New Information on Heart Disease and Menopause

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According to the NIH, heart disease — not breast cancer — is the number one killer of women. 

Ladies, listen up here are some important statistics from the American Heart Association:

  • “An estimated 43 million women in the U.S. are affected by heart disease.
  • 1 in 31 American women die from breast cancer each year, but 1 in 3 die of heart disease.
  • Only 1 in 5 American women believes that heart disease is her greatest health threat.”

Love is in the air this month, so I reached out to Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, the Executive Director of the North American Menopause Society and Professor of Ob-Gyn at the University of Virginia to help us learn how to heart our hearts!

Heart disease risk increases with age, but for women often symptoms can also become more evident after the onset of menopause. I asked Dr. Pinkerton to explain the role that our hormones play in our heart health.

     “The decline in estrogen may be a factor in the increased heart disease seen in postmenopausal women. There may be a critical window of timing with the heart in that women within 10 years of menopause benefit from estrogen. Those who are older with already developed atherosclerotic plaque may be worsened with estrogen. Estrogen may decrease total cholesterol, decrease plaque formation or improve the inner layer of the artery wall.”

Since estrogen plays such a crucial role in our heart health, in order for you to base your healthcare decisions on facts instead of fears, (especially if heart disease is in you or your family’s health history), I asked Dr. Pinkerton to give us the facts on hormone therapy.

 “Fear is a powerful force. When the results of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) were first released in 2002, they led to fear with many women discontinuing their hormones and many providers being afraid to prescribe. Since that time, we have learned many important pieces of information. Experts agree now that women who are under 60 and within 10 years of menopause may have a benefit over risk for hormone therapy.”

 Dr. Pinkerton listed the following ways to increase the safety of hormone therapy:

  1. “For women at risk of blood clot or stroke, transdermal may be safer.
  2. There appears to be less breast cancer risk with natural micronized progesterone over synthetic medroxyprogesterone acetate, the progestin tested in the WHI.
  3. Women with premature menopause (surgical or natural) have higher risks of heart disease, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s disease and dementia which go back to normal risk if given estrogen therapy until at least average age of menopause (51-52).
  4. Hot flashes themselves are more than just a nuisance and may increase the risk of heart disease and dementia. Treatment at menopause MAY help decrease these risks.
  5. Hormone therapy when started in older women, appears to increase the risk of heart disease and dementia, particularly those 70 and over.”

We know that genetics and family health history contributes to a women’s heart disease risk. For the most part, these are out of our control. However, Dr. Pinkerton wanted to be sure to impart her top 5 health tips that we can all easily implement into our heart health regime:

          “Eat healthy- a Mediterranean diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, fresh fish (tuna, herring with omega-3 fatty acids). Avoid excess salt, saturated fats, sweets,                         and red meat. Keep your blood sugar and cholesterol levels within normal limits.

         Handle your stress- find a way to relax that works for you. Mindfulness, meditation, yoga, music, aromatherapy. Avoid strong emotions of anger and hostility.

         Regular exercise- 30 minutes per day but it can be in small times allotments. Find those “exercise moments”. Avoid being sedentary! Move around when you talk on the phone or                         use a treadmill desk. Do short exercises in the morning for 7 min to ‘jumpstart’ your day.

         Don’t smoke or quit if you do smoke. Don’t think about quitting! Quit! Even a few cigarettes per day increased your risk of heart disease.

         Know your “numbers” Monitor your blood pressure, your cholesterol and your blood sugars. If any of these are elevated, find a way to bring it down- mindfulness, stress                                   management, lose weight or take medication if nothing else works.”                    

Now that you understand the role estrogen plays in your heart health and you have some helpful tips on how to stay heart healthy, be sure that you have a good Menopause Specialist to help you on your healthy aging journey.

This American Heart Month, pay special attention to the one thing that keeps us living and loving, our hearts.

My motto: Suffering in silence is OUT!  Reaching out is IN!

Click here to download my free eBook, MENOPAUSE MONDAYS The Girlfriend’s Guide To Surviving and Thriving During Perimenopause and Menopause.

After struggling with her own severe menopause symptoms and doing years of research, Ellen resolved to share what she learned from experts and her own trial and error. Her goal was to replace the confusion, embarrassment, and symptoms millions of women go through–before, during, and after menopause–with the medically sound solutions she discovered. Her passion to become a “sister” and confidant to all women fueled Ellen’s first book, Shmirshky: the pursuit of hormone happiness. As a result of the overwhelming response from her burgeoning audiences and followers’ requests for empowering information they could trust, Ellen’s weekly blog, Menopause MondaysTM, was born.

  • Roxanne Jones

    Such important information. Too few women STILL don’t understand that they’re at much greater risk of heart disease than breast cancer. Great article that presents the facts along with helpful how-to’s.

    • I am so happy that you found the info helpful, Roxanne. Please pass it along to the sisterhood so that we call all be more proactive about our heart health!

  • Excellent tips on heart disease. I think stress is the worst.

  • Cathy Steffanci Sikorski

    You are always providing us with such good info. I decided to go the bioidentical hormone route implanted every three months and I feel amazing. My health numbers are good and a lot of other good things changed for me. But, Ellen, since the study shows that women over 70 may have a counter experience…is there a time when HRT should be stopped? Maybe there’s a blog in there for you. I know I would like to know the answer to that!

    • That is the magic question! I have a blog coming out in March 21st that you will find interesting. I am interviewing the author of the new book, The Estrogen Window. Written by Dr. Mach Seibel. Stay tuned!

  • It always amazes me that most of the research on heart disease applies solely to men. For example, my husband takes a daily aspirin. When I asked our doc about it for me, she said “nope. doesn’t work the same way for women.” Yet I know many women who think it does.

    • It is so true! Women have to fight to get studies about heart disease for women! It is nice that your doctor is up on the latest info on aspirin. For women 45-65 years old, who are healthy, it appears that the cons outweigh the pros of low-dose aspirin treatment to prevent heart disease and colon cancer. This study shows that there really isn’t a reduction in cardiovascular disease with aspirin therapy — if you don’t have heart disease in the first place.
      However, if you have had a heart attack or you have known heart disease, then you should speak to your doctor about whether you should be on aspirin for the prevention of future events. http://heart.bmj.com/content/early/2014/09/30/heartjnl-2014-306342

  • Cheryl Nicholl

    Such good advice. I have followed it all- except for one bad habit, but I can only do one giant leap at a time! On a serious note I’m so pleased that there are women like you that share GOOD information instead of fear mongering. Like always your message is much appreciated.

    • Happy your found the info helpful, Cheryl. Not sure what that one bad habit is, but sounds like you take really good care of yourself. Unless of course, that one bad habit is smoking :<(!

  • Lisa_GrandmasBriefs

    I’ve gotten much better about keeping track of my numbers, and I’ve never smoked. So okay on those fronts. Stress, though? Shew… I need to get a handle on that one. Thank you for the info and advice.

  • Caryn

    Good article with solid advice! The stats about breast cancer vs heart disease, while accurate, make me wonder about age of onset being a big variable. Seems like women of all ages are supposed to be extremely vigilant of breast cancer, especially starting at 40. With heart disease, our vigilance about it starts quite a bit later, well after menopause. Your article highlights the need to be vigilant right now. Thank you for that.

    Stress…. really, with the economic, familial and societal burdens of today, women cannot avoid it unless they are lottery winners with plenty of resources and healthy (or deceased!) family members.

    I do not see middle class working women ever reducing their stress or their endless to-do lists, until they drop from exhaustion. Yep, that happens.

    I think I could get through this stressful living much easier if I could realistically envision a life outside the corporate world, as in, retirement. Many of us know that retirement is a pipe dream now, and that people are more likely to leave the workforce due to disability, rather than retirement.

    I’m going to try your meditation techniques now, as you can see I need them 😉

    • Such great points, Caryn. Meditation really works!