How menopause can affect risk of developing type 2 diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on July 27, 2016

An early or late menopause could increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a new study of over 124,000 women has found.

Women who begin the menopause before the age 46 or after the age of 55 have an increased risk of developing the condition, according to the research from Kaiser Permanente Center for Health in the United States.

post-menopausal-womenThe study, led by Kaiser Permanente researcher Erin LeBlanc, used women from the Women’s Health Initiative, a large national trial aimed at preventing disease in post-menopausal women. According to national data the average age of menopause, or a woman’s final menstrual period, is 51 in the US.

The study found that women who had their final menstrual period before age 46 were 25% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, compared to women who had their final period between ages 46 and 55. Women who had their final period after age 55 had a 12% increased risk of developing diabetes.

The study explains that after the menopause oestrogen levels decline. These low levels of oestrogen have been linked to increased body fat and appetite, decreased metabolism and high blood sugar levels. Previous studies linked early menopause to an increased risk of diabetes, but this study is one of the first to show that later menopause also puts women at higher risk.

‘Our study suggests the optimal window for menopause and diabetes risk is between the ages of 46 and 55. Women who start menopause before or after that window should be aware that they are at higher risk, and should be especially vigilant about reducing obesity, eating a healthy diet and exercising. These lifestyle changes will help to reduce their risk for type 2 diabetes,’ LeBlanc explained.

The study also found an association between the length of a woman’s lifetime reproductive cycle and her risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The lifetime reproductive cycle starts when a woman begins her period and ends when she stops having a period.

Women with the shortest lifetime reproductive cycles, less than 30 years, were 37% more likely to develop diabetes than those with medium length reproductive cycles of 36 to 40 years. Women with the longest reproductive cycles of more than 45 years were 23% more likely to develop diabetes compared to women with medium length reproductive cycles.

The differences in risk were reduced, but remained statistically significant after adjusting for several factors, including age, race, BMI, birth control use, hormone replacement therapy, number of pregnancies, physical activity and alcohol consumption.

The study participants were part of the Women’s Health Initiative, a large national study of postmenopausal women focused on strategies for preventing heart disease, bone fractures, and breast and colorectal cancer.

Women ages 50 to 79 were recruited between 1993 and 1998 at 40 clinical sites and followed for about 12 years. The women completed extensive health questionnaires, including questions about reproductive history, age at first period and age of menopause. Diabetes diagnosis was determined through questions about medical history and medication use.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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