Approaching menopause? Get a cholesterol check

Posted on: 21 October 2016 by Gareth Hargreaves

Older women and health professionals are not addressing the link between the menopause and raised cholesterol.

older woman cholesterol

It is a fact that at the onset of menopause, cholesterol levels rise due to the natural decline of the hormone oestrogen within the body.

This increase in cholesterol puts women at greater risk from cardiovascular disease (CVD) and stroke, making them four times more likely to contract heart disease in the 10 years after the menopause, than they were before.

Up until the menopause, oestrogen is a girl’s best friend, protecting against osteoporosis by maintaining bone density, and elevated cholesterol by increasing the good HDL cholesterol within the body, and reducing the bad LDL cholesterol.  But as this hormone declines, so does women’s natural protection, leaving them as susceptible to heart disease as men. 

CVD is predominantly thought of as a male-disease which preys on stressed, overweight, middle-aged men, but it actually kills more women than any other health condition, and is responsible for 57% of all female deaths.  British women are nine times more likely to die of CVD than breast cancer, yet the sad fact is 80% of all cardiovascular disease is preventable with diet and lifestyle changes. 

Cholesterol awareness

Studies endorsed by the World Heart Federation and HeartUK have found that women aged 45-65 surveyed did not associate the menopause with raised cholesterol levels. Their main anxieties were about the symptoms associated with menopause, plus the risk of breast cancer and osteoporosis.  

Get a cholesterol check if you experience:

  • Irregular periods
  • Changes in body fat distribution, from pear shape to apple shape
  • Depressed mood and anxiety
  • Night sweats and hot flushes
  • Decline in Libido
  • Vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, bladder changes
  • Osteoporosis

Of greater concern is the apparent inadequate screening of women by health professionals.  Only 15% of the 150 health care professionals questioned in a survey, commissioned by Flora ProActive, said they rank menopausal women at equal risk of CVD to men, and less than half (46%) say they include a cholesterol check in their most frequent advice to women over 45, compared to 81% who advise self-checks for breast cancer.  Currently, it is not routine for GPs to offer a cholesterol test when women ask for HRT.

Physical menopause symptoms such as night sweats, hot flushes, mood swings and vaginal dryness are indicators of a silent metabolic change taking place within the body.  Women in developed countries can live up to a third of their lives post-menopause, so early prevention is essential for maintaining a long and healthy life.

“The menopause should be a wake up call to think about our long-term health,” Dr Heather Currie, founder and MD of Menopause Matters Ltd and Associate Specialist Gynaecologist and Obstetrician at Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary in Scotland, tells 50connect.  

‘It’s time to put the cholesterol risk to heart health on the map as heart disease is killing more women than the next five causes of death put together - breast cancer included. It is clear that routine cholesterol checks and better education are paramount in preventing unnecessary deaths from heart disease.”

Take action today

Studies estimate that on average, lowering cholesterol by 10% will reduce the risk of heart disease by 20%, and this is relatively simple with the following diet and lifestyle changes.

  • Stop smoking
  • Avoid trans-fats and triglycerides.  Reduce your intake of saturated fats. 
  • Eat at least 5 portions or fruit and veg a day
  • Eat porridge every morning.  Oats contain beta-gluten which reduces cholesterol by 2-5% when eaten daily.  
  • Do more exercise.  Start swimming, dancing, walking, aerobics, yoga – anything that gets your heart pumping. 
  • Increase your intake of plant sterol-rich foods.

Experts agree that the most effective way to reduce cholesterol is with plant sterols of stanols.  They work by reducing the absorption of bad LDL cholesterol from the intestine, without affecting the good HDL cholesterol. 

Eating 2 – 2.5g a day of plant sterols can lower cholesterol by 10-15% within 2 weeks, when combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle.  Although present in all fruit and vegetables, in order to consume 2g a day, one would need to eat 150 apples or 425 carrots so a fortified food like Flora pro.activ is a simple and effective way to up your intake and reduce bad cholesterol.

Have Your Say

Were you aware of the link between cholesterol and the menopause?  Are you going to get your cholesterol tested?  If so, we want to hear from you.  Share you experiences with others through the comment boxes below.


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