February is Heart Health Awareness Month and an important topic to highlight. It is the leading cause of death for women, and the risk increases once they enter menopause. The incidence of heart disease in women highlights the importance of understanding the risk factors for cardiovascular disease and the pivotal steps you can take to keep your ticker ticking.
Menopause Effect on Cardiovascular Disease
As women enter menopause, typically around age 50, the loss of essential hormones, including estrogen and progesterone, leads to a range of physical and emotional changes. While menopause itself is not a direct cause of cardiovascular disease, the hormonal changes it brings can influence several risk factors for heart disease:
Changes in Cholesterol Levels: Estrogen helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels by increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, also known as “good” cholesterol, and decreasing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol. As estrogen levels decline during menopause, there’s a tendency for LDL cholesterol levels to rise, increasing the risk of plaque buildup in the arteries and heart disease. Avoid foods that contribute to increased LDL (bad) levels:
- Fatty meats like sausage, hot dogs, bacon, pork, and lamb
- Full-fat dairy: opt for low- or fat-free dairy products
- Butter and margarine
- Fried foods
- Snack chips, crackers, and other processed foods
- Palm oil and coconut oil
Enjoy foods that contribute to increased HDL (good) levels:
- Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, trout, and sardines
- Nuts and seeds
- Olive oil
- Fruits and Vegetables
- Legumes (beans) and whole grains
- Dark chocolate!
Increase in Blood Pressure: Estrogen has a vasodilatory effect, which helps relax and widen blood vessels, promoting healthy blood flow and lowering blood pressure. During menopause, blood vessels may become less elastic, leading to higher blood pressure and added strain on the heart.
Changes in Body Composition: During menopause, many women experience weight gain, particularly around the abdomen. This increase in gut fat can contribute to insulin resistance, inflammation, and other metabolic changes that elevate the risk of heart disease.
Impact on Blood Sugar Regulation: Insulin sensitivity may decrease during menopause, leading to higher blood sugar levels and an increased risk of diabetes, a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Understanding the risk factors and family genetics for heart disease is essential to arm yourself with the knowledge to prevent it.
Preventive Steps for Heart Health During Menopause
With an understanding of how a decline in hormones during menopause can affect heart health, here are steps you can take to safeguard this most vital organ:
Adopt a Heart-Healthy Diet: Emphasize a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats while limiting saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish like salmon, can also benefit heart health.
Maintain a Healthy Weight: Engage in regular physical activity to help manage weight and promote cardiovascular fitness. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week, along with strength training exercises at least twice a week.
Monitor Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Levels: Regularly check blood pressure and cholesterol levels and contact your healthcare provider with concerns or to discuss treatment options.
Manage Stress: Practice stress-reducing techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, deep
breathing exercises, or engaging in hobbies and activities you enjoy to achieve a calmer state of mind, which further promotes sleep and lowers blood pressure.
Quit Smoking: If you smoke, quitting is one of the most significant steps you can take to reduce the risk of heart disease. Seek support from healthcare professionals or smoking cessation programs to help you quit successfully.
Physical Exams: Schedule regular check-ups with healthcare providers to monitor heart health and discuss any concerns or symptoms you may be experiencing during menopause.
By understanding the link between menopause and cardiovascular disease, women can take control of their health to lower critical risk factors. During this Heart Health Month and Valentine’s Day, show yourself some love by prioritizing heart health today to live healthy tomorrow.
If you or a loved one are going through the symptoms of menopause, contact us to learn more about PearlPAK, a prescription treatment used to alleviate cognitive decline during menopause while providing relief for other menopausal symptoms.