The Relationship Between Menopause, Brain Health, and Diabetes

Jun 2, 2021
Medically reviewed by: 
Alicia Jackson, PhD

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has found that people with type-2 diabetes have a heightened risk of developing dementia and that this risk increases with decreased age of diabetes onset.

In other words, the younger you are when you develop diabetes, the greater your risk of developing dementia.

Why does this matter for women going through perimenopause and menopause?

Women are at a higher risk of developing diabetes during the menopausal transition. There are several hormone-driven factors that contribute to this, including metabolic shifts, increased central adipose tissue, and (importantly) increased insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is a key feature of diabetes, but it is also an important risk factor in Alzheimer’s and dementia. This means that the younger are when you go through menopause, the greater the impact to your insulin levels could be, and the higher your dementia risk may be.

What can women do?

One impactful thing women in their 40s' and 50's can do is to keep their blood sugar and insulin response under control. Thankfully, there are scientifically proven strategies that can help accomplish this goal:

  • Exercise: Weight and resistance training has been shown to be especially effective at reducing insulin resistance in postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes. Adding resistance training to an exercise regimen that includes aerobic exercise (think walking, swimming, or running) was also shown to improve muscle density and visceral and abdominal fat loss.
  • Lower carb/Ketogenic diets. Research shows that a low carbohydrate diet, including the Keto and Paleo diets, may help to support weight loss and improve blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, especially in patients with obesity and type-2 diabetes.
  • Intermittent fasting. Studies show that intermittent fasting can lower insulin levels and help your body utilize stored fat for fuel. Though there are two main intermittent fasting strategies that can work— restricting your eating hours to an 8 hour window each day or not eating two days per week—most women find that sticking to an 8 hour eating window is more sustainable and flexible with their schedules. What’s more, many report decreased appetite when intermittent fasting.
  • Hormonal therapy. Hormone therapy (HT) has been proven to reduce the rate of diabetes. Additionally, clinical trials of estrogen replacement therapy in postmenopausal women have shown to be effective in lowering insulin resistance and reducing plasma glucose levels. Many women also report that they’re able to control their weight better while on HT. At Evernow, women who are on estrogen therapy report a 70% improvement in weight changes by the second month of their treatment.

All of these strategies can be effective at keeping blood sugar and insulin levels in control, which can help lower the risk of developing dementia. And there’s some more good news: being diagnosed with prediabetes was not significantly associated with risk of dementia, which means taking preventive action before diabetes manifests can be crucial to keeping your brain—and body—healthy.

Reviewed by: Alicia Jackson, PhD, CEO and founder of Evernow