Did you know oestrogen is cardioprotective? Oestrogen contributes to the elasticity of our blood vessels – and is particularly important for the smaller blood vessels in and around the heart. Women have a higher risk for heart disease than men and declining oestrogen plays a role in that risk. For all women, creating hormonal balance and healthy lifestyle practises is a must once in menopause for long term heart health.
Heart Disease in women
Heart disease is the single biggest killer of women worldwide and in the UK kills twice the number of women as breast cancer.
However, heart disease is very much seen as a man’s disease and the way a heart attack is depicted as a debilitating pain causing clutching of the chest, is how it presents for a man. In fact, in women a heart attack is often milder and therefore health outcomes are worse because symptoms go undetected.
Symptoms of a heart attack for women
- Some women may have uncomfortable pressure, squeezing or fullness in the chest that lasts a few minutes or may go away and come back again. NB: Not all women get chest pain and are more likely to feel the following symptoms:
- Pain in the jaw, back or neck
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea, vomiting and cold sweats
- Overwhelming weakness or fatigue
- Anxiety, lethargy and loss of appetite
Risk Factors for heart disease in women
- Family history
- Increasing age /post-menopausal
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Lack of physical activity
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Being overweight
- Depression and social isolation
Peri-to-post menopausal transition offers us a time to think about what we want our long-term health to look like. Chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and osteoporosis, all have a hormonal link. The better health we can create during this transition, the better our long-term health and less likelihood of chronic disease.
Oestrogen and heart health
Oestrogen affects every tissue and organ in the body. In regard to cardiovascular health. Lowering levels of oestrogen result in:
- Decreases HDL cholesterol (the good kind)
- Increases LDL cholesterol (the bad kind)
- Less elasticity of blood vessels
- Less uptake of antioxidants
- More reactive to stress hormones = higher blood pressure
- More susceptible to blood sugar imbalances = diabetes
Preventing Heart Disease
Obviously, not smoking is the best thing one can do for heart health but also maintaining a healthy weight and reducing stress play a huge part. Here are some tips to help do that:
The Mediterranean diet is the best diet for heart health. It includes lots of oily fish, extra virgin olive oil, a wide variety of colourful vegetables, berries, nuts and seeds.
Avoid sugar as it’s highly inflammatory and increases oxidative stress.
Avoid trans fats and hydrogenated fats as they are highly toxic.
Reduce alcohol consumption.
Top tip: Use lots of garlic but let it sit for 15 minutes after you have chopped it before cooking as it releases allicin, the cardioprotective compound.
Disruption to the circadian rhythm cycle is associate with many chronic diseases including heart disease. Eating late, exposure to blue light in the evening, poor melatonin production and shift work all feed into cardiovascular disease.
Promote good sleep routines focusing on 7-9 hours a night.
Top tip: Yogic alternative nostril breathing is very relaxing, promotes sleep and is shown to increase autonomic cardiac activity and promote heart health.
A lack of exercise is extremely detrimental to health but it’s not just the time spent in the gym that is important. NEAT, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis (movement we do when we go about our daily routines) is extremely important too. So, stand instead of sit, take the stairs rather than the elevator, get on with the gardening/hoovering/whatever it is that you have been avoiding.
Top tip: Research shows less than an hour of strength training per week can reduce your risk for heart attack and stroke anywhere from 40-70%. These cardiovascular benefits were independent of aerobic exercises such as walking and running.
Research suggests that poor trunk flexibility is associated with arterial stiffening and that yoga is a viable antihypertensive lifestyle therapy.
Top tip: Yoga produces the greatest blood pressure benefits when mediation/mental relaxation are included.
Know your numbers
Maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol is essential and regular screening post menopausally is a great idea.
Top tip: According to the NHS, optimal blood pressure is between 90/60 and 120/80 and total cholesterol 5 or below, HDL 1 or above, LDL 3 or below.
This is a broad overview of preventative measures. If heart health is something you would like to know more about and would like more help maintaining long term health, then let’s talk.