With all the media attention focused on hot flashes and mood swings you’d be forgiven for thinking that menopause was simply a random collection of temporary symptoms; a period of time when your body reacts and then, post menopause, a bounce back to normality!
But, as we learn more about the biochemistry of the female body, we’re discovering that the hormone rollercoaster that triggers these symptoms has an influence on our risk of chronic diseases post-menopause too. Heart disease is often assumed to be a male disease. Throughout life, heart attacks are twice as common in men than women. But, as the female body adapts to life post-menopause, the drop in oestrogen has a significant impact on the risk of heart disease. The British Heart Foundation outlines the protective nature of oestrogen and the impact of the loss of this hormones.
‘Oestrogen protects the arteries of a woman’s heart in a number of ways, including by reducing build-up of fatty plaque. This means that, after the menopause, you are at an increased risk of heart and circulatory disease. Low oestrogen can increase cholesterol levels, which can further increase your risk of developing heart and circulatory disease. Menopause can cause palpitations (feeling your heart beating faster than usual) due to the changing hormone levels. This can sometimes happen during hot flashes. Palpitations are usually harmless.’ - www.bhf.org
Across a female’s lifespan, cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death worldwide.
Menopause compounds many traditional cardiovascular risk factors, including changes in body fat distribution from a gynoid pattern (what is often termed as the ‘pear shape’) to an android pattern, where fat is stored mainly around the buttocks and across the upper body, particularly the abdomen, chest and shoulders. The menopause can also result in reduced glucose tolerance, lipid profile changes, increased blood pressure and vascular inflammation.
How can we take care of our hearts in midlife and beyond?
- Be consistent with your omega-3 fish oil intake: The EFSA approves the claim that a daily intake of 250mg of EPA and DHA can help maintain normal cardiac function in healthy people. Research also shows that a daily intake of 3,000 mg EPA and DHA can contribute to the maintenance of normal blood pressure - both for individuals who have high blood pressure and those at risk of developing high pressure. It’s never too late to start, but prevention is always better than a cure. A dose of omega-3 pre-menopause can support your heart before the hormone fluctuations of peri-menopause begin. Remember, the source of your nutrition is critical. Look for a supplement that uses small, fresh oily fish, contains low amounts of environmental toxins and high amounts of EPA and DHA. Life & Soul Clinical Strength Fish Oil is certified and awarded 5-stars for purity, quality and strength from The International Fish Oil Standards. It provides 3,000mg of EPA and DHA in one daily teaspoon!
- Create a heart-friendly plate: We can do much to support healthy blood sugar levels by rethinking the way we eat in midlife. Look to increase your intake of complex carbohydrates like brown/wild rice, lentils, amaranth, quinoa, oats and wholemeal sourdough bread. Make it your goal to have protein and fibre with every meal. A good PFF (Protein, Fibre, Good Fats) breakfast to start the day can be the secret to a hormone-balanced menopause - and, if you opt for something like eggs, avocado and sourdough, it can feel like an indulgence too.
- Consider HRT, if you are able: The result of media misrepresentation means many of us still carry the belief that HRT is bad for our hearts. Research shows the opposite to be true for most women. And, the risk of coronary heart disease is reduced most significantly the earlier a female in peri-menopause begins HRT, according to further analyses of the WHO study as well as meta-analyses of randomised clinical trials of HRT and of the observation Nurses’ Health Study. Check out the consensus summary released by the British Menopause Society for further detail. If you want to explore HRT, do book time to have a conversation with your doctor, where they will be able to assess your personal history and share the latest insight so you can make a fully informed decision.
De-stress to help your heart
Our final tip for a happy heart? Look at how you ‘digest’ stress. Menopause can hit when the pressures of everyday life are particularly high. We may have ageing or unwell relatives. Perhaps we have teenagers at home or young adults starting their lives away from the family nest. If we’re working, we’re likely to be at a point in our careers where the pressure increases as we make our way up the ladder.
Extreme stress is the enemy of hormone balance and a danger to our hearts because it upsets cortisol levels. Few of us will ever experience stress-free life. But we can manage how we respond to it. The best place to start is simply to look at how you breathe. Explore gentle self-care practices that make you feel good and help you calm your parasympathetic nervous system. From breath work techniques like four-square-breathing to Yoga Nidra, adopt a curious mind - and find what works for you.
Editor’s note: Please check with your doctor if you have an existing heart condition or are on any medication before incorporating the tips above. One of the effects of omega-3 fish oil supplements is to thin the blood. So if you’re about to have surgery or you’re on blood thinning medication, you shouldn’t take them.
Read more about the benefits of omega-3 for heart health here.