Going into menopause later in life might be associated with an unexpected benefit—a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A recent prospective study found that women who entered menopause before the age of 45 have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who entered menopause between age 45 and 55 or later.
Increased awareness about this possible link may improve health outcomes for women who experience premature or early menopause.
“This should be considered in an assessment of preventative health care for women,” said Sarah Westberg, PharmD, BCPS, Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy in Minneapolis. “Pharmacists should include questions regarding the age of onset of menopause when assessing women, as this is important information to recognize potential additional risk factors for diabetes or cardiovascular disease.”
After almost a decade of following 3,639 subjects, the study found that 348 had developed diabetes. Women who had premature menopause (before 40) were almost four times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who had late menopause (after 55). Women who entered menopause between 45 and 55 were twice as likely. The risk of developing the disease was reduced by 4% per year the later the onset of menopause. Participants were part of the prospective, population-based Rotterdam Study that is looking at the occurrence of cardiovascular, neurological, and endocrinological diseases in a cohort of elderly people in one town in the Netherlands.
Factors such as obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, as well as cholesterol, insulin and hormone levels were considered during the observational study but they did not pinpoint an exact mechanism.
“Menopause really is a complex time in life,” Westberg told Drug Topics. “The hormonal changes can have a significant impact on quality of life for a woman.”
The study results suggest that early menopause and the higher odds of developing type 2 diabetes might be independent factors caused by a genetic predisposition to premature aging. Although no single lifestyle factor was determined to be culpable, pharmacists and other health-care professionals are advised to encourage women who enter menopause early to make healthy lifestyle modifications.
“As with any other individual with a high risk for Type 2 diabetes, or those currently diagnosed with prediabetes, lifestyle modifications promoting healthy weight and healthy eating can be encouraged and implemented,” said Westberg. “Annual glucose screening can be implemented to screen for the development of diabetes.”