Once a woman reaches menopause, her risk for heart disease increases severely. After the age of 50, nearly half of all deaths in women are due to heart disease. That’s staggering.
What’s the link between menopause and heart disease?
Obviously, when you blow out 50 candles on your birthday cake you don’t get heart disease. But the increased risk of developing heart disease once you reach 50 has been building for years thanks to your hormones. When estrogen levels drop with the onset of menopause, the incidence of heart disease starts to increase; this risk is even greater for African-American women who seem more susceptible to age-related hormonal changes.
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While after menopause is when we see women developing heart disease it’s really the pre-menopausal time period in which the rapid change in heart disease risk factors is occurring.
Is hormone replacement therapy a good option?
Not generally. Since estrogen declines during menopause it was thought that supplementing with extra estrogen would protect women from heart disease. But a large trial in 2002 showed that hormone replacement therapy did not lower the risk of heart disease and it even increased the risk of breast cancer! Hormone replacement therapy may be suggested for short periods to help relieve hot flashes but long-term use is not recommended. In fact, whether or not estrogen even plays a role in menopause onset is being questioned.
You can protect your heart during and after menopause
Women’s health during adulthood prior to menopause tells much regarding how your body will react to the hormonal changes during menopause. There is much you can do to lower your risk of heart disease and enjoy later adulthood and your retirement years.
1. Diet, diet, diet!
A whole food, plant based diet is the best lifestyle adjustment you can make and you will reap the rewards for years to come. Eat foods low in saturated fat and low in trans fat (partially hydrogenated fats). Choose nutrient dense and high fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans and peas), tofu, and some fish if you choose. Remember that too much animal protein increases the risk of heart disease.
2. Monitor healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
Diet, as mentioned above, combined with exercise will certainly help maintain optimal cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
Taking care of your health will do much to counteract some of the natural increase in heart disease risk that comes with menopause. Your heart will thank you.
Dr. James Kneller treats atrial fibrillation, arrhythmia, and other heart conditions. He is an internationally recognized authority on cardiovascular health and personal development.
Gurka, M.J., Vishnu, A., Santen, R.J., DeBoer, M.D. Progression of Metabolic Syndrome Severity During the Menopausal Transition. (2016) Journal of the American Heart Association.5(8),pp 1-9.