Postmenopausal women (women whose ovaries have stopped making eggs) are not more likely than other women to get diabetes.
"Menopause will not increase your risk of diabetes."
According to Catherine Kim, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor of internal medicine and obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan Health System and lead author of the study, menopause did not increase women's risk for diabetes. Menopause is only a small period of change in the aging process, she says. The changes do not mean that a woman's health will get worse.
Menopause is a transition period in a woman's life that usually happens around the age of 51 or 52. In menopause, a woman's ovaries stop making eggs, her body makes less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, and her periods become less frequent.
Past research has shown that menopause might make diabetes worse because postmenopausal women have relatively higher levels of testosterone - a hormone that is thought to increase the risk of diabetes.
Dr. Kim and her fellow researchers found evidence that suggests those past findings may not be true.
The researchers looked at women who took part in a clinical trial called the Diabetes Prevention Program. They studied women who had gone through natural menopause as well as those who had their ovaries removed.
Dr. Kim and colleagues found that in each year that 100 women were observed, 11.8 premenopausal women got diabetes, compared to 10.5 women who went through natural menopause. Almost 13 out of 100 women who had their ovaries removed got diabetes.
The difference in diabetes rates among these groups is too small to say that menopause had any effect on diabetes risk.
A slightly more surprising finding from the study involved women who had their ovaries removed and also made some lifestyle changes, such as losing 7 percent of their body weight and exercising for at least 150 minutes per week. These women had very low rates of diabetes (1.1 women out of 100).
The main reason this last finding was surprising is that most of the women who had their ovaries removed were on hormone replacement therapy, a therapy that women and their doctors worry increases their risk for all sorts of health problems.
The study's authors say that more research is needed to understand how hormone therapy plays a role in diabetes risk.
Overall, this study should give doctors the confidence to tell their female patients that lifestyle changes can protect them against diabetes, and that menopause is not something to fear, Dr. Kim says.
The study by Dr. Kim and colleagues will appear in the August issue of Menopause.