Heart disease is typically associated with an unhealthy lifestyle, a lack of physical activity, and a high-fat body composition.
Yet, there is another factor that impacts heart disease – menopause.
So, what is the link between menopause and heart disease? And while menopause is an inevitable part of a woman’s life, what if we can address, manage, and adjust this stage of life to become healthier in many ways?
How Common is Heart Disease Among Menopausal Women?
Heart disease does not only cause worry and distress among men.
According to the CDC, almost as many women as men are affected by heart disease in the United States. In addition, heart disease tops the list of the conditions afflicting women’s health and life. Statistics reveal that in 2020, over 300.000 US women gave up on life due to fatal heart disease, and many more still suffer from the aggravating complications.
Although women of any age can be affected, menopausal women, those who have reached beyond the peak of their youth, are more vulnerable to heart disease than any other. Given that about 1 in 16 women age 20 and older have coronary heart disease, according to the CDC, menopausal women are always in the thick of the mishaps.
Unfortunately, despite numerous efforts to raise awareness over the past decades, only about half of the women are informed that heart disease is their “number-one killer.” Many others aren’t even aware of how they can protect themselves against the disease.
Menopause and the Progressive Decline in Estrogen
But, what else could we have done to defy the impact of time?
Aging is a natural part of our life; we can only embrace it or accept it. Even when a woman leads the healthiest lifestyle possible, the passage of time, aging, and menopause will still happen and take away the look and feel of youth.
Reaching the age of menopause marks the stage when many women feel the changes from within their bodies. Many may have sleepless nights due to the “troublesome” hot flashes and night sweats or feel short of concentration and alertness the days after. The saddest is that menopause takes away romance in the bedroom, as it may never be as spiced up again.
Every hard “strike” in the life of a menopausal woman derives from one single factor: the progressive decline in estrogen. This female sex hormone, widely thought of as “the fountain of youth,” holds the key to characterizing and maintaining the person a woman is.
However, by reaching menopause, you will have lost about half of your estrogen levels. Such a vital drop in estrogen will not only cause a “U-turn” in your everyday life but also hint at a silent yet persistent increase in heart disease risks.
So, what does estrogen have to do with heart disease?
Estrogen and Its Cardioprotective Effects
Estrogen Controls Cholesterol Levels
Not all cholesterols are harmful. For example, HDL cholesterol, or the “good” cholesterol, helps eliminate other forms of “bad” cholesterol, like LDL cholesterol, from your bloodstream. Therefore, higher HDL cholesterol levels are linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
While scientists are still learning the actions of estrogen on cholesterol levels, the American Heart Association reveals that orally administered estrogen can increase the “good” cholesterol and decrease the “bad” cholesterol in menopausal women. Another study by the NCBI backs this hypothesis, as it found that administering estrogen through hormone therapy raises the HDL and lowers the LDL.
Estrogen Regulates Blood Vessels
According to NCBI, estrogen is also a vasodilator and hypotensive agent, which may also play a role in relaxing, clearing, and dilating blood vessels to increase blood flow. In addition, estrogen may help remove free radicals, the naturally occurring particles in the blood that can harm the arteries and other tissues.
Estrogen Protects Against Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary artery disease (CAD), the most common heart disease in the United States, occurs when coronary arteries fail to supply the heart with sufficient blood, oxygen, and nutrients.
Harmful cholesterol deposits in the bloodstream cause coronary artery disease. Due to its cardioprotective effects on controlling cholesterol levels and regulating blood vessels, estrogen is crucial to protecting against coronary artery disease.
Menopause and Heart Disease: a Close Interconnection
So, menopause and heart disease do have some causal relationship.
To explain this connection in the simplest way possible: menopause causes a decrease in estrogen, and estrogen is vital in maintaining heart health. Early menopause, which occurs before age 45, causes estrogen to decline at a younger age and a faster rate, leading to a greater risk of heart disease.
What Factors Affect Natural and Early Menopause Timing?
According to the American Heart Association, later age at natural menopause has been linked to a longer life expectancy and many other health benefits. However, not all women embrace late adulthood at the same time. Due to multiple factors listed below, some may experience what people know as “premature” or early menopause.
If you’re an American of Japanese descent, know that you’re luckier than many others. Japanese women experience menopause at a later age compared to Hispanic, Native Hawaiian, and Black women. No wonder why Japan is the world’s most long-lived country.
Reproductive History Factors
The age when you had the first occurrence of menstruation also affects the timing of menopause later in life. For example, suppose you witnessed your first period before age 11. In that case, you have an 80% increased risk of premature and a 32% increased risk of early menopause.
Weight and Body Mass
Maintaining your body weight is crucial, especially before you reach menopause. Several studies have found that being overweight or underweight in early and mid-adulthood elevates the risk of early menopause.
Premenopausal Cardiovascular Health
Poor premenopausal cardiovascular health may affect the onset of natural menopause. If you have a cardiovascular risk factor, such as high cholesterol or blood pressure, before age 35, you have double the risk of early menopause.
Physical Activity and Alcohol Consumption
A higher level of physical activity has been linked to lower concentrations of reproductive hormones and frequency of ovulation. Therefore, this factor could delay the initiation of menopause. On the other hand, high alcohol consumption might lead to the early onset of menopause.
Women who smoke have been found to experience menopause one year earlier than non-smokers. Moreover, current and former smokers have a heightened risk of premature and early menopause due to higher smoking intensity, longer duration, early age at first smoking, and late cessation.
Scientists have suggested that the age at menopause is a complex genetic trait. For example, if your mother experienced menopause early, there is up to 87% that you will also experience the same thing. Evidence also suggests that age at menopause also correlates with epigenetic age acceleration.
How to Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease for Menopausal Women?
Given that several factors affect the timing of menopause onset, it is essential to consider these factors and aim to target them if possible. Of course, we cannot control or change our ethnicity or genetic features, but we can totally:
- Quit smoking
- Lose weight and maintain an ideal body weight
- Participate in adequate exercise
- Follow a low-fat diet
- Keep the heart healthy
- Treat and control medical conditions that affect the heart
Some people may think of receiving hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to prevent heart disease since this treatment administers estrogen into the female body. However, despite having numerous beneficial effects on menopause symptoms, research by the NCBI found that HRT has not yet been fully proven to have the capacity to prevent heart disease.
Remember that menopause is a part of every woman’s life. However, only reaching menopause at an early age is the “foe” against heart health.
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