, this disorder carries over and presents itself as various health issues. Insulin sensitivity is impaired after poor sleep. Similarly stress is known to reduce insulin sensitivity, with activities such as meditation, yoga and exercise known to reverse this issue. So catching your Z’s at night and taking time out to relax, unwind and enjoy life can significantly benefit insulin and all aspects of your life.
Ultimately insulin plays an important role in our health and wellbeing, and being sensitive to its hormonal actions is vitally important to our long term health. As we have mentioned a number of times, hormonal balance comes as a result of consistent healthy diet and lifestyle choices, with regular exercise and activity.
Reverse Health have developed our diet, exercise and lifestyle plan to account for all of these elements, to deliver you a bespoke plan to enhance your health through the menopause. Take the quiz at reverse.health/tour to start your journey now.