Medically Reviewed by Vincenta Faulkner, RD, CNSC, CCTD
It may go without saying, but as we age, our bodies don’t quite bounce back the same way they used to. Throughout life, we gain insight about our bodies from many sources, and we treat our bodies according to that insight. However, the human body is complicated, and there is always more for us to learn.
The process of aging is complex, and it changes our bodily functions in various ways. But as confusing and mysterious as the body may seem, research has determined certain connections between health risks and aging, like how menopause relates to high cholesterol and, by extension, cardiovascular disease.
Today, Zizi is here to break down everything you need to know about menopause and cholesterol so that you can better care for yourself as you grow older by being informed about your own health.
How Does Menopause Affect the Body?
To understand how menopausal changes affect our cholesterol levels, it’s important to understand what happens at a physiological level during menopause.
Menopause begins most often around the ages of 45 to 55 for biological females, and exactly what menopause entails can vary from person to person. Some may experience stronger symptoms of menopause, hot flashes being among the most common, while others may only experience very mild symptoms in comparison.
When it comes to how menopause affects us, everyone has a different experience because everyone’s health is different.
At a physiological level, what is happening across the board is a decrease in estrogen production in the body. During menopause, the ovaries enter a stage where they stop producing estrogen. Research indicates that this decline in estrogen production can result in a wide range of effects in the body.
While the more common symptoms of menopause, like hot flashes, insomnia, and mood changes, are generally understood, the effects of menopause in the long term are still being studied.
That said, research has led to several conclusions about the long-term effects of menopause, one being a relation between menopause and reduced bone density.
You might be familiar with the increased risk of osteoporosis as the female body ages. Researchers have found compelling evidence that the body’s decline in estrogen production may be strongly linked to this health phenomenon.
Similarly, researchers are exploring a connection between estrogen (particularly its decline in production after menopause) and cholesterol.
Let’s get a clearer idea of how estrogen and cholesterol are linked.
What Are the Health Risks of High Cholesterol Levels?
Of all the medical conditions we hear about as we age, we probably hear about our cholesterol most frequently. Anywhere from cereal boxes to pharmaceutical commercials urge us to lower our cholesterol levels with this or that product.
Looking into cholesterol, there are actually different types of cholesterol, and not all of them are “bad.”
High-density lipoprotein and low-density lipoprotein are the two main forms of cholesterol. While there are more types, these two tend to be the most important because they are colloquially dubbed “good” and “bad” cholesterols, respectively.
HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) is a mitigating factor in overall cholesterol levels. HDL keeps our other cholesterol levels low, maintaining a healthy balance of fatty lipids in our blood.
LDL cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol) can build up plaque in the blood vessels and arteries that can cause blockages that may result in cardiovascular diseases.
If you have high cholesterol levels, you may be more at risk for heart attacks, strokes, breast cancer, high blood pressure, and other circulatory ailments.
What Is Estrogen, and What Does It Have To Do With Cholesterol?
Estrogen is a sex hormone that plays a significant role in the female body. Produced mainly in the ovaries, adrenal glands, and fat cells, estrogen’s effects are plentiful, affecting everything from reproduction to bones, skin, hair, brain health, heart function, and blood levels.
Estrogen also plays a significant role in hormonal changes throughout life.
The lower levels or absence of estrogen in postmenopausal women and women experiencing hormonal imbalances has led researchers to explore the many ways estrogen levels play a part in our body’s health.
Research indicates that postmenopausal women tend to have higher cholesterol levels, leaving scientists to explore how cholesterol is related to the presence of estrogen in the body.
How Does Estrogen Affect Cholesterol?
The decline in estrogen production in postmenopausal women and the increase in cholesterol levels in postmenopausal women seem to have an inverse relationship — the less estrogen, the more cholesterol.
Quite a few studies have aimed to determine the exact relationship. One study examined premenopausal women, measuring their blood samples for the amounts of high-density lipoproteins, low-density lipoproteins, and triglycerides therein.
The postmenopausal women statistically demonstrated a significant increase in their total cholesterol and low-density lipoproteins, LDLs. The postmenopausal women also had higher levels, though not significant ones, of triglycerides in their bloodstream.
Why Do These Effects Occur?
There seems to be a connection between menopause and cholesterol levels; that much is clear. As for reasons why that is, there is a strong implication that estrogen may be a key factor, leading researchers to zero in on estrogen in particular as a predictor of raised cholesterol levels, especially in postmenopausal women.
Another study examined the relationship between estrogen and cholesterol treatments in postmenopausal women. 28 women were given estrogen and another supplement in different doses; some were given more estrogen, others more of the other supplement. This way, researchers could see precisely the effects estrogen has on cholesterol.
When paired with the lipid-lowering therapeutic, researchers found that the estrogen had the best results in lowering LDL cholesterol. What’s more, estrogen alone may have been effective in raising HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol).
When it comes to treating cholesterol, estrogen may play an effective role when combined with other cholesterol-lowering treatments.
In addition, another study even went as far as saying that “endogenous” estrogen, or estrogen that comes from within the body, is a key regulator of lipid metabolism, which is our body’s management of cholesterol.
In other words, it seems that our natural estrogen production is a key part of our cholesterol metabolism.
How Are Menopause and Cholesterol Connected?
Accompanying the decline of estrogen during menopause and postmenopause seem to be raised cholesterol levels and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
A credible theory that connects these two trends examines estrogen’s role as a lipid metabolic regulator, a manager of our cholesterol. Estrogen appears to play a role in ensuring lower cholesterol levels.
While science has determined there may exist a reliable connection between raised cholesterol levels and menopause, it’s not the only thing that determines your blood lipid health.
For example, smoking, diet, exercise habits, stress levels, and genetics can all factor into the way your body transitions through menopausal stages.
Stay on Top of the Effects of Menopause and Increased Cholesterol With These Tips From Zizi
At Zizi, we’re committed to making sure that people are not only living healthy lives but happy lives. The challenges we face later in life can be daunting, but they don’t need to define us. We can live life to the fullest while embracing any and all changes that come our way.
For that reason, here are some health tips that can help you get into good habits as you experience menopausal transition.
Find a Regular Exercise Routine That Works for You
For those concerned about their long-term heart health, cholesterol levels, and how those things can change with menopause, one of the best things you can do for yourself is get into a consistent exercise routine.
We all know how important exercise is for us. It’s one of those things that really pays out the longer we keep up with it. Especially when it comes to cardiovascular health and blood lipid levels, exercise can be a great way to ensure that we operate at our best.
(That’s why we include exercise courses as part of Zizi’s proactive health program!)
Practice a More Mindful Diet
We are what we eat. That sentiment is never truer than when talking about our cholesterol levels. Blood fats like VLDL cholesterol and triglycerides especially are directly affected by the type of foods we eat.
When we practice mindfulness with the food we put into our bodies, we’re taking greater control over how our body functions.
Take Supplements Suited for Your Needs
Supplements can provide us a great opportunity to ensure we’re getting the right balance of nutrition, and can help fill gaps in our diets.
Vitamin D is an example of an especially helpful supplement to support bone density, which can weaken after menopause. Working with your provider to identify possible nutrient gaps can help keep you in top shape!
Care Comes Easy With Zizi
Menopause can be challenging to navigate alongside your cholesterol levels, but you can still stay on top of your health with Zizi. We offer at-home heart health care that will help you navigate a healthy lifestyle without complications.
With Zizi, you’ll have access to monthly lipid testing and results, a heart health course, and natural supplements that can help you achieve healthy cholesterol and a healthier lifestyle.
Better healthcare starts with better access. Zizi is here to help you learn more about how you can keep on top of your cholesterol.
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