If energy highs and lows and snappy mood swings have left you feeling like your menopause has turned an ugly corner, then it may be time to follow a blood sugar balancing diet. Food Scientist and Nutritional Therapist Susie Debice explains how fluctuating oestrogen levels may result in insulin resistance and blood sugar mismanagement.
Oestrogen and insulin
Oestrogen and insulin have a pretty tight relationship which may become disrupted during the menopause leaving blood sugar levels mismanaged. So how does this female hormone influence blood sugar levels? Oestrogen plays a role in regulating insulin levels by supporting the activity of cells in the pancreas that produce insulin and helping regulate the mechanisms involved in protecting cells from insulin resistance. These are essential requirements for helping keep daily blood sugar levels stable, a contributing factor for weight management, metabolism, mood and energy production.
What is insulin resistance?
Prior to the menopause the body has an efficient system in place for managing optimal blood sugar levels. When you eat carbohydrate or sugary foods, cells in the pancreas realise the ideal amount of insulin to help transport sugar into cells. It’s thought that oestrogen also plays a role in helping cells respond to insulin by regulating the transport mechanisms that ferry sugar into the cells, ready to be used to fuel metabolism and energy production. Insulin resistance occurs when the cells no longer respond to insulin leaving sugar unable to hitch a ride into cells. When oestrogen levels are fluctuating insulin resistance could be more likely to occur.
Mitochondria and metabolism
The process of converting sugar into energy (units of ATP) takes place in a special part of the cell called the mitochondria. Scientific research has discovered that oestrogen modulates several mitochondria functions associated with energy production. Studies reveal that the falling levels of oestrogen associated with the menopause have far reaching effects including a potential downturn in mitochondria activity.
Without the support of oestrogen, energy producing pathways in the mitochondria slows down so less ATP is produced. There may also be an increase in harmful free radicals naturally produced as by-products of mitochondrial energy production. The overall effect of any reduced mitochondrial activity may result in a reduction in the metabolic rate, increased weight gain and increased fat around the abdominal area.
During the early stages of the menopause, known as the perimenopause, oestrogen levels may fluctuate greatly from one day to the next. You could feel full of energy one day and the next day feel snappy, irritable, moody and experience extreme fatigue. These ups and downs are purely reflective of the likely disruption occurring in your insulin and blood sugar levels due to unpredictable changes in oestrogen levels. Other common signs of blood sugar imbalance include:
- energy highs and lows
- feeling thirsty
- mood swings
- feeling lightheaded
How to support blood sugar balance
You may not be able to quickly stabilise your oestrogen levels, but you are capable of making a few diet and lifestyle changes designed to help to support blood sugar balance.
- Swap refined carbs: white rice, white bread, white pasta, refined grains with wholegrain alternative – brown rice, red rice, wild rice, wholewheat bread, wholewheat pasta. These wholegrain alternatives contain slow releasing carbs and fibre which contributes to blood sugar management.
- Avoid sugary drinks: fruit juice, soft drinks, cola, fruit smoothies and cordials – these are all high in sugar and create spikes in blood sugar and insulin which your body is less equipped to cope with. Make sure you drink at least 1 to 2 litres of water a day to stay hydrated.
- Aim for 5 to 8 a day: fresh fruit and vegetables are rich in fibre and nutrients that help to support health and wellbeing and also help to keep you feeling fuller for longer.
- Increase pulses and lentils into your daily diet as these foods are naturally rich in the B vitamins that contribute to hormone balance and energy production.
- Supplement with chromium and B vitamins: these nutrients help support blood sugar balance and contribute to energy-yielding metabolism and help reduce tiredness and fatigue.
By learning to better manage your blood sugar levels with these key dietary changes you could see noticeable differences in your mood and energy levels across the day, putting you one step closer to a smoother menopause.