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Not many people know that diabetes is also called a disease of the ‘endocrine system’. The endocrine system consists of eight glands, each of which produces a different hormone. These hormones catalyse different chemical reactions in the body. Insulin is one such hormone produced by the endocrine glands present in the pancreas. It regulates the chemical process of how the blood sugar is used by the body to convert into energy. Insulin deficiency or the reduced ability of the body to respond to the available insulin leads to diabetes. This reduced ability can also cause an imbalance in other hormones such as growth hormone in teenagers, oestrogen in women, and testosterone in men. It is important for people with diabetes to understand the symptoms and risks of these hormonal imbalances. So, yes, diabetes and hormone imbalance have a link.
Diabetes and teenagers
Adolescence is a period of rapid growth in both boys and girls. This growth is regulated by the growth hormone, which is produced in a greater quantity at this stage. But it reduces the body’s ability to respond to insulin. This is a normal process in teenagers and does not require any medical attention. But in teenagers with type 1 diabetes, this process further increases their insulin requirement. Parents need to take extra care of teenagers with type 1 diabetes and talk to their doctors about adjusting the dose of insulin.
Similarly, obesity in adolescence adds to this risk. We have known for a long time that obesity reduces the body’s response to insulin and is a risk factor for diabetes. Teenagers who are obese are at an even higher risk to develop type 2 diabetes. Don’t underestimate the link between diabetes and hormone imbalance.
Diabetes and hormone imbalance in adults
In men with type 2 diabetes, the body’s reduced response to insulin leads to reduced production of testosterone. The symptoms of this condition are decreased libido, fatigue, and frequent mood changes. Men with type 2 diabetes need to check with their doctors if they are required to undergo checks for their testosterone levels. Men who do not have diabetes, but suffer from testosterone deficiency, are at a higher risk to develop type 2 diabetes This is because reduced production of testosterone reduces the body’s ability to respond to insulin.
With women, there are cyclical changes in the level of oestrogen and progesterone, that are responsible for their menstrual cycle. These cyclical changes also affect the body’s response to insulin and may cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels. For example, just before periods, the progesterone level is high, which reduces the body’s response to insulin and increases the blood sugar level. This is a normal process of the body. But in women with type 2 diabetes, these fluctuations in blood sugar level can be more severe and they need to monitor their blood sugar level before, during, and after periods.
In women with type 2 diabetes, the body’s reduced response to insulin can also cause oestrogen deficiency. This increases the risk of breast, ovarian and cervical cancers. Likewise, obesity along with type 2 diabetes, can also lead to irregular periods and infertility in some women. Women with type 2 diabetes need to check with their doctors if they are required to undergo tests to check their hormone levels. They should also talk to their doctors about blood sugar fluctuations around periods.
Also, in normal pregnancy, there is a rise in blood sugar levels for the excess blood sugar, from the mother, to reach the growing fetus. But in women who have diabetes, this can adversely impact their blood sugar control and they may require a change in their medications or insulin dosage.
Diabetes and hormones in old age
In men, during old age, the testosterone level starts to fall. In men with diabetes, this level can fall even more and can lead to symptoms of testosterone deficiency. In women, during menopause, as oestrogen levels fall, the body goes through a number of changes such as fat deposition around the abdominal region. This raises the risk of type 2 diabetes. Those who already have diabetes, face a different set of challenges: an increase in the symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, palpitations and sweating. Those who are going through menopause should check their blood sugar regularly, and women with diabetes should check with their doctor whether they need a change in their medication during menopause.
Diabetes is a complex condition because it involves the interplay of different hormones at different stages of life. The specialists who deal with endocrinal disorders are endocrinologists. People with diabetes should have regular consultations with them to ensure that diabetes management stays on track and yields optimal results all through life.