Menopause plays no role in type 2 diabetes risk

Going through menopause is thought to increase a woman's risk of developing type 2 diabetes, particularly if she has one or more risk factors for the condition. But to what degree does the hormonal change actually affect diabetes risk?

A team of researchers from the University of Michigan reported in the journal Menopause that the life change actually has very little impact on a woman's chances of developing type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, the marginal increase in risk can be readily overcome through diet and exercise.

The findings may help to create more effective recommendations for women who are approaching menopause and allow doctors to get a clear picture of each of their patients' individual risk factors.

For the study, the research team measured glucose tolerance in 1,237 women between the ages of 40 and 65. The findings showed that for every 100 post-menopausal women, 10.5 developed diabetes. Comparatively, 11.8 out of 100 pre-menopausal developed the metabolic disorder.

These numbers were significantly different when the researchers took into account women who made significant lifestyle changes to improve their diets and get more exercise. Out of 100 women who made these types of changes, only 1.1 developed diabetes.

More than anything, the researchers said their findings further confirm the role of diet and exercise in preventing diabetes. Given the fact that hormonal changes apparently make virtually no impact on a woman's diabetes risk, a greater emphasis should be placed on lifestyle among women who are reaching this age.

"Physicians can be empowered to tell women that lifestyle changes can be very effective, and that menopause does not mean that they have a higher risk of diabetes," said Catherine Kim, MD, who led the study. "Menopause is one of many small steps in aging and it doesn't mean women's health will be worse after going through this transition."

She added that the findings could give doctors the confidence to recommend certain lifestyle changes to their patients who may be at risk. Studies have shown that physicians often feel uncomfortable talking about weight issues with their patients. However, these types of findings underscore the importance of losing excess weight in order to avoid type 2 diabetes.

Simply following widely accepted guidelines, including losing 7 percent of fat and getting 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, could be enough to make a dramatic difference in a woman's chances of developing type 2 diabetes.