Heart health during the menopause


This month we speak to Andrew Petrou, a practising Osteopath and registered Dietary Counsellor based in London. Andrew has over 10 years of experience working in the health and fitness industry, this month he shares some expert advice and understanding of the importance of heart health, especially during the menopause.

The risk of heart disease rises for everyone as they age, but for women symptoms can become more evident after the onset of menopause. Did you know that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death for women age 65 and older in the UK?

Menopause does not cause cardiovascular diseases. However, certain risk factors increase around the time of menopause and a high-fat diet, smoking or other unhealthy habits begun earlier in life can also start to take its toll.

It is important to understand that menopause is not a disease. It is  a natural phase of every woman’s life cycle and it’s important for women, as they approach menopause, to really take control  of their health.

In the UK, on average, the onset of menopause, when menstrual periods permanently stop, occurs around the age of 51. After menopause, a woman’s risk of CVD increases (especially after the age of 65), and ultimately more women die of these conditions than men.

Oestrogen levels may play a role

A decline in the natural hormone oestrogen may be a factor in heart disease increase among post-menopausal women. Oestrogen is believed to have a positive effect on the inner layer of artery wall, helping to keep blood vessels flexible. That means they can relax and expand to accommodate blood flow.

Furthermore, Oestrogen decline isn’t the only reason women face a higher cardiovascular disease risk after reaching menopause.

The menopause, or the period leading up to it (the peri-menopause) is characterised by systemic, assorted changes throughout the body. Blood pressure starts to go up. LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol, tends to increase while HDL, or “good” cholesterol declines or remains the same. Triglycerides, certain types of fats in the blood, also increase, and arteries become less elastic, or calcify (for want of a better term).

Strive for heart health

While family history of heart disease contributes widely to your risk, if you’ve followed a healthy lifestyle and continue doing so as you approach the menopause, your risk for heart disease and stroke is lower.

Women should take care of their heart through regular exercise, balanced, nutrient rich nutrition and by eliminating unhealthy habits  such as smoking, which may contribute to early menopause, increase the risk of blood clots, decrease the flexibility of arteries and lower the levels of HDL cholesterol.

Women should aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week to help prevent heart disease. Walking, cycling, dancing or swimming — activities that use larger muscles at low resistance — are good aerobic exercises.  If these are combined with 2-3 sessions of weighted training, you can begin to address bone health, another primary health concern for women post-menopause.

Supplementation can be a great benefit (in conjunction with a balanced diet).  Look for a good quality Omega 3 fish oil and a good multi-vitamin.  Single supplements like Vitamin D3, Vitamin K2 (in MK7 form), calcium, and magnesium, although targeted for bone health, also have benefits for the heart. If you have been taken off oestrogen, you can always consider a good quality isoflavone supplement such as Promensil (data is slowly emerging showing red clover isoflavones may provide long term bone and heart health benefits).

Know the common symptoms of a heart attack common in women

In women a heart attack often has different signs than in men, which can lead to delays in treatment and a higher death rate. Seek medical care urgently if you have:

  • Chest pain, pressure, or squeezing
  • Pain in your jaw, arms, back, or neck
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Shortness of breath, nausea, and feeling lightheaded
  • Unusual sweating
  • Upper stomach pain

The good news is a healthy diet and lifestyle can keep your heart happy and healthy!