Heart disease is the number one killer of menopausal women, yet many of us are unaware of how our risks increase as our hormone levels drop.
A study published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology found that over a 10-year period cholesterol levels in almost every single woman increased around the time of menopause. Also, researchers found that “In the two-year window surrounding their final menstrual period, women’s average LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) rose by about 10.5 points (or 9%). The average total cholesterol level also increased substantially, by about 6.5%.” Loss of estrogen tended to decrease women’s HDL levels. HDL is known as “the good” cholesterol.
With menopause, millions of women deal with a host of different symptoms—among them the scary and frustrating warning signs of high cholesterol.
About 60% to 70% of women in their pre-menopause and menopause years struggle with rising high cholesterol levels. Many perimenopausal women do not have their cholesterol levels checked frequently, so they may be unaware that they already have borderline risky levels of cholesterol BEFORE going through menopause. When they go through menopause, the increase in cholesterol may put them in an unhealthy range.
Why Cholesterol Matters
Cholesterol is a misunderstood substance. It is as precious to our bodies as it is reviled in the culture. People associate it with clogged arteries, but that isn’t the whole picture.
In fact, cholesterol is vital to the efficient functioning of our bodies. Cholesterol is one of the building blocks of the cell membrane and is necessary to the proper functioning of cells. A natural chemical compound, cholesterol is vital to the repair of damaged cells in all organs and aids in the absorption of vitamin D, and the formation of sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. It is also used to make bile acids in the liver which help fat absorption during digestion.
But sometimes, it runs wild, building up in the walls of your arteries and leading to strokes, heart attacks, and a number of other serious health concerns. These problems can be exacerbated when you enter menopause and your estrogen begins to dramatically decrease. And if you’re reading this, you are concerned about your health and what it means for you and your family’s future.
Recent medical research has discovered that cholesterol plays a large role in heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in both men and women. And there are other serious diseases related to high cholesterol with age — including stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.
That’s why it is so critical to have a basic understanding of the effects that cholesterol has on our body, and just how important a role it plays in the ways we live our lives.
The “Good” and the “Bad” Cholesterol: What You Need To Know
First of all, let me just make one thing clear. Cholesterol is not bad. It is good and necessary for health. Both HDL (often known as the good cholesterol) and LDL (often called the “bad” cholesterol) are necessary at healthy levels, and each has an important role to play in the body.
The problems happen when LDL is not in the correct amount of proportions in the body.
The “Good” Cholesterol
Low cholesterol is important to have. The kind of cholesterol we’re talking about here is called HDL or High-Density Lipoprotein or “good cholesterol”. This type of cholesterol doesn’t damage your body and might even protect against heart disease. HDL actually carries excess cholesterol out of the body, so if you want to lower your cholesterol levels, then you should try to raise the levels of HDL in your blood.
The “Bad” Cholesterol
You’ll want to be certain to keep your cholesterol in check. Although LDL cholesterol is necessary to transport repair materials into the blood vessels, it becomes dangerous when there’s too much of it.
Having too much of this kind of cholesterol called LDL or Low-Density Lipoprotein, the “bad cholesterol”, can lead to a rise in overall cholesterol levels which could result in plaque hardening in your arteries. The plaque buildup makes it harder for blood to flow through your arteries.
This can result in chest pain (angina), a heart attack or stroke. This can cause permanent damage to your blood vessels, so it’s important that you do whatever you can to keep your LDL levels under control.
HDL Cholesterol; Is More Better?
HDL cholesterol does provide a protective effect against LDL because it transports the LDL out of circulation back to the liver. In this process, it rescues damaged LDL particles that can be plaque-causing. However, when HDL becomes higher than 100 it can be too much of a good thing. HDL can be damaged by oxidative stress and fail to do its job of removing LDL from circulation. It may then become part of atherosclerotic plaques. When this happens, tests such as hs-CRP (a marker for inflammation) and 8-OHDG (a marker of oxidative stress) can help clarify whether high HDL is a problem.
Not only can high cholesterol negatively affect your heart and health, but it’s also a major warning sign of lifestyle-related diseases like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.
High cholesterol means high chances of getting cardiovascular disease – and if you don’t take steps now to lower your cholesterol, you could be putting your life on the line.
Why Are Cholesterol Levels Rising
While declining estrogen is a major contributor to rising cholesterol in perimenopausal and menopausal women, many of the same factors that contribute to high cholesterol in younger women also affect women going through menopause. These include poor diet as well as stress and lack of exercise.
If you’re on a low-fat diet but still feel like your cholesterol is too high, it might be inflammation causing the problem.
Inflammation is caused by the immune system and is intended to protect the body from infection. However, chronic inflammation can cause serious damage to our bodies.
Inflammation is a significant source of the body’s cholesterol production. Inflammation caused by chemicals, preservatives, and man-made ingredients can damage your cells. In fact, according to a study, inflammation, not cholesterol, is a cause of chronic disease.
Think of inflammation like a sharp object and cholesterol like a band-aid. Inflammation damages your blood vessels, and the body then makes cholesterol (the band-aid) to repair that damage. More inflammation = more cholesterol production.
This inflammation can be caused by industrial seed oils (corn, soy, canola, “vegetable” oils) that are very prominent in our food supply. Conventionally raised animal products are also high in these inflammation-causing fats. In addition, sugar is a major culprit in creating inflammation and damage to the cells.
Inflammation triggers your body to produce more cholesterol in an attempt to repair the damage. They also cause a decrease in good HDL cholesterol, which can increase your risk of heart disease. These inflammation causing-ingredients are prevalent in processed foods. HDL is important as it has been shown to inhibit inflammation in a variety of animal models and human studies.
Menopause, High Cholesterol, and Estrogen Connection
During menopause, you face the same risk factors for heart disease as everyone else. These include smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol, inactivity, and stress. But you also face some risks that are specific to menopausal women.
Research has proven that a hormone imbalance during perimenopause and menopause can lead to unfavorable changes in your cholesterol levels; I bet you didn’t think your hormones were involved in cholesterol, did you? They are and they play a major role.
You know that high cholesterol can elevate your risk of heart disease. But what you may not know is how estrogen and cholesterol interact to influence your cholesterol readings.
One of the factors that can contribute to elevated cholesterol levels at these times is the reduction or fluctuation of estrogen levels.
Estrogen plays an important role in the overall regulation of total cholesterol by reducing the amount of bad cholesterol (LDL) and increasing the amount of good cholesterol (HDL).
Research shows that estrogen replacement reduces LDL cholesterol levels and increases HDL cholesterol in postmenopausal women with normal or elevated baseline lipid levels, thus reducing their risk of cardiovascular disease.
The decrease in estrogen during menopause is linked to higher levels of total cholesterol due to higher amounts of “bad” cholesterol. The higher amounts of LDL cholesterol in your blood help form plaque on arteries — a buildup of fatty material — which can clog arteries and limit blood flow to the heart or brain.
It is therefore very important for women to keep their cholesterol levels well monitored during this time of life and especially in perimenopause when estrogen drops off significantly and the risk of heart disease begins to rise.
Have you ever considered hormone replacement therapy as an alternative to statin drugs? Click here to learn more about if hormone replacement is right for you.
Managing Your Cholesterol During Menopause
With the increased risk of heart disease and the availability of many medications that can bring cholesterol levels under control, it is important to understand the natural methods available for lowering cholesterol naturally during menopause.
The first step is to make sure your doctor checks your cholesterol and other risk factors during your annual checkup. Aim to follow a healthy lifestyle to keep your heart and cholesterol levels healthy during menopause.
Consider advanced lipid testing looks at the particle size of cholesterol. Smaller, dense particles more readily contribute to the development of plaques and are elevated by carbohydrate consumption (as are triglycerides). On the other hand, large, fluffy cholesterol particles do little to contribute to the risk of heart disease.
These advanced tests aren’t without controversy and are not always covered by insurance for people without symptoms of heart disease, but they are becoming more mainstream.
For many women, controlling troublesome menopausal symptoms should be a priority. This is because direct control of symptoms can also help promote your long-term health and well-being. Here are some tips on managing your cholesterol during menopause:
1. Treat Your Symptoms
When you’re going through menopause, you might notice a few unpleasant side effects. Hormonal changes can cause weight gain, which is not good for anyone’s blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
If you’re overweight, don’t wait until menopause to lose weight. If you have high cholesterol, don’t wait until you’re in menopause to get it under control. Start making changes now so that when menopause begins, your body is prepared to handle it effectively.
2. Stay Active
It’s hard to feel motivated to exercise when you’re already exhausted from hot flashes and night sweats. But physical activity helps increase your blood flow, which removes fat deposits from your arteries and reduces the risk of heart disease and other illnesses.
Exercise also helps reduce harmful stress hormones that raise blood pressure and cause clots. It also helps maintain a healthy weight and strengthens the muscles, while improving your mood and reducing stress.
Because weight gain can be one of the most challenging aspects of menopause, it’s important to find an exercise routine that you enjoy and help keep those extra pounds at bay.
Regular exercise doesn’t need to be extreme. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week to keep cholesterol levels in check. Go for a walk whenever you have time and enjoy the fresh air. Studies show that women who walk briskly five days a week, for 30 minutes or longer are able to lower cholesterol and negate the risks of heart attack and stroke.
Biking, dancing, and gardening are all examples of moderate activities that burn calories. It will also give you time to clear your thoughts.
3. Get Into A Healthy Diet
A healthy diet is also crucial during menopause, as is regular exercise. The foods you eat and how much of them are very important in managing high cholesterol during menopause.
Decrease intake of Industrial Seed Oils and hydrogenated fats
One way to treat your high cholesterol is by eating more foods that are low in industrial seed oils, hydrogenated and trans fats.
A diet high in these processed fats and cholesterol can aggravate high blood pressure and contribute to heart disease and other disorders.
Replace conventionally grown animal products with grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, or free-range poultry. Reduce portions of cheese and fried foods, and switch from vegetable oils to coconut, olive oil, or grass-fed butter. Don’t forget fresh fruits and vegetables — they’re rich in vitamins that help keep the body running smoothly.
Watch Out for Triggers of Inflammation
Too much inflammation can cause the body’s cholesterol production to increase even when you are on a low-fat diet. As mentioned earlier, inflammation from industrial seed oils (corn, soy, canola, “vegetable” oils) found in processed food and sugar can damage your cells and trigger them to create more cholesterol in order to repair this damage.
High cholesterol can be lowered by adopting a diet low in industrial seed oils and eating less sugar. Rather than eating fried foods, you should eat high-quality fats such as coconut oil and grass-fed meats.
Olive oil, a Mediterranean staple, is popular for a reason. Olive oil is high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids that take longer to digest than refined and processed oils like corn. This means your body will burn off these types of fats instead of storing them as fat. In addition, olive oil contains certain phenolic compounds that reduce inflammation and protect against oxidative damage.
Processed food contains large amounts of ingredients that can lead to inflammation and eventually trigger your body to produce more of the harmful type of cholesterol. Cooking foods at home using healthy, whole food ingredients and avoiding processed foods is an important way to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Have more fiber-rich food
Eat more fiber-rich fruits and vegetables that are low in saturated fat but contain soluble fiber. Dietary fiber helps in clearing bad cholesterol from the body through the waste elimination process. Soluble fiber can reduce cholesterol levels by binding bile acids, which carry cholesterol out of the body when they’re eliminated in the stool.
Make sure that you’re following a healthy diet that contains plenty of fiber, unsaturated fats like olive oil and also eliminates unhealthy fats. This way, you will naturally lower your LDL, stay fit and maintain a healthy weight.
By making healthy food choices, there are chances that your cholesterol levels will go down without the need for medications or supplements.
4. Take Steps to Manage Stress
The hormonal changes and stress of menopause cause your body to release more of the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone can lead to inflammation and a build-up of plaque in your arteries. It can also affect your body’s glucose levels, which impacts your heart health. Address stress by learning stress management techniques including yoga, tai chi, meditation, or deep breathing.
Get plenty of sleep as well to reduce the effects of stress. Not getting enough sleep can raise stress levels, which can increase cholesterol levels in the body.
5. Quit Smoking
One of the most important things that women should do to manage their cholesterol levels during menopause is to stop smoking. Smoking is one of the main reasons why people develop high cholesterol and heart diseases.
Smoking increases your risk of developing heart disease by 20 percent. Combine this with high cholesterol and it dramatically increases your chances of having a stroke or a heart attack. So if you want to lower your chances of developing these diseases, then you must quit smoking as soon as possible. If you are unable to quit smoking on your own, then talk with your doctor about the options available.
6. Get Support from Supplements
Taking supplements that help stabilize hormones can offer help in managing your symptoms which may contribute to an increase in cholesterol level. My Daily GLOW supplement boosts metabolism, immune health, and nutrient balance, leading to natural energy, fewer cravings, fat loss, and enhanced health.
It is well known that lack of sleep can raise cortisol levels, which can further increase cholesterol levels. GLOW PM helps to calm the brain to support deep, restful sleep while helping you reduce cravings and supporting a healthy metabolism.
You may also consider herbal alternatives to statins (which come with a lot of side effects). Cholesterol-lowering herbs like bergamot and red yeast rice can be great.
Hormone Replacement Therapy and Cholesterol
While there are many different diets and medications that you can take to control your cholesterol levels, the root cause of the increased cholesterol for many women is the natural decline of estrogen that comes with menopause. Since we are now living many decades past menopause, and each year cholesterol levels will continue to rise. A wise choice would be to consider hormone replacement therapy.
Hormone replacement therapy is a means of supplying hormones that are missing due to aging or disease.
Treating high cholesterol with hormone replacement therapy focuses on using estrogens to lower LDL and raise HDL.
Treating your cholesterol during menopause is essential to preventing any further damage to your heart and arteries. With bioidentical hormone replacement, you can avoid the frustrating symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, night sweats, memory loss, weight gain, mood swings, and vaginal dryness… while at the same time reducing your risk for heart disease, cognitive decline, and osteoporosis.
Click Here to Watch my Free Masterclass – What every woman needs to know about hormone restoration to learn the pros and cons of different methods of hormone replacement.
Cholesterol is a natural and necessary part of your body. Unfortunately, due to inflammation caused by poor diet, some people overproduce cholesterol in their bodies, which can lead to a range of serious health problems. The hormonal decline in perimenopause and menopause is a direct cause of rising cholesterol, contributing to an increased risk of heart disease in women over 40.