Preventing Type 2: Gender Differences In Pre-Diabetes

There are interesting and medically significant gender influences that affect the progression from pre-diabetes to a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

For instance, one study strongly suggests that as pre-diabetes advances:

  • Age, a sedentary lifestyle, elevated 2-hour blood sugar and triglyceride levels, and current smoking are primary risk factors for men.
  • Women are more likely to go from pre-diabetes to diabetes if they have a large waist circumference, high fasting glucose levels, a family history of diabetes, and female hypertension.

In practical terms, though weight reduction and exercise are beneficial for both sexes, physical activity may be of primary importance in the outcome of pre-diabetes for men, while reducing the waistline is more crucial for women.

The Hormonal Difference

Overall, males are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes since they generally have more stomach and liver fat, and lower insulin sensitivity, even at normal weights. Stress (e.g., psychosocial, work, performance pressures) and lack of adequate sleep are more prevalent factors in female diabetes onset. However, women have one distinct diabetes prevention advantage over men—their bodies produce more estrogen.

Before menopause, the hormone estrogen lends females some protection against diabetes development. Even the thigh fat that most women complain about, a product of genetics and hormones, seems to be protective. Estrogen’s safeguarding role is diminished though, when menopause is experienced early or late in life.

Research indicates women who have their last menstrual period prior to age 46 are 25 percent more likely to develop diabetes. Those who stop menstruating after age 55 have a 12 percent increased risk. Vigilance about exercise, diet, and maintaining a healthy weight is especially important for early and late menopausal women.

Different Focus

Despite these gender differences that affect onset probability, the broad diabetes prevention picture remains the same for all: enjoy wholesome foods, maintain an active lifestyle including regular exercise, limit alcohol consumption, and quit smoking.

Still, the gender distinctions of women and men with pre-diabetes are worth paying attention to. So, beside cutting back on sugary foods and drinks:

  • Ladies, get out your tape measure and, if necessary, focus on whittling down the waist - particularly if your menstrual cycle ends early or late - and make time for daily activities that reduce stress.
  • Gents, it’s vitally important to add steps to your day, and get regular aerobic exercise most days of the week. Consult with your doctor about exercising if you’ve been living a sedentary life.

Keep in mind that pre-diabetes does not automatically lead to diabetes. Pre-diabetes may be reversed by making consistently healthy choices hour by hour, day after day. Every decision, no matter how small, counts.

Sources: Diabetes In control; Medical University of Vienna
Photo credit: marc cornelis

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