You can gain a deeper understanding on how cholesterol influences the menopause, or vice-versa, by analyzing what menopause actually is. While it’s natural body process that all women experience, menopause can be very challenging on both a physical and a mental level.
What is menopause?
Menopause is a stage in an adult woman's life when the body changes and the childbearing years come to an end. It’s a natural bodily process that general makes an appearance between the ages of 40 and 50. Women who haven’t had their menstrual cycles over a continuous period of 12 months are diagnosed with menopause.
Cholesterol and menopause: What do you need to know?
As studies have revealed, menopause causes a spike in the body’s cholesterol, even if, for a long time, it was believed that the main culprit is the actual aging process. Women at menopause have a higher cholesterol level, which also puts them at a greater risk for developing heart disease.
Studies have revealed that during their final menstrual period, women’s LDL cholesterol jumped on average nine percent, while total cholesterol levels rose with about 6.5 percent. While studies have analyzed other risk factors (such as the rise in blood pressure levels), cholesterol had the most dramatic change.
But, aside from that, estrogen is good for a woman’s body on a lot of other different levels:
- It increases the levels of good cholesterol and decreases the bad kind.
- Dilates the blood vessels, which helps blood circulate more efficiently.
- Absorbs free radicals that are in the blood, and which can damage the arteries.
As the woman’s body starts to experience the changes that menopause brings, they will have to check their cholesterol levels more often, and talk to their doctors about potentially following a treatment that helps lower cholesterol levels.
What causes menopause?
In general menopause is a phenomenon that naturally occurs as the reproductive hormones decline. As women age, their bodies start to produce less progesterone and estrogen, two hormones that are responsible with menstruation. This also caused a decline in fertility. As women reach their 40s, their periods start fluctuating. Ovaries of women that are above 50 will normally stop producing eggs, and menstruation will disappear altogether.
While this decline is normal and comes with age, there are also three other causes which can lead to menopause:
- A hysterectomy is a surgery performed to remove the uterus. If the uterus alone is the one removed, the process may not induce menopause. However, if both the uterus and ovaries are removed, menopause is immediate.
- There is also such a thing as premature menopause, experienced of about one percent of women that are younger than 40. The reason these women reach premature menopause is because of ovarian insufficiency. In general terms, this means that the ovaries are no longer able to produce enough reproductive hormones.
- Cancer therapies that involve chemo and radiation can also lead to menopause.
Can you reduce your risk of heart disease risk?
It’s not coincidental that the steps one must take to reduce the risk of heart disease when at menopause are almost identical to the ones every person with high cholesterol has to follow:
- Smoking is a major risk factor, and should be avoided throughout a person’s entire lifetime. However, women at menopause should quit smoking at all costs.
- Having a healthy diet is mandatory for every individual. This implies consuming less saturated and trans fats, but also increasing the intake of healthy foods, such as lean meat, fish, whole grains, or foods that are rich in fiber.
- Exercise is another mandatory activity for people of all ages, regardless of whether they have high cholesterol issues or not. For older women, aerobics are a great place to start, and can turn out to be quite the enjoyable activity. Aside from the obvious health benefits, attending aerobics class gives women a chance to socialize, get out of the house, and perhaps enjoy their retirement years.
A word on HRT
HRT is short for “hormone replacement therapy”, a form of treatment which implies taking estrogen to help with the following problems:
- Narrow blood vessels that prevent blood from flowing normally inside the body.
- Menopause symptoms, such as hot flashes, dry skin, vaginal dryness, or insomnia.
- Potential fractures caused by osteoporosis (weakened and broken bones).
However, this hormone replacement therapy doesn’t necessarily solve problems that might be induced by having high cholesterol levels at menopause, so taking the proper measures to keep these levels under control is mandatory regardless of whether you are following this course of treatment or not.
HRT also comes with a number of risks, which include:
- The risk of developing endometrial cancer, caused by the fact that HRT is normally a treatment of estrogen without progestin.
- Long-term use of this estrogen treatment may potentially lead to breast cancer.
- There is also the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and heart attack.
Several studies have linked menopause to a raise in blood pressure, mostly because this period of a woman’s life induces drastic body changes that also imply a lower level of hormones. As women approach menopause, their bodies produce less estrogen.
The lower the level of estrogen is, the higher the level of bad cholesterol becomes. In fact, estrogen is linked to a series of tissues and organs throughout a woman’s body, affecting both the heart and the blood vessels when its levels are low.