Menopause seems to have an effect on cholesterol levels. While estrogen supports high levels of HDL (good) cholesterol during a woman’s reproductive years, once she goes through menopause, her estrogen levels decrease. So do the levels of HDL cholesterol, allowing for LDL levels to rise, thus increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Practicing heart-healthy habits is important even prior to menopause as a long-term investment into cardiovascular wellbeing. Preventative measures to protect the heart will ensure that the effects of dropping estrogen levels and rising cholesterol levels are not as detrimental as they could be.
Menopause symptoms and increased cholesterol levels
A study has found that hot flashes – a common symptom of menopause – are associated with higher cholesterol levels. The researchers of the study followed 3,000 women and found that hot flashes and night sweats may be indicative of high cholesterol. The more hot flashes a woman, had the higher her cholesterol was found to be.
Researcher Rebecca C. Thurston said, “I think hot flashes and night sweats tell us something about women’s cardiovascular risk and health, but it is also likely that this message is quite complex.”
Having high LDL cholesterol is a known risk factor of heart disease and stroke. As of now, the researchers are still unaware of the exact relationship between hot flashes and LDL cholesterol. Additional research is required to better understand the relationship.
Cholesterol levels in association with menopause
Menopause lowers high-density lipoprotein (HDL) protection, increasing the risk of atherosclerosis in women. Atherosclerosis is the narrowing and hardening of the arteries due to low-density lipoprotein (LDL) plaque buildup along their walls. Atherosclerosis can lead to coronary heart disease – responsible for one in three deaths among women.
LDL cholesterol is known as the “bad” type of cholesterol, while HDL is the good type, known to remove LDL. As LDL cholesterol accumulates along the artery walls, potentially blocking the artery. Artery blockage can be life-threatening as it can lead to a heart attack.
Along with smoking and bad cholesterol, menopause is a risk factor for the development of atherosclerosis. Estrogen typically protects women from heart disease, but estrogen levels drop post-menopause. Estrogen helps keep blood vessels strong and flexible, so when the levels drop the arteries start hardening. This can make them more prone to damage caused by high LDL levels.
The North American Menopause Society conducted the latest research to reveal the risk of developing atherosclerosis among menopausal women. The study involved 225 women in their late 40s who had up to five times the plaque buildup over the course of a nine-year follow-up. At the baseline scan, all women were free from a cardiovascular disease diagnosis.
Dr. Samar El Khoudary, assistant professor in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology, said, “What we found is that, as women transition through menopause, increases in good cholesterol were actually associated with greater plaque buildup. These findings suggest that the quality of HDL may be altered over the menopausal transition, thus rendering it ineffective in delivering the expected cardiac benefits.”
Dr. Wulf Utian, executive director at the North American Menopause Society, said, “There is such limited data available on this important topic. We need to better understand how all lipids are impacted in order to protect patients from heart disease, which is the number one killer of women in this country.”