Why is Heart Health Important at Menopause?
Declining oestrogen at menopause can not only bring about menopause symptoms, but also an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Sometimes known as heart disease, this is a health condition affecting the heart and blood vessels, such as coronary heart disease or a stroke.
How many women are affected by cardiovascular disease?
Prior to menopause, women have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease than men. As a result, many women, regardless of stage of menopause, believe they won’t be affected by cardiovascular disease - which isn’t strictly true.
In the UK alone, an estimated 3.6 million women live with cardiovascular disease (1). More specifically, 1 in 14 women will unfortunately die due to coronary heart disease, a condition affecting the coronary artery of the heart (1). Coronary heart disease is reported as the third leading cause of death in the UK (after COVID-19 and dementia). Figures also suggest twice as many women die from coronary heart disease than breast cancer (1).
Why does the risk of cardiovascular disease increase at menopause?
Oestrogen is thought to be cardioprotective - it protects your heart against developing cardiovascular disease. It’s thought this is because oestrogen may play a role in controlling cholesterol levels. While not all cholesterol is bad, it’s important that levels of LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol aren’t too high. LDL cholesterol is referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol, since it narrows arteries and can block blood flow to areas of the body, in a process called atherosclerosis.
With menopause, oestrogen levels decline. As a result, some cardioprotective effects are lost, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The natural process of ageing also contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease in both women and men. Blood vessels stiffen which can increase the likelihood of experiencing high blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Additionally, some women may have a few decades of lifestyle risk factors behind them by the time they reach menopause. A poor-quality diet, sedentary lifestyle, overweight or obesity, excessive alcohol intake and smoking can all contribute towards cardiovascular disease development.
How can you look after your heart health at menopause?
A healthy diet and lifestyle can help you to look after your heart through menopause and beyond. Here are just three areas of your diet you can consider:
Heart Friendly Fats
Focus on including unsaturated fats in your diet, which when swapped for saturated fats have been shown to be beneficial for heart health. Saturated fats are usually found in foods such as biscuits, crisps and processed meats. Unsaturated fats are heart friendly as they help to lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol, while maintaining levels of good HDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is labelled ‘good’ since it helps remove LDL cholesterol from the body.
Omega 3 is a type of polyunsaturated fat that’s well known for its heart friendly benefits. It can can be found in oily fish, as well as seeds such as flax and chia. Linwoods’ MenoLigna seed mix contains both flax and chia seeds, offering a good source of unsaturated fats, including omega 3. Seeds, such as the MenoLigna mix, can be easily added to meals throughout the day - from mixing into porridge or yoghurt, and sprinkling over soups or toast, to stirring into curries and stews.
It’s not only omega 3 that can be found in MenoLigna, but fibre too. A diet containing plenty of fibre helps control blood sugar levels, which is important for heart health. Fibre also helps keep you fuller for longer, helping with weight management efforts, which can also help control your risk of cardiovascular disease. Other sources of fibre include wholemeal bread, brown rice, rye-based products, oats, nuts and fruits and vegetables.
Eat the Rainbow
Fruits and vegetables are packed full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Antioxidants help reduce cell damage caused by destructive molecules called free radicals. This helps reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
The easiest way to ensure you eat enough antioxidants is through eating not only your 5-a-day, but by eating a wide range of colours. Reds, oranges, yellows, greens, blues and purples - pack as much colour into your diet as you can. The different colours reflect the different micronutrients and antioxidants that you’ll find in fruits and vegetables. The more colours you eat, the wider the range of nutrients (including antioxidants) you’ll obtain.
With reductions in oestrogen levels, the natural stiffening of blood vessels with age and other lifestyle risk factors behind you, heart health is more important than ever at menopause. However, simple dietary changes, such as including unsaturated fats, fibre and fruits and vegetables, can help nurture your heart for the years to come.
This blog has been written in collaboration with Linwoods Health Foods. Based in Armagh, Northern Ireland, and established in 1965, Linwoods is a third generation family owned business that produces a range of healthy plant based foods.
In 2003 Linwoods launched its ‘Health Foods’ range. From the initial Organic Milled Flaxseed, the product portfolio has now extended to include the core flaxseed range, a hemp seed range and a functional range. Linwoods is now a trusted, high quality and market leading health food brand with distribution in Tesco, Ocado, Sainsburys, Waitrose and many health food stores throughout the UK. You can find out more from Linwoods by pressing here.
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