The connection between elevated glucose levels, higher body temperature and sweating are already known in Diabetes research, but this is not only a diabetic issue. In healthy people without diabetes, acute spikes in glucose, either by glucose infusion or excessive carbohydrate consumption, causes body temperature to climb. (Bikman, 2022).
I’m sure some of you, especially those of you who are overweight as you move through menopause, may have worked this blood sugar/body-heat connection out already.
But why does this happen? And why do our menopause hormonal changes generate more heat than we can tolerate?
The answer lies in our blood vessels, as well as in our changing insulin production as we age.
Hormonal changes during menopause can disrupt the production of insulin from our pancreas as can being overweight, not sleeping well and of course, being sedentary and eating the wrong types of foods.
Furthermore, as oestrogen levels decline, there are changes in the elasticity of our blood vessels as well. They may become ‘stiffer’ leading to higher blood pressure and less ability to move the internal heat to the skin’s surface. You may have read my previous articles whereby I refer to these changes as vascular stiffness.
Why high blood glucose and high insulin are a problem for your body temperature during menopause:
Glucose is a simple sugar and is also known as blood sugar. Flowing through your bloodstream, it is the principal fuel of all of your body cells, especially your brain.
When glucose levels become too high in the blood-stream (e.g. with festive-season sweet treats), there is a rapid release of insulin from the pancreas. Insulin is the hormone made by the pancreas, and its role is to transport glucose from the blood into cells, where it is burned for energy.
Insulin carries sugar/glucose – it is your energy storage hormone.
When you eat something such as bread or white rice, or a cookie, or sweet treats, your blood glucose (sugar) rises. This signals the pancreas to release an amount of insulin necessary to carry the available glucose to the brain, the liver and muscles as well as other cells.
There is no energy storage in our muscles or liver cells without insulin. Nor is there glucose which travels to the brain without insulin. It is a crucial hormone which holds the key to unlocking the door to glucose being stored in the liver, muscles and in fat cells.
During menopause as our liver, muscles and blood vessels age, there may also be changes in the ability of insulin to do its job.
This may arise from a number of factors, including:
- eating the wrong types of food, especially sugary foods
- eating too much or too little food,
- having a sedentary lifestyle with very little activity
- having too much exercise/sports as with athletes training and competing, and blood sugar levels are crashing because food intake is inadequate
- carrying too much body-fat
- the ageing of our pancreas during menopause, which is the organ responsible for releasing insulin and glucagon (it’s opposing hormone).
All of these factors can cause the pancreas and the liver to become inflamed and insulin production and function to get out of balance.
When insulin production and function is out of balance, this causes an increase in inflammatory changes in tissues. These inflammatory changes cause over-heating.
However, because our blood vessels are also losing some elasticity, then we can’t move heat to the surface of the skin as efficiently. Hence, temperature regulation in the body is disrupted and this may become worse when metabolic function is disrupted and glucose levels are elevated. (Bikman, 2022)
That’s why changing our diet and learning how to reduce our sugar-cravings, is such an important part of hot flush management during and after our menopause transition.
I’m grateful to the scientists who have helped me pull together the menopause jigsaw so that I can use my knowledge to help others – and there are no borders to menopause symptoms and weight gain!
Over the past few days, women from Hungary, Canada, Denmark, the Cook Islands, America, New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom have joined me either on my online Masterclass on Menopause or on my 12 week Visible Results Transform Me sale which has as its main focus, weight loss. In this programme, I introduce women to their MyMT™ Food Guide and the charts and food lists which have the glycemic ratings of carbohydrates.
Throughout our lives we are influenced by others. One of the scientists who has helped me to help you, is Professor Jennifer Brand-Miller from the University of Sydney in Australia. Women on the MyMT™ programmes learn about her as well and why her research on carbohydrates is included in the MyMT™ Food Guide.
Over our lifetime, we need to eat differently depending on our age and stage. But food information has become so embedded in our psyche from the powerful influence of the modern food industry, the fitness and sporting industries and the dieting and media industries, that it’s no surprise that we all get a bit confused about food. I was confused too.
For over 25 years, Professor Brand-Miller has been a world-authority on carbohydrates and the Glycemic Index (GI). Along with her team from the University of Sydney in Australia, she pioneered the concept that different carbohydrate foods have dramatically different effects on energy levels because of the effect that certain carbohydrates have on our blood-sugar levels.
With the rise in population obesity and Type 2 diabetes over the past three decades, understanding blood sugar control has important implications for weight management and appetite control. It’s also important for athletes and exercisers who need adequate energy levels for training and competing.
New studies have also confirmed that carbohydrate foods with a low GI rating, are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. And for women in menopause, low GI foods also help to keep hot flushes under control.
What is the Glycemix Index?
The glycemic index (GI) is a physiologically based measure of carbohydrate quality. Professor Jennie Brand-Miller and her team have spent years analysing different types of carbohydrates to see the immediate effect on blood glucose levels. Each carbohydrate has then been given a rating.
Carbohydrates that break down quickly during digestion are rated with a high GI value – this is often processed carbohydrate foods such as snack bars. This means that their blood glucose response is fast and high. Carbohydrates which break down slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the blood stream have a low GI value.
One of the greatest mistakes made in diets today, is that carbohydrates need to be avoided.
But the confusion results because the term ”carbs’ is used for processed foods and foods high in sugar, so yes, we have to try and remove these sources of carbohydrates, however, fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates too. So, are grains.
You must understand that carbohydrates are not created equal and they differ in type and amounts that you need. Herein lies the confusion – you must choose the right kind of carbohydrate for your lifestyle and your stage of life and for the amount of exercise or activity you are doing too.
For busy women with a lot going on in their lives (isn’t that most of us?) and who are going into peri-menopause or remain active in post-menopause, then it’s fruits, vegetables and grains that are important to our health. These foods are far more important than supplements to help manage our weight, reduce hot flushes and give us energy. These are the ‘carbs’ that we need.
If we exercise, then carbs are equally as important as protein. Protein is for building and repair, carbohydrates and fats help our energy levels because they help to restore glucose back into muscles and our brain. With the emphasis on high protein and high fat diets these days, it’s important that you understand that healthy carbohydrates are equally important as we move through menopause.
If these carbohydrates are low glycemic index carbs, then this helps to promote weight control, reduce fatigue, increase satiety (fullness) and provide the body with a rich supply of micro-nutrients. When you are looking for Low GI foods, then you want to select carbs that have a rating value under 50. [Image Source: University of Sydney]
That’s why, instead of spending lots of money on endless supplements and diets as you go into menopause, I want you to visit your local fruit and vegetable shop instead.
If you buy these low GI foods, then you will also be helping to manage your weight, improve your energy and reduce your hot flushes.
- Apples – GI Rating 38. An apple a day really does keep the Doctor away and the hot flushes too .. they are rich in Vitamin C and fibre and have one of the lowest GI ratings for fruit because they are high in pectin which lowers their GI. [In comparison, a banana has a rating of 52 and kiwifruit has a rating of 58].
- Sweet Potato or Kumara – GI Rating 44 [this compares to a boiled potato which has GI rating of 88]. In New Zealand we call Sweet Potatoes, Kumara. Sweet potato belong to a different plant family to regular potato and come either as white, yellow or red in colour and are packed with antioxidants. Whilst the ‘sweetness’ comes from a high sucrose content, it is high in fibre which gives it a lower GI rating than regular potato varieties. When I researched women’s health as they age, especially cardiac health, I discovered that women in the Okinawa longevity studies have sweet potato as their main carbohydrate – in fact over 50% of their daily diet is carbohydrate from sweet potatoes. This is my wonderful Low GI kumara, celery and apple salad which is in the MyMT™ Food Guide, which women receive as part of all of the 12 week programmes [Circuit Breaker for thinner/ leaner women; Transform Me for menopause weight loss or Rebuild My Fitness for those who want to get back into the right exercise for us as we age].
- Oats or Porridge – GI Rating 42. Compare this to Kellogs Rice Bubbles which has a rating of 87 and you know what breakfast cereal is going to give you lovely sustained energy throughout your busy morning don’t you? Add some stewed apples to porridge and you have a lovely Low GI start to your day.
- Carrots and Chickpeas – GI Rating of 28. Chickpeas are high in protein and carbohydrates and hummus is made from chickpeas. I try to have this fabulous low GI food every day. Dipping carrot sticks in hummus is a great afternoon snack. Protein-starch interactions contribute to their lower GI. Carrots are crunchy too which helps to stimulate saliva production and many women find that they get dry mouth in menopause, because saliva production is reduced as we lose oestrogen.
- Dark Chocolate – GI Rating of 44. You don’t need this every day, but for a sweet treat that doesn’t spike your blood sugar, then yes, the darker the chocolate, the lower the GI rating.
Controlling our blood sugar levels is an important part of taking back control of our hot flushes and for those of you overweight, then losing weight matters for your hot flush management too.
Diabetes is a serious health risk currently affecting 15% of women aged 55 years and older. Its incidence is expected to more than double by 2050, so if you have uncontrollable hot flushes, then perhaps it’s time to get your blood glucose levels checked.
If your health has changed or you feel that your symptoms and weight are holding you back from living the life that you want to live, then I hope when you get time, you can join me for your menopause transformation. Developed from scientific studies on women’s healthy ageing, there isn’t another programme like this around.
I know this, because when my own symptoms and weight was getting me down and menopause supplements and HRT weren’t working into the long-term, I looked too.
Dr Wendy Sweet, PhD/ MyMT Creator & Coach/ Member: Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine.
Atkinson, S., Foster-Powell, K. & Brand-Miller, J. (2008). International Tables of Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Values: 2008. Diabetes Care 31, 2281–2283.
Bikman, B. (2022). How do blood sugar levels affect body-temperature? Metabolic Insights, Online Publication.
Brand-Miller, J. Foster-Powell, K. & Colagiuri, S. (2002). The Glucose Revolution. University of Sydney: Hodder Print.
Dormire S, Howharn C. The effect of dietary intake on hot flashes in menopausal women. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 2007 May-Jun;36(3):255-62. doi: 10.1111/j.1552-6909.2007.00142.
Parry, J. (2021). Insulin Stimulates Production of Body Heat, New Study Finds. Yale School of Medicine Press Release.
Yang R, Zhou Y, Li C, Tao M. Association between pulse wave velocity and hot flashes/sweats in middle-aged women. Sci Rep. 2017 Oct 23;7(1):13854.