Written by: Emily J., MSc RD
Reviewed by: Dr. Vimal Ramjee, MD, FACC
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Your glucose levels can be influenced by the hormonal changes that occur during your menstrual cycle. In this article, we’ll explain the phases of your cycle, the hormones at play throughout each phase, and how hormonal changes affect your glucose response.
For those who menstruate, you know that your period is a monthly occurrence that lasts for 3-7 days. Your menstrual period occurs as a part of a longer female hormonal cycle called the menstrual cycle, which typically occurs over 28 days.
Your cycle is broken down into phases, and across these phases, your hormone levels change to prepare your body for the development and release of an egg, at which point you either become pregnant or if not, have your period.
At certain points throughout the cycle, these changes in hormones can make you more insulin resistant, and affect your glucose response. We’re going to walk you through the phases of your cycle, the hormonal changes that come with each phase, what impact you can effect these hormones to have on your insulin and glucose response, and what to do about it.
There are four main hormones that drive your menstrual cycle: follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), estrogen, luteinizing hormone, and progesterone .
The levels of FSH, estrogen, luteinizing hormone, and progesterone rise and fall depending on the phase in your cycle, which can be connected to insulin resistance and elevated glucose levels at certain points throughout the month.
These hormones ebb and flow throughout the phases of the menstrual cycle. Your cycle has four phases, some of which overlap.
FSH, luteinizing hormone, estrogen, and progesterone are all essential to the phases of the cycle, but it is progesterone, estrogen, and the ratio of the two hormones that seem to have the most effect on glucose levels and insulin sensitivity.
The hormones involved in your menstrual cycle — particularly estrogen and progesterone — can have an effect on your insulin sensitivity and glucose levels.
The luteal phase, or the “PMS” phase, is the phase where women may experience the most noticeable changes in blood sugar and insulin levels — especially women who experience strong PMS symptoms [3, 4].
During the luteal phase, when progesterone is at its highest and estrogen is high as well, research shows that women experience higher levels of circulating insulin, which is indicative of temporary insulin resistance during this phase .
Progesterone promotes the storage of glycogen in the liver, which is key for supporting pregnancy . However, if you do not become pregnant during ovulation, this increase in progesterone will increase insulin resistance temporarily .
Estrogen, on the other hand, has been associated with improved insulin sensitivity and glucose in both animal and human studies [7, 8]. This suggests that the end of the follicular phase (second phase of the cycle) may be when you are most insulin sensitive, since estrogen levels are at their peak, and progesterone levels are low.
But what happens during the luteal phase, when both progesterone and estrogen are high? Scientists have found that higher levels of progesterone override the insulin-sensitizing effects of estrogen during this phase specifically.
The luteal phase is when you may experience insulin resistance and elevated glucose. If you are concerned about blood glucose levels, try to avoid high-carb/high-sugar foods during this time, as they may have more of an impact on your blood sugar and insulin levels. You can also try some blood glucose hacks during this time for better glucose management.
That said, this phase is a normal part of your body’s physiology and the insulin resistance is temporary. It’s most important that you listen to your body and nourish yourself sufficiently with whole foods, adequate calories, and rest as needed.
Understanding the phases and hormonal fluctuations of your menstrual cycle can help you better understand blood glucose trends. Here are a few things to remember as you navigate your glucose management throughout your menstrual cycle:
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