That time of the month. Moon time. Aunt Flo. The period. There may be many different euphemisms for it but one thing is clear: the menstrual cycle is not always an easy ride.
Adding diabetes to the mix can mean a doubly tricky time. On the other hand, some might not even notice a change with their diabetes. It’s something that affects everybody in different ways.
Nonetheless, periods can interact with blood sugar levels and other areas of life with diabetes. Find out why right here!
See our 5 tips for the technical matter of keeping a stable blood sugar, along with 4 tips for the more emotive matter of handling a life with diabetes and periods.
Diabetes and Periods: what Happens with the body
Insulin is a hormone. Periods affect hormones. Those two aspects that come with diabetes and periods can result in an impact on blood sugar levels. More specifically, the hormones oestrogen and progesterone play a role.
Oestrogen normally keeps in balance with insulin, helping to keep a good level of insulin sensitivity. Without oestrogen, insulin sensitivity drops. That’s why some women after their menopause – where oestrogen levels drop – might develop type 2 diabetes.
So, oestrogen works when it’s balanced. Just as how too little estrogen can cause insulin resistance, so can too much estrogen. During the ovulation phase, estrogen levels rise, which can result in insulin resistance.
Thereafter, progesterone increases during the next stage of the menstrual cycle, the luteal phase. The changes due to high progesterone occur because the body is preparing for a potential baby. This includes insulin resistance – leading to higher blood sugar levels – so that any potential baby can get its own share of glucose.
The Contraceptive pill
The contraceptive pill may also play a role in changing blood sugar levels. If taking the pill, try to take note of any changes to see if they correlate with when you started taking the pill.
PCOS and Diabetes
When considering diabetes and periods, it’s important to remember that not all women always experience regular periods, as might be the case with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
PCOS, which affects the balance of hormones, is generally common. For women with type 1 diabetes, PCOS is especially frequent, as suggested by this study published on the American Diabetes Association website. Conversely, other women with PCOS may be at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The link between diabetes and PCOS is likely due to how high levels of insulin might promote production of testosterone, which in turn changes the hormonal balance. High levels of insulin would be a result of insulin resistance that might come with diabetes. Conversely, PCOS might cause insulin resistance, leading to diabetes.
Diabetes and Periods: how to Handle high Blood Sugar
Essentially, diabetes and periods can lead to temporarily high blood sugar because of insulin resistance. The solution should be fairly straightforward right? Just lower blood sugar levels?
Well, yes and no. Certainly, lowering blood sugar levels is a solution. It may be a simple fix for some: simply increase insulin levels in order to counteract the high blood sugar.
Yet, during the menstrual cycle, the increased levels of oestrogen and progesterone will also suddenly drop when a certain phase of the cycle is over. This may begin to feel like the hormone levels are all over the place, and that insulin levels will need to be readjusted.
But there’s also more to periods than just blood sugar levels (more on that in a moment).
In any case, it will be worth regularly checking blood sugar levels whilst keeping track of changes. If you do want to make changes to your diabetes treatment, it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional. You may find some of the following steps useful as a guideline:
- Keep track of your cycle. The menstrual cycle is usually a regular, patterned, occurrence. This means that you can have a rough idea of when the next stage of the cycle will occur.
- Monitor blood sugar tendencies. Keep track of blood sugar levels throughout at least a couple of periods. This will give you an idea of how your body might respond next time. This is especially the case since this area is quite individual.
- Test blood sugar levels more regularly. Do this when you feel you might be getting closer to the stages when oestrogen and progesterone levels rise – in other words, in the days just before the actual period.
It’s good to know your blood sugar levels even if you don’t experience the regular menstrual cycle. That way, you will be prepared to respond to any unexpected changes in blood sugar levels.
Need help with this? Get your blood glucose readings sent wirelessly to Hedia with certain devices and keep track of them using Hedia’s diabetes logbook. Have a go by downloading it from Google Play or the App Store!
- Raise your insulin dose before the period. If you notice that your blood sugar normally rises in the days before the period starts, raise the levels of your insulin or change the dosage of other diabetes medication (in consultation with your healthcare professional).
- Decrease insulin levels during the period. This is where diabetes and menstruation combine. By this point the hormones (oestrogen and progesterone) will probably not be affecting your insulin. This means that you can reduce your insulin dosage back to normal levels or to whatever fits with your blood sugar reading.
Diabetes and Periods: how to Handle the rest
Periods certainly revolve around hormones. But in a practical sense, periods feel like they revolve around other elements: mainly different cravings and moods. So, here are some extra tips to help you get back to feeling like you ❤️:
- Be proud of yourself for taking care not only of a whole medical condition, but also of all the difficulties that can arise during periods. You’re strong for balancing both.
- Remember that while mood swings are common with periods, they are also common with diabetes. Both hyper- and hypoglycemia can make you feel not so great. So, if you’re having a tough time, try checking what your blood sugar level is.
- If you do get cravings for carbs, try to stick to the whole foods which will give you more nutrition. This will hopefully help your body in getting what it needs.
One suggestion: homemade popcorn is a great whole food carb that results in a relatively steady blood sugar rise. Find more food ideas with Low Sugar Snacks with Diabetes!
- Try to keep up a healthy lifestyle with exercise and balanced meals. Sometimes, exercise might be the last thing you want to do during a period. Nonetheless, exercise and balanced meals will help with insulin sensitivity and general wellbeing.
This is especially the case for those with PCOS, where one of the main treatments is keeping up that balanced lifestyle to help the insulin sensitivity levels.
When exercising, do movements which are most comfortable. For instance, gentle aerobic exercises like walking or swimming can help a great deal. Exercises for relaxing, like pilates or yoga could help in taking away some of the stress that comes with diabetes and periods.
Saying Goodbye to Aunt Flo
Periods are often uneasy, to say the least. What can make them feel better, though, is knowing that you’re prepared for them. Diabetes and menstruation do not need to be enemies.
Try to take these tips on to help make Aunt Flo’s monthly visit more manageable. It will only be a matter of time before Aunt Flo leaves again. Then you can get back to your kick-ass self, owning your diabetes!