In an interesting article published on the website of Novomed, Dr. Anna Sepiolo writes about the mistake in assuming that coronary heart disease (CHD), the number one killer worldwide, is commonly regarded as something that afflicts men rather than women.
CHD may occur later in women than in men on average, but it remains the biggest killer of women worldwide. As with any disease, awareness is your first layer of protection.
As a gynaecologist, Dr. Sepiolo is particularly interested in research that indicates an increase in the risk of CHD among women after the menopause. Numerous studies have revealed aspects of the menopause that are all linked to other proven CHD risk factors, such as blood pressure and cholesterol.
The links between menopause and heart disease
‘It’s important not to see the menopause as an affliction’, Dr. Sepiolo says. ‘It’s a natural phase of every woman’s life, the time when the finite number of ovarian follicles (from which an egg is released each month) runs out, and it occurs typically around the age of 50 to 52 years old. Rather like puberty, it brings lots of hormonal changes, notably a fall in the level of oestrogen – the ‘sex hormone’ that regulates the release of eggs.’
Oestrogen causes the inner layer of artery walls to relax, which in turn keeps blood vessels flexible. Thickened and stiff blood vessels are associated with many types of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), including coronary artery disease (CAD) and heart attacks. Women with low oestrogen levels have a higher risk of CAD.
A fall in oestrogen causes a redistribution of body fat. The classic female body fat profile shifts from around the hips and thighs to around the abdomen. Abdominal fat sits inside the body and stops vital organs from working properly, increasing a person’s risk of all types of CVDs.
Blood cholesterol levels have also been shown to change as a result of hormonal changes during menopause. Menopause lowers ‘good’ cholesterol levels and raises ‘bad’ cholesterol’s, causing plaque build-up in your arteries, resulting in the dangerous thickening of blood vessel walls.
How to build up your resistance to heart disease
These are just a few examples of known CHD risk factors that have been shown to be affected by the decline in oestrogen during menopause. Other chronic factors, such as poor diet and lifestyle also contribute to your risk of declining heart health. This may create the impression that your life is being threatened on numerous fronts, but there is plenty you can do to fight back.
Firstly, you can minimise the hormonal changes by topping up your oestrogen levels with hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This is not without risks. However, the risk of these events is usually very small. It is best to speak with your primary physician before starting HRT, and discuss bioidenticals, which are more predictable with fewer side effects than traditional HRT.
‘With menopause bringing a rise in ‘bad’ cholesterol and fall in ‘good’ cholesterol, you can tip the scales back in your favour by adjusting your diet. Cholesterol friendly chemicals called plant sterols and stanols are naturally found in many foods, including nuts, seeds, oily fish, fruits, and vegetables.’ Dr. Sepiolo explains.
‘Adding heart-friendly foods to your diet is one side of the bargain; the other is removing those foods that encourage weight gain or an increase in cholesterol, specifically high-calorie sugary processed foods and saturated fats. Drinking alcohol and smoking are also proven contributory factors in the risk of developing CVD, so cut down on your alcohol intake and ditch the cigarettes as part of your heart healthy lifestyle.‘
One of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of hear disease is physically exercise on a regular basis. Menopausal women can burn off abdominal fat and lower their blood pressure by exercising.
Supplements, like omega 3 supplements for example, have been found by numerous studies to significantly reduce cardiovascular events and deaths, but don’t start taking them without seeing your primary physician, please.
Take charge of your own menopausal health
There is a clear link between the menopause and heart diseases, but that doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. If you eat healthy, exercise regularly and avoid unhealthy habits like smoking and eating junk food you’ll be fine!
The most important thing to do is not to worry. Use this knowledge as an opportunity to change your lifestyle to keep heart disease at bay. Use your menopause as an excuse to get in better shape!
And why shouldn’t you start today? At Hercules Academy we know how to help you and your company in achieving a healthy lifestyle. You can find more about our workshops HERE. Are you interested? Please don’t hesitate to contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org .