Menstruation and Diabetes

Like nature, the human body operates in cycles. From waking and sleeping to the changes in our body temperature throughout the day to the monthly fertility cycles of women, the body is continually changing in ways we can learn to predict. So what happens when one body cycle interferes with another?

Tracking the Pattern

Diabetes operates on a cycle. From the lowest blood glucose levels of the day, in the morning upon waking, to the highest, in the evening before bed, our blood glucose can often be predicted. During the time of a woman's menstrual cycle, however, these patterns may change.

Prior to and during a woman's period the body experiences hormonal changes. Changes in the levels of estrogen and progesterone can cause cells to be more resistant to insulin (either natural or injected) for a short time. This can result in higher sugar levels for a few days, and then an abrupt drop back to normal levels.

For some girls and women, these changes might be subtle. For others, the changes might be erratic, with very high sugar levels one month, and almost no change the next.

It is important for women who are experiencing blood glucose level fluctuations at the time of their monthly periods to try to chart their patterns. Taking a few extra blood tests in the days leading up to and during the period might show a pattern that can be addressed by insulin, diet or exercise.

Elevated Blood Glucose Levels

Because the number of days a woman experiences her period each month is relatively short and sometimes unpredictable, it is difficult to say that more insulin should be injected during this time. The risk of suddenly becoming hypoglycemic is real. Instead, a physician might direct a change of the type of insulin being used during this period, rather than a change in dosage, particularly for women with type 1 diabetes

For women with type 2 diabetes who experience these fluctuations, exercise is a recommended remedy that might serve not only to stabilize blood glucose levels, but also to address some of the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, such as bloating, cramping or moodiness.

Carb Cravings

Food cravings can also be an issue during a woman's period, particularly for high carbohydrate foods. Refined carbohydrates stimulate the release of serotonin, the mood elevating chemical that serves to raise the spirit and make us feel happy. Sugars also release endorphins that cause us to feel calm and relaxed. When a woman is feeling the moodiness and discomfort of her period, carbohydrates can certainly make her feel better, even if just for a little while.

Of course, consuming the wrong carbohydrates can wreck the most carefully observed diabetes management plan. Being prepared with appropriate substitutes can go a long way to staying on track when cravings hit.

Tracking the patterns and being prepared are the two most effective ways a woman can manage the impact of her monthly cycle on her diabetes cycle.

Sources: Diabetes UK and Epigee.org

Photo credit: Laura Bartlett, NIH

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