Menopause is a delicate phase of every woman’s life. During menopause, the body goes through a series of changes capable of altering your lifestyle and outlook on life.
Besides the inability to bear children, menopause comes with symptoms capable of making this compulsory phase difficult for women. When these symptoms appear, how we react to them could relieve our pains or worsen them.
Menopause Symptoms and Lifestyle Changes
Estrogen, the female sex hormone, is secreted by the ovaries. Now during menopause, these ovaries can no longer perform. This non-performance is the reason for infertility. With the dysfunction of the ovaries, the estrogen hormone becomes deficient, and the symptoms eventually come knocking on the door.
Some of the most common symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, night sweats, anxiety, osteoporosis, bloating, eye dryness, depression, weight gain, cardiovascular diseases, and even breast cancer. Of these symptoms, hot flashes remain the most common. It is important to know that while some women may have a very tough process managing these symptoms, others do not even experience any severe pain.
More treatment and management options have become available in the United States and other countries with well-developed health care systems to help women scale through the phase with fewer complications. Today, hormone therapy and lifestyle changes are the two best options for managing the symptoms of menopause.
Effects of Diet on Menopause
As stated earlier in this article, our reaction to the symptoms of menopause could either relieve these symptoms or make them worse. While we will be focusing more on the effects of diet ( sugar in particular ) on menopause, it is important to know that things like the lack of exercise and not getting enough sleep could equally worsen the effects of menopausal symptoms on you.
Generally, menopausal women are advised to consume more greens and drink enough water. While this may sound cliché, research has proven that menopausal women who eat more leafy greens and consume enough water are less likely to develop severe menopausal symptoms during perimenopause.
Also, coffee and caffeinated beverages have been proven to increase the likelihood of worsening vasomotor symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats. Some other things to avoid during menopause include spicy foods, foods with high sugar content, alcoholic beverages, and tobacco.
Effects of Sugar on Menopause
Just like water and engine oil, sugar and menopause do not mix. While sugar has become one of America’s most used items, I see it as a villain, maybe Thanos. Yes, it can make coffee sweet and ice cream more lovable, but it can also snap its fingers and destroy half of the earth’s population (just kidding, though).
Now back to it. What makes sugar so dangerous to menopausal women? How much harm does a teaspoon full do, and why should every human reduce general sugar intake? Here we go.
Sugar is fine. It provides our muscles and nervous system with adequate nutrients, helps to metabolize fats, and of course, provides our foods with sweetness. The further we go in life, the less sugar we need. As we approach menopause, our need to consume sugar gradually declines. Why, then, is sugar bad, especially during menopause?
Your sugar tolerance isn’t like in the old days
During menopause, the ovaries become non-existent, making it impossible to give birth. With the cessation of the ovaries’ functionality, estrogen and progesterone go through an alarming decline, and more body cells become insulin-resistant. With this, the body finds it very difficult to regulate blood sugar.
For this reason, many menopausal women today experience fluctuations in blood sugar levels. At this stage, consuming excess sugar will most likely cause the blood sugar levels to rise uninterruptedly and make you more susceptible to heart diseases, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
In the United States, for example, diabetes sits just below number 5 in the major cause of death among perimenopausal women. You should not be adding more sugar to that cup after reading this!
More hot flashes
The more sugar you take into your body, the higher your blood sugar levels. Research has shown that menopausal women with high blood sugar content are likely to experience more severe cases of hot flashes. Imagine that the burning sensation you often feel repeatedly in your chest is being amplified. Yikes!
Generally, high blood sugar doesn’t prove to be the cause of hot flashes, but studies carried out on an extensive number of menopausal women have pointed out that those with higher blood sugar levels had more severe cases of hot flashes than those with moderate sugar levels.
Your good bacteria are dying!
In your body, there are more bacteria cells than actual living cells. Yes, you heard that right. There are both bad bacteria cells and good bacteria cells in your body. The good bacteria work so hard to keep the bad ones out so we can stay healthy. When the number of bad bacteria cells exceeds that of the good bacteria, it simply means that your overall health is in jeopardy.
When you consume foods containing excess sugar, you indirectly give the harmful bacteria more food. This way, they grow in number and subdue the good bacteria, which in turn can cause severe problems.
With more bad bacteria, you become more vulnerable to Urinary Tract Infections, vaginal atrophy, and other issues in specific regions. Keep the good bacteria in and the bad guys out; consume less sugar.
Belly fat joins the party
As ovaries stop producing estrogen, the adrenal glands take over this huge task. With the adrenal glands being the major producers of stress hormones, the task of producing estrogen isn’t sufficient. At this point, the body is in dire need of more estrogen, and it isn’t getting it.
As a solution, the body begins to store more fat around the stomach region. The body does this because fat stored in the stomach region (adipose tissue) can assist in the production of estrogen. This way, the body is finding a solution to its estrogen problems in the best way it can.
However, this doesn’t help us stay in shape. With the analysis, we can conclude that menopausal women are also more vulnerable to belly fat. As an added disadvantage, more sugar in the blood will make this process faster!
During my reproductive years, I could comfortably eat a giant burger, but since I got to menopause, I find it difficult to even take a bite without gaining extra weight. Generally, menopausal women are more vulnerable to weight gain, but when the blood sugar becomes high, the results could be quite detrimental.
Sugar is taking your energy away
As you consume more sugar, your cortisol level declines. Your thyroid may begin to function abnormally with declining estrogen levels. The thyroid is important because it produces several important hormones in the body. Many of these hormones help set your body’s metabolism rate and determine the energy levels produced in the body.
When the thyroid begins to become dysfunctional, you may begin to experience increased fatigue. Many menopausal women going through higher levels of fatigue often resort to eating more foods high in sugar. This desire to consume more sugar is most times caused by the feeling of weakness or tiredness.
Three of the most common and discomforting symptoms during menopause are hot flashes, night sweats, and the inability to get enough good sleep. Generally, high sugar content has been linked to being a cause of disrupted sleep caused by restlessness.
Hot flashes and night sweats during nap time can make sleeping extremely uncomfortable and, sometimes, very difficult to get. You wake up frequently at night and always feel like the air con isn’t turned on. A study observed that high sugar consumers found it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
As menopausal women, we can start by reducing sugar intake to get that much-needed sleep.
Depression, moodiness, and psychological issues
Anxiety, moodiness, and depression have increased in menopausal women. While healthy diets like fruits and vegetables can help you deal with these symptoms, consuming foods with high sugar content may worsen it.
The fluctuations in hormonal levels could make you experience symptoms like irritability, anger, forgetfulness, loss of confidence, poor concentration, and anxiety. Menopausal women can also experience sleeping problems, and this could lead to an increase in emotional sensitivity.
Studies have shown that consuming a lot of sugar in your diet can lead to mental health issues for all genders. The effects of sugar and menopause could mess up your mental health and make you unstable. Funny how sugar can do all these things at once.
It reduces the effectiveness of HRT
Studies have shown that menopausal women with high blood sugar tend to experience fewer changes in hormone therapy than women with moderate or normal blood sugar.
Hormone therapy is the best treatment and management option for menopausal symptoms. Hormone therapy helps to substitute hormones that have become deficient. With hormone therapy, estrogen can be inserted into the body artificially, and it can, in turn, reduce or eradicate symptoms of menopause.
Even after taking HRT, many menopausal women today still experience symptoms of high severity. Many menopausal women have blood sugar problems or are heavy sugar consumers. As hormone therapy works hard to reduce menopausal symptoms, high sugar may bring these symptoms to the frontline, making HRT less effective.
Increased risk of cancer development
While there is no direct link between sugar and menopause, researchers have discovered that obesity during menopause increases your risk of developing cancer. Now recall that consuming more sugary foods can increase your risk of being obese.
In some other research, foods with high sugar content could cause inflammation, leading to insulin resistance and making you more vulnerable to certain cancers. Between 2001 and 2020, numerous research has been carried out to know just bad sugar is for menopausal women. They sought answers and got them, at least to some degree.
Menopausal women who took cookies thrice a week were likelier to develop certain cancers than women who were very moderate in their cookie consumption. Cancers like endometrial cancer, cancer of the small intestine, esophageal cancer, and pleural cancer are just certain cancers you become more vulnerable to when your sugar levels become high.
Increases risks of cardiovascular diseases
Cardiovascular disease is the number 1 cause of death in the world. It is important to know that there isn’t any direct link between high sugar consumption and cardiovascular diseases. You need to know that heavy sugar consumption can cause obesity, and obesity can cause diseases related to the heart and cardiovascular system, and the same applies to menopause.
During menopause, weight gain becomes very easy, and with the additional effects of excess sugar, you become extra vulnerable to cardiovascular diseases.
How to Cut Overall Sugar Intake
Sugar is sweet. To make you feel better, you don’t have to stop the consumption of sugar. What you can do is limit its intake. Here are some of the best steps to take if you’re intentionally cutting your sugar intake.
Cook more & eat real food.
Foods are great, delicious, and often pleasing to the eyes. One thing, however, is you don’t know the exact sugar content of those foods. You should cook more and eat out less. When you cook your food, you are aware of how much sugar is present, and you have the power to control it.
Also, limiting the number of processed foods we consume is important. Most processed foods contain hidden sugar that we never know just how much it contains. You should eat more real food and less processed ones.
Take fruits instead
If you’re a strong fan of sweetness, you should take fruits instead (see that rhyme?). The sugar in fruits won’t make you fat. Fruits contain high levels of water and fiver. This way, you get filled up before eating too much.
To help you in this process, you can create a plan to eat only fruits when you feel like enjoying sweetness.
Ditch the carbs & check for labels
When shopping for groceries, check for food products with more added sugar. You can substitute these foods with those with lower sugar content or, better still, make them yourself.
You must also reduce your carbohydrate intake and take more vegetables instead. To make things easier, you can take more carbs with a low glycemic index and fewer carbs with a high glycemic index. Carbs with a high glycemic index are easily digested into the body, and this can cause an alarming increase in blood sugar levels, a sharp contrast to carbs with a low glycemic index.
Menopause is not a death sentence. It is a compulsory phase that every woman must go through. For this reason, it’s high time women start taking charge of this phase rather than letting it control them. In the words of Tom Hanks, “I have high blood sugars, and Type 2 diabetes is not going to kill me. But I have to eat right, exercise, lose weight, and watch what I eat, and I will be fine for the rest of my life.”