The risk of heart disease rises for everyone as we age, but for women over 50 years old symptoms can become more evident after the onset of menopause.
Menopause is a natural biological process that marks the end of menstruation and fertility in women. While it is a natural course of a woman’s life cycle, menopause can cause physical changes that can impact your heart health. In fact, studies have shown an overall increase in heart attacks among women about 10 years after experiencing menopause.
Menopause is not a disease and it does not cause cardiovascular diseases. However, certain risk factors increase around the time of menopause and lifestyle factors such as consuming a high-fat diet, smoking, or other unhealthy habits from earlier in life can take a toll on your body.
More than one in three female adults has some form of cardiovascular disease, and heart disease is the leading killer of women.
Drop of Estrogen Levels and Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Estrogen is considered to play a role in boosting the levels of good cholesterol, or HDL. Estrogen is also believed have a positive effect on the inner layer of the artery wall, helping to keep the blood vessels flexible accommodating for better blood flow. Menopause leads to a decline in estrogen and may be a factor in heart disease increase among post-menopausal women.
Unfortunately, despite the benefits of estrogen, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends against using postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease or stroke because studies have shown these treatments do not reduce the risk of heart disease. In fact, in a large study called the Women’s Health Initiative, hormone therapy was associated with an increased risk of stroke and no reduction in the risk of heart disease.
The American Heart Association suggests HRT may only be considered for short-term use to treat menopausal symptoms, but long-term use is discouraged because the risk of heart attack, stroke and breast cancer actually increases the longer HRT is used.
However, estrogen decline is not the only reason women face a higher cardiovascular disease risk after reaching menopause.
Blood Pressure and Bad Cholesterol Increase During Menopause
In addition to a decrease of estrogen, a woman’s body goes through many other changes during menopause. Blood pressure levels may start to increase. LDL cholesterol or “bad” cholesterol levels also tend to increase while HDL, “good” cholesterol declines or remains the same.
How to Fight Postmenopausal Heart Disease
If you’ve followed a healthy lifestyle and continue doing so at menopause, your risk for heart disease and stroke is lower.
There are several ways to stay healthy during and after menopause. Women should take care of their heart through regular exercise and good nutrition and by eliminating unhealthy habits like smoking.
Consume a healthy diet that emphasizes:
- Fruits: Particularly berries which are rich in antioxidants.
- Vegetables: Add cruciferous vegetables to your diet such as broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and bok choy.
- Whole grains: Great source of vitamin B
- Legumes: rich in dietary fiber and can help lower cholesterol
- Poultry and fatty fish: Research has found that menopausal women lose more weight when most of their protein comes from these ingredients.
- Nuts and seeds
Limit red meat, high-fat foods, and sugary foods and beverages. Limit dairy products. Avoid processed foods and fast foods.
Also, aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week to help prevent heart disease.