Diabetes and Wellbeing: Does Diabetes Have a Gender-Wise Impact?
- Type 2 diabetes is more prevalent in men than in women and could be due to more visceral fat in the former.
- Men diagnosed with diabetes are less obese than their female counterparts.
- Women are more susceptible to diabetes-related complications like heart disease, stroke, or kidney disease than men.
- The impact of diabetes on mental health is more profound in women than in men. Hence, women with diabetes have a greater risk of developing depression.
- The sexual health of both men and women appears to be adversely affected by diabetes. While diabetic men may have erectile dysfunction, diabetic women may experience vaginal dryness and decreased sexual drive.
- Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to complications in pregnancy like high blood pressure, stillbirth, and cesarean delivery.
- Women with type 2 diabetes have an increased chance of developing vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes. This condition occurs when the body cells resist insulin, a hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels. In this condition, the person has high blood sugar levels, the persistence of which can have detrimental effects on various organs and organ systems, especially the heart, eyes, kidneys, and nerves.
The most common symptoms of type 2 diabetes in men and women are:
- Increased hunger
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Weight loss
Though type 2 diabetes can affect anyone, and factors like lifestyle choices and family history can increase one’s likelihood of developing it.
But did you know that diabetes does not treat men and women alike? In this article, let’s understand how diabetes & wellbeing are connected, and how diabetes has a gender-wise impact. Listed below are a few unique ways in which this condition affects men and women:
Men or women: who is more prone to diabetes?
Type of body fat
Research suggests that men are more likely to have diabetes than women. This difference could be attributed to the difference in the type of fat in men and women. Men have more visceral fat deposited around their abdominal area, whereas women tend to have more subcutaneous fat on the hips and legs.
Studies reveal a strong association between visceral fat and the long-term risk of type 2 diabetes. This could be why men are more at risk of developing diabetes than women.
Another significant gender-related difference was revealed in a 2011 study in which men diagnosed with diabetes were reported to be less obese than their female counterparts. BMI stands for the body mass index, and a BMI of 30 or more indicates that the person is obese.
Men in the study had an average BMI of 32, whereas women had 34. Thus, even if a man has a lower BMI than a woman in the same age range, he would have a higher chance of developing diabetes than her.
A study showed that the difference in the prevalence of diabetes is due to the difference in behaviors like:
- Alcohol consumption
- Dietary choices
- Sugar intake
Diabetes and your heart and kidneys
Studies state that women are more likely to develop diabetes-related complications than men. These complications can be either heart disease, stroke, or kidney disease.
According to one theory, the increased risk of long-term consequences of type 2 diabetes in women could be due to the reduced protective effects of estrogen.
Estrogen is the female sex hormone that protects women from several conditions like heart disease and kidney disease. When the blood sugar levels are high in uncontrolled diabetes, estrogen cannot function effectively, increasing the risk of heart disease or kidney-related complications.
Diabetes & mental health
Studies show that diabetes has a significant association with anxiety.8 The blood sugar levels rise when the person is more anxious. So, keeping diabetes under control becomes difficult for those with anxiety. Women with type 2 diabetes have a higher chance of having depression than men. Depression in women could be due to psychological stress because of personal or professional reasons or the result of the quality of life due to diabetes itself.12,13 Therefore, women with diabetes are more impacted than men in terms of their mental health.
Diabetes & sexual health
Diabetes can negatively impact one’s sexual well-being. Elevated blood sugar levels can damage almost every organ system, including nerves and blood vessels.
Proper blood flow to the penis and optimum nerve activity is essential for normal erection function in men. Due to high blood sugar levels, men with diabetes are three times more likely to have erectile dysfunction than those who do not have the condition.
Research suggests that diabetes can affect the sexual functioning in women as well. Women with diabetes can experience symptoms like:
- Uncomfortable sex due to vaginal dryness
- Trouble in having an orgasm
- Decreased sexual drive
These symptoms could be attributed to a defect in estrogen signaling, a direct effect of elevated blood sugar levels.
Diabetes & pregnancy
Pregnancy-related complications tend to be more in women with uncontrolled diabetes. In such cases, women will be at a higher risk of :
- High blood pressure
- Cesarean delivery
Therefore, women with diabetes who are pregnant should contact their healthcare provider to keep their blood sugar levels under control.
Diabetes & Yeast and Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
Most women contract vaginal yeast infection at some point in their life, but the likelihood increases in women with type 2 diabetes. Similarly, urinary tract infections are also more common in women with diabetes.
The higher risk of UTIs could be attributed to the high levels of sugar in blood and urine that attract bacterial growth. The impaired immunity due to high blood glucose levels is one of the reasons for vaginal candidiasis. Maintaining blood sugar levels and using antifungal therapy are the most effective ways of managing these infections.
Management and Treatment
Diabetes can affect every organ system in our body. The best approach to managing diabetes is to keep blood glucose levels within the normal range. You can achieve your goal by following these steps:
- A customized diet plan: Tweak your diet by adding foods that are high in fiber content but less in fats and calories. You may need the help of an experienced dietician to prepare a tailor-made diet plan for you. Eating too less can do more harm than good, so pick your food wisely.
- Take your prescribed medications: Never miss your medicines and have them just as prescribed by your physician or healthcare provider. You should avoid self-medication at all costs and pay close attention to the dosages and the timings specified by your doctor.
- Keep a check on your blood cholesterol levels: Maintain your blood cholesterol levels close to the normal range.
- Exercise regularly: Even if you have a hectic schedule, you should find time for a physical activity like walking, swimming, or dancing for at least half an hour, every day.
- Monitor your body weight: As obesity is one of the risk factors for diabetes, try to maintain your body weight within the normal range. You may consult a registered dietician to devise an individualized weight-loss plan and incorporate physical activity like exercise or yoga into your daily routine.
- Quit smoking and alcohol consumption: Though it may sound difficult initially, you should strive to quit smoking and alcohol consumption to keep your sugar levels within the safe limits.
Though the symptoms of diabetes like excessive hunger, increased thirst, and frequent urination can be seen in both men and women, there are some unique differences in the way diabetes & wellbeing pans out in men and women.
While diabetes is more prevalent in men, the risk of diabetes-associated complications is higher in women. Women with diabetes have a greater risk of developing depression or catching vaginal yeast infections and UTIs. Moreover, women with diabetes who are pregnant may have complications like high blood pressure and stillbirth.
The best way to lower your risk for diabetes-related complications and improve personal health is by keeping your blood sugar levels under control. Your healthcare provider will guide you in making the right lifestyle choices like proper nutrition and a customized workout routine, to achieve this goal.
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- Overview | Type 2 diabetes in adults: management | Guidance | NICE. Overview | Type 2 diabetes in adults: management | Guidance | NICE. Published December 2, 2015. Accessed June 10, 2022.
- Nordström* A, Hadrévi J, Olsson T, Franks PW, Nordström P. Higher Prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes in Men Than in Women Is Associated With Differences in Visceral Fat Mass | The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism | Oxford Academic. OUP Academic. Published October 1, 2016. Accessed June 10, 2022. https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/101/10/3740/2764924
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- CDC. Diabetes and Women | CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published September 17, 2018. Accessed June 10, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/features/diabetes-and-women.html
- Aryan L, Younessi D, Zargari M, et al. The Role of Estrogen Receptors in Cardiovascular Disease. Int J Mol Sci. 2020;21(12):4314. Published 2020 Jun 17. doi:10.3390/ijms21124314
- Maric C. Sex, diabetes and the kidney. Am J Physiol Renal Physiol. 2009;296(4):F680-F688. doi:10.1152/ajprenal.90505.2008
- Li C, Barker L, Ford ES, Zhang X, Strine TW, Mokdad AH. Diabetes and anxiety in US adults: findings from the 2006 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Diabet Med. 2008;25(7):878-881. doi:10.1111/j.1464-5491.2008.02477.x
- CDC. Men & Diabetes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published March 15, 2022. Accessed June 10, 2022.
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- Bohra N, Srivastava S, Bhatia MS. Depression in women in Indian context. Indian J Psychiatry. 2015;57(Suppl 2):S239-S245. doi:10.4103/0019-5545.161485 13. Yeungnam University Journal of Medicine. Accessed June 10, 2022.
Our team of experts frequently monitors developments in the health and wellness field, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.
Aug, 01 2023
Fact checked By
Dr. Pramod Mane