Understanding the Connection Between Menopause & Cardiovascular Disease
Celebrated on 18th October every year, World Menopause Day is a global initiative dedicated to raising awareness about menopause and its impact on women’s health.
This year (2023) the theme centres around cardiovascular disease, and the importance of understanding the relationship between menopause and heart health.
Menopause is a natural phase in a woman’s life that typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, with the average age for menopause transition at 51, according to NHS Employers. It marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years and is characterised by a range of hormonal changes, with a decrease of oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
The connection between menopause and cardiovascular disease is not widely known, as oestrogen, a hormone produced by the ovaries, has a protective effect on the cardiovascular system. It helps to maintain healthy blood vessels, regulate cholesterol levels, and prevent the build up of arterial plaque. As women enter the menopause and oestrogen levels decline, these protective effects lower, making women more susceptible to heart disease.
The British Heart Foundation says that these hormonal changes can increase the susceptibility to heart disease, including coronary heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. The hormonal fluctuations during menopause can also lead to weight gain, higher cholesterol levels, and not being able to control blood sugar levels – consequently elevating the risk of diabetes, higher blood pressure, as well as an accumulation of excess fat around the heart.
Promoting cardiovascular health before, during and after the menopause
One of the most important things is to look at ways to adopt a healthier lifestyle. By doing so, you can effectively manage and reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It’s also worth noting that embracing a healthier lifestyle can also help with menopausal symptoms.
Here’s some things you can do to help reduce your risk and improve symptoms:
1. Regular exercise
Engaging in regular exercise is crucial for maintaining heart health. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate- intensity exercise each week. This can help with managing weight, lowering blood pressure, and improving cardiovascular fitness.
Exercise can also be helpful for helping with menopausal symptoms like difficulty sleeping and mood changes. You can make exercising more manageable by starting small and increasing your levels as time goes on. If you find it difficult, you could try chair-based or low impact exercises.
2. Eat a healthy balanced diet
A heart-healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help control cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar. Reducing salt and sugar intake is also important. Read more about creating a healthy and balanced diet.
Furthermore, during and after the menopause, bone strength can diminish. Increasing your calcium intake during the menopause can help improve bone health. Some excellent sources of calcium include dairy products like milk and yoghurt, nutrient rich green leafy vegetables, legumes, beans, and fish with edible bones, such as sardines and anchovies.
You could also consider taking a vitamin D supplement to help support your bone health. The recommended dose is 10mcg per day, typically advised from September to April, although you can take it throughout the year.
3. Quit smoking
Smoking is a significant risk factor for heart disease. If you smoke, quitting is one of the best things you can do for your cardiovascular health.
4. Managing stress
Chronic stress can contribute to heart disease. Practicing stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, or yoga can help manage stress and improve overall wellbeing.
5. Reducing alcohol consumption
Experts recommend you drink less than 14 units per week. Reducing the amount of alcohol, you drink can also help with menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes and heart palpitations. To consume less alcohol, start by setting clear goals and tracking your consumption. You can try designating alcohol free days, choose a smaller portion of alcohol or lower-alcohol beverages when you do drink or alternate with non-alcoholic drinks at social events.
6. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
For some women, HRT may be considered to manage menopausal symptoms, like hot flushes, night sweats and low mood, and also potentially reduce the risk of heart disease, or having a heart attack or stroke. You should speak to your doctor about whether HRT is right for you, considering your individual circumstances and risks.
7. Having regular health check-ups
Menopausal women should schedule regular check-ups with their doctor to monitor cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar.
Why cardiovascular disease?
On World Menopause Day, the theme of cardiovascular disease brings much needed attention to the unique health challenges that menopausal women face. Understanding the link between menopause and heart health is the first step in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease during this stage of life. By making lifestyle changes, seeking medical advice when necessary, and raising awareness about this important issue, we can help menopausal women lead healthier lives.