Women need their own plan to beat diabetes to reduce their own risks of heart attacks, strokes and dementia

  • The NHS offers a  programme to people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • The nine-month programme is less effective with women in their 40s and 50s 

The NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme was launched seven years ago to catch anyone over 40 who is on the cusp of developing type 2 diabetes.

These are people with raised blood sugar levels – a condition sometimes called prediabetes.

Type 2 diabetes increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes and dementia. But research shows that losing weight, through diet and exercise, can prevent progression to type 2 diabetes, and even reverse prediabetes.

The nine-month NHS programme provides diet and lifestyle advice in group sessions and with health coaches. It can be transformative.

Type 2 diabetes increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes and dementia. But research shows that losing weight, through diet and exercise, can prevent progression to type 2 diabetes, and even reverse prediabetes

Type 2 diabetes increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes and dementia. But research shows that losing weight, through diet and exercise, can prevent progression to type 2 diabetes, and even reverse prediabetes

There¿s just one problem ¿ if given to mid-life women, the advice doesn¿t always work. Participants in their 40s and 50s, and women in particular, lose less weight, are less successful at reducing their blood sugars and are less likely to complete the programme

There’s just one problem – if given to mid-life women, the advice doesn’t always work. Participants in their 40s and 50s, and women in particular, lose less weight, are less successful at reducing their blood sugars and are less likely to complete the programme

There’s just one problem – if given to mid-life women, the advice doesn’t always work. Participants in their 40s and 50s, and women in particular, lose less weight, are less successful at reducing their blood sugars and are less likely to complete the programme.

It’s not that they don’t need help. As we approach menopause, the hormone changes can affect how we store fat and can cause it to accumulate around organs such as the liver and pancreas. This fat can increase our risk of type 2 diabetes, as the body becomes more resistant to insulin, the hormone that works to store excess sugar.

To me, it is unsurprising that women going through the menopause struggle to engage with the NHS diet plans. When you’re exhausted because you can’t sleep, you’re aching, sweating all night and having hot flushes during the day, you’re more likely to reach for comforting carbs than healthier options. We need to find what works and what level of support would be most helpful.

Ex-Olympic triple-jumper Michelle Griffith-Robinson, diagnosed with prediabetes in 2018, agrees. Last week the 51-year-old, an ambassador for Diabetes UK and patron for Menopause Mandate, was told she is now in the clear.

‘It can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach,’ she says. ‘I’ve always exercised and I eat healthily – but I had low energy, low libido, brain fog, low mood, skin changes – that sort of lacklustre feeling. Starting HRT proved the turning point.’

My advice is to make small changes you can sustain that don’t make you feel exhausted. Climb an extra flight of stairs. Go for a walk. Pile your plate with healthy food.

As Michelle points out: ‘The goals are not being diabetic and wanting to thrive at this stage of your life. Why not do both?’

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