Why It's Critical Women Over 40 Pay Attention To Heart Health
Significant and adverse changes occur in women's heart health before and during menopause, but preventive measures, interventions, and monitoring can reduce cardiovascular disease risks. This is all spelled out in a scientific statement released today by the American Heart Association.
The statement, titled "Menopause Transition and Cardiovascular Disease Risk: Implications for Timing of Early Prevention" and published in the journal Circulation, synthesizes information from 20 years of research and updates the guidelines for women with recommendations specific to the menopause transition.
The link between heart disease and menopause.
In the years leading up to menopause, also known as the menopause transition, women's ovaries start to produce less estrogen. According to studies, this sex hormone may have cardioprotective benefits1; therefore, a lack of estrogen may contribute to an increased risk of heart disease.
Women who have undergone surgical menopause (i.e., partial or full hysterectomies) may also be at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Many side effects of menopause, including depression or hot flashes and night sweats, may all be related to cardiovascular disease2. The physiological changes that occur during menopause, like a decrease in muscle mass and an increase in body fat, can also affect cholesterol levels and metabolic health3 in midlife.
With proper lifestyle interventions, though, researchers say it's possible to lower these heart risks.
How to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Eating a heart-healthy diet and staying active are two ways to promote heart health at all stages of life. "Lifestyle and behavioral interventions are critical to maintaining cardiovascular health and reducing heart disease," Matthew A. Allison, M.D., MPH, FAHA, said in a news release. "However, we do not have adequate randomized clinical trials testing these interventions specifically during the menopause transition."
Since the association between CVD and menopause is so strong, the researchers suggest hormone replacement therapies (HRT) as a potentially beneficial tool. These may help maintain and manage the production of estrogen, even when the ovaries are removed or no longer naturally producing these sex hormones. That said, not all medical experts agree on this type of therapy, and further research proving the benefits of HRT and other interventions is necessary.
"This at-risk population has not been the focus of previous clinical trials," Allison says, "thus leaving us with questions about how the results from these studies might apply to women during this earlier phase of menopause."
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.