Cholesterol and Menopause: 9 Things Women Should Know

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Cholesterol and Menopause: 9 Things Women Should Know | While high cholesterol is often caused by lifestyle habits like eating fatty food, not exercising, being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol, drops in estrogen during perimenopause and menopause can also cause an increase in LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels. Even if you have no history of high cholesterol, this can quickly change in you 40s and beyond. Click to learn all facts, plus tips to lower your levels.

Drops in estrogen during menopause have been linked to a rise in cholesterol levels in women. While regular testing is the best way to stay on top of these changes, many women fail to get tested due to a busy lifestyle during this time of life. It’s very important to know your risks of high cholesterol as you get older, as keeping your cholesterol in check is key to curbing cardiovascular disease. While risk factors like family history can put you at a higher risk for heart disease, healthy lifestyle adjustments are extremely important. Here are nine things women should know about cholesterol and menopause.

9 Things to Know About Cholesterol and Menopause

1. Understanding Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance produced by the body. It falls into two categories depending on the lipoprotein it carries. Low density lipoprotein (LDL) is considered “bad” cholesterol and high density lipoprotein (HDL) is considered “good” cholesterol. When a person has too much LDL cholesterol, it builds up in the walls of their blood vessels, causing them to narrow. This can lead to chest pains, heart disease, and even heart attack. Lipoproteins that are high density bring cholesterol to the liver, which flushes it from your body. Having high levels of HDL is a sign of good health and a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.

2. Link Between Cholesterol and Menopause
Going through menopause often results in cholesterol changes for the worse. Even if you’ve gone through your life with normal cholesterol levels, this can quickly change during or after menopause. Drops in estrogen are associated with a rise in total cholesterol levels due to higher amounts of LDL or “bad” cholesterol and another lipid known as triglyceride. Around the time of menopause, there are usually no symptoms of high cholesterol, so it’s important to get your cholesterol checked by your doctor (this is done with a blood test). It’s especially important to track your numbers in perimenopause and the early years after menopause as LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol tend to increase.

3. Causes of High Cholesterol
As well as menopausal changes, high cholesterol can be caused by eating fatty food, not exercising enough, being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol. Your genetics and ethnic background can also make you more susceptible to high cholesterol. For example, people from South Asian or sub-Saharan African descent have a higher risk of diseases of the heart and blood vessels. If you have a family history of heart disease or high cholesterol, you’re also at an increased risk. Certain medical conditions and medications can also impact your cholesterol levels.

4. Importance of Screening
Time Magazine reports that cholesterol levels jump by an average of 10-15% as women enter menopause. This often goes unnoticed due to a lack of physical symptoms and the general busyness of those years. High cholesterol is a leading risk factor of heart disease (a leading cause of death of women in North America). The longer someone lives with high cholesterol the greater the odds it will build up in their arteries and cause a heart attack or stroke. Women need to get screened and know their numbers. Regular tests are important because heart disease risk goes up the longer high cholesterol remains untreated.

5. How Testing Works
Most people at low risk for heart disease have their cholesterol checked every five years starting at age 20. It’s important for everyone to get baseline cholesterol screenings. There should be additional testing if there is a family history of high cholesterol or there has been a substantial health change (weight gain, high stress, or menopause).

Additional testing may be done if cholesterol levels or other heart disease risk factors are high. Your doctor may recommend a coronary calcium scan that measures the amount of plaque build up in the arteries around the heart. If you know you’re at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease (family history, high blood pressure, obesity, smoking) make sure to advocate for further testing.

6. Put Your Health at the Forefront
Menopause often happens alongside a busy time in women’s lives, with their career as well as providing care for their kids and their parents. Due to this, women often put their own health aside. Regular exercise, eating healthy foods, and routine healthcare checks (including cholesterol screening) take a back seat, and what used to work to stay healthy may not cut it anymore due to metabolic and hormone changes during middle age. When a shift in hormones is coupled with weight gain, it can lead to high cholesterol.

7. The Importance of Exercise
While you can’t change your genetics, lifestyle adjustments are key to counteracting cholesterol rises during menopause. Getting into a consistent exercise routine is one of the best things you can do, especially if you’ve fallen out of one due to a busy schedule. Regular exercise will make your heart and blood circulatory system more efficient, lower your cholesterol, and keep your blood pressure at a healthy level. Walking, running, cycling, and resistance training are great ways to get healthy and reduce the amount of LDL cholesterol in the body.

8. Heart Healthy Diet
Prioritize a heart healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, which favours lots of fruits and vegetables, plant based fats, lean proteins, and whole grains, and low amounts of processed foods and refined carbs. The diet is known to have an effect on long term diseases, including cardiovascular disease, and has been shown to lower risk factors for heart disease, including high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

9. Sleep and Stress
Be sure not to overlook other lifestyle adjustments, such as getting enough sleep and managing stress. This will help not only with cholesterol but overall cardiovascular and metabolic health. On top of exercise and eating healthy, stress reducing strategies include yoga, meditation, deep breathing, therapy, getting outside for a walk, and healthy sleep habits. Speaking of sleep, if you want to sleep better at night, try blocking out light and noise, relax for 30 minutes before bed, limit screens an hour before bed, and keep your room cool and comfortable.

If you’re worried about cholesterol and menopause, the best thing you can do is advocate for regular testing and adjust to a healthier lifestyle.

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Cholesterol and Menopause: 9 Things Women Should Know | While high cholesterol is often caused by lifestyle habits like eating fatty food, not exercising, being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol, drops in estrogen during perimenopause and menopause can also cause an increase in LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels. Even if you have no history of high cholesterol, this can quickly change in you 40s and beyond. Click to learn all facts, plus tips to lower your levels.

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