How menopause affects your blood sugar levels

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Menopause Advisor
Ask Eileen

03 April 2017

Read the full video transcript below

Today's topic

Hello, and welcome to my weekly video blog. And today on A.Vogel Talks Menopause, I'm going to be discussing your blood sugar levels. Now, for those of you, especially, that have been watching for a while, you'll know that I often talk about controlling blood sugar levels and how important it is in the menopause. So I'm going to look at this in a little bit more detail. 

What is blood sugar control?

Well, your brain needs glucose as a fuel, so levels must stay constant in the blood all the time. And sometimes your blood sugar levels get a bit low. Now, if you imagine you're going on a car journey and you're starting to run out of petrol, you'll get a little warning bleep, you might get a little light flashing on the dashboard. If you ignore that and the car goes on for a bit longer, you'll get a bigger bleep and you'll get more flashes until eventually the bleep is absolutely continuous. And at that point, you go, "Oh, I better do something about this now or we're going to run out of petrol." And it's the same with our blood glucose levels. If it starts to get too low, the body has then got to give you some kind of warning signal that it's time to eat something. 

What happens when it gets low

Now, when it gets too low, that could be to do with the fact that you're not eating enough. And, you know, especially at this time of the year, how many of us think about going on diets for the summer? It can be that we're missing meals, it could be that we're eating the wrong foods, or it could be the fact that we're waiting too long between meals before we're actually eating.

So the body has to give us some kind of reminder to eat something. Normally, it can just be hunger pangs, and very often that's something we will then address. It could also be sweet cravings as well. But if we ignore this, if we're too busy if something else is going on, or we can't get something to eat, then eventually the blood sugar levels will get a little bit lower, and the body has to give us a bigger signal. And this is where our nervous system sometimes gets pulled in.

Your nervous system during menopause

But the problem is just now that our nervous system is already under a lot of pressure because of everything that's going on in the menopause. And what happens here is it tends to get oversensitive. So instead of being sensible and just giving us a little nudge to say, "Eat something," it tends to go overboard. And what happens is we tend to get menopause-like symptoms. So the nervous system will trigger things like hot flushes, anxiety or panic attacks. It could be palpitations. And I know for me, if my blood sugar levels get too low, I tend to get in a really bad mood. I tend to get very, very irritable very quickly. So that, for me, is a little signal, "Eat something." So when this goes on, we tend to suddenly think, "Oh, gosh, I better eat something or better drink something." 

Blood sugar levels rising too high

By this point, our body is so desperate to get our blood sugar levels up that we tend to get the release of a sugar cravings or we tend to want to drink a cup of coffee. And, unfortunately, these two things will shoot our blood sugar levels back up really high very quickly, which, in the immediate afterwards, we're going, "Oh, that feels so much better. I feel a lot calmer. Everything's fine." But it lifts them up far too high. So the nervous system then comes in again. It goes, "Whoa, things are far too high. We need to lower everything."

So there's a mechanism that then pulls your glucose out to the bloodstream. But because there's all these constant toing and froing going on, it pulls it down far too low, so you then end up in exactly the same situation you were a little while ago. You then get all the symptoms back again. Your body's going, "Oh, for goodness sake, I need something else really quick." And this can end up in a really big yo-yo situation with your blood sugar levels going up and down the whole time and also triggering these menopause symptoms quite regularly as well.

What you can do to help yourself

So what can you do to actually help yourself in this situation?

1. Avoid sugar and caffeine

First of all, if you get any sort of food cravings, it's to try and avoid sugar and caffeine, because these are the big participants in getting your blood sugar level up too quickly.

2. Plan your meals

You need to look at planning your day rather than leaving it to an emergency situation. So make sure that you have proper meals at the right time during the day.

3. Eat good healthy fats and protein

Make sure you're eating enough, and that would include plenty of protein and good fats. And I know there are so many of you out there that, you know, every time I say, "You know, make sure you're eating enough fats in your diet" start to panic. But good healthy fats and protein will actually keep your blood sugar levels more stable than any sugary snack will do. 

4. Eat healthy snacks between meals

Also, remember the healthy snacks in between meals, and, you know, there's loads of lovely, healthy, sustaining snacks that are low calorie that you can actually take two or three times a day.

So if you do get one of these sugary snack attacks, and there's nothing else you can actually do, then what can you look at? Well, you can look at things like dried fruits. These are great. They're little powerhouses of energy. They're chockablock with vitamins and minerals, and they contain lots of fibre, which will help to keep your digestive system going well.

You can look at things like unsulphured apricots. They're great, because they're really chewy, and it takes a long time to actually break them down.

You can look at figs. Figs are great. They'll keep your bowels nice and regular, but they're also high in magnesium and calcium, and that's a really great added plus.

You can also look at medjool dates. These are great, because, again, they've got fiber. They've got iron. They are also really, really very, very sweet. But the interesting thing is they won't give your blood sugars a big hit. They will just help to rise them gently. So this is a lovely one to eat one or two if you've got a really, really sweet tooth.

Blood sugar dropping during the night

But this can also happen during the night, and it's not quite so easy to get up and rummage in the cupboard for some figs or dates in the middle of the night. What happens in the middle of the night is, again, your blood sugar levels can get too low, the nervous system will be pulled in, it will give you a big jolt. You might find that you wake up. Your heart might be thumping. You might be having an anxiety attack. You might be getting a really swift hot flush or night sweat. And very often this is just a really good indication that your blood sugars have dipped really, really low during the night.

The problem here is that, once your nervous system is pulled into all this, you're actually in a flight-or-fight mode. Your hunger is actually switched off, so there you are in bed in this situation, maybe your heart is thumping, you're wide awake, you can't get back to sleep, your body is craving some kind of nice boost, and, of course, you don't actually know what to do.

How to stop this happening

So in this instance, it's sometimes better to prepare before you go to bed. Now, we're not talking a big meal, because we know eating late at night can stress your digestive system. It can really stress your liver, and that can keep you awake as well. But we're looking at a nice little snack, maybe an hour to half an hour before you go to bed. So, again, you would be looking at small handful of dried fruit or some nuts or a little handful of seeds. It could be a little bit of plain organic bio-yogurt and add a small portion of fresh berries. Berries are great for releasing fruit sugars very, very slowly and into the bloodstream.
Or you could even have something like an oat cake and peanut butter or nut butter. Don't go for things like rice cakes or crackers, because they will break down very quickly and give you a quick sugar hit. So these really should be avoided especially at night. So, hopefully, you can try these ideas out and see how you get on with them. And, you know, let me know if you find just changing your snacks, and your meals, and maybe your evening snack to see if that helps you with your symptoms.

One thing to be aware of 

Now, just one little bit of an issue here. Hormonal changes in some women in the menopause can actually precipitate diabetes. So if you find that you are getting really big sugar cravings, if you find that this is often accompanied by ongoing thirst, then it's really important to get this checked out by your doctor.

So hope this has helped. Let me know how you get on, and I will look forward to seeing you next week on A.Vogel Talks Menopause.

Some extra advice...

Sugar cravings can often indicate low magnesium or vitamin C so taking supplements can help to reduce symptoms. If you find you can’t stop eating the chocolate or other really high sugar foods a Chromium tablet can be really good.

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Did you know?

You won’t get the menopause the minute you turn 50! The average starting age is actually between 45 and 55 and it can often depend on a number of factors including hereditary, weight and health, however every single woman will have an individual menopause.

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