The hidden heart danger that starts way before menopause

Estrogen does a lot of wonderful things for women…

It keeps our skin soft and supple, allows us to be mothers, boosts the feel-good chemicals in our brains, keeps our bones strong and protects our hearts.

Unfortunately, that means when our estrogen levels start to decline with age, we lose some of these benefits… including heart protection.

Women have a much steeper heart disease risk once menopause strikes and our estrogen levels plummet. That’s a well-known fact. But here’s something you may not realize…

Your estrogen levels start dipping long before you enter full-blown menopause. That means your heart attack risk skyrockets a lot sooner than you realized…

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Heart stress starts during perimenopause

Long before your ovaries release their last egg and you say goodbye to pads and tampons forever, your body enters a phase called perimenopause.

Perimenopause is the prequel to menopause… and like most prequels, it kind of stinks. Your body gradually produces less estrogen and you may start experiencing the menopause symptoms that everyone knows so well (like hot flashes). However, during perimenopause, you still have your period and are still capable of getting pregnant.

Related: 7 odd symptoms that signal menopause (tinnitus, too?)

It turns out, though, that when you’re going through this perimenopausal phase, permanent changes are already happening in your heart. New research from the University of Guelph just revealed some of the hidden heart changes happening behind the scenes during perimenopause…

In a study they performed on mice, University of Guelph researchers found that the heart starts showing signs of stress during the perimenopause phase. They created a mouse model where the mouse’s ovaries failed slowly to mimic human menopause. The process took four months, and during that time they saw a spike in pro-inflammatory proteins that are a marker for stress in the heart.

“The heart looks the same and its functioning doesn’t change, but what underlies that function is altered,” said Professor Glen Pyle, senior author of the study. “So, it’s like a house that looks fine but there’s a leak in the foundation. The changes are hidden but they are there.”

Researchers also wanted to see if supplementing natural estrogen with estrogen-mimicking drugs would restore heart function to its previous state. Unfortunately, synthetic estrogen wasn’t a quick fix. Molecular changes happened during this period that fundamentally changed women’s hearts.

How to support your heart during perimenopause and beyond

So, what should you do to protect your heart during your perimenopausal and postmenopausal years?

Well, there are lots of factors that play into your heart disease risk besides your reproductive status, including many factors that are within your control, like:

  • Diet. A Mediterranean-inspired diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, poultry, fish and nuts can make a big difference in your heart disease risk.
  • Exercising for at least 150 minutes each week is proven to prevent heart disease.
  • Smoking status. Not only does smoking increase the risk of early menopause, it also increases the risk of blood clots, decreases the flexibility of your arteries and lowers HDL (healthy) cholesterol levels — all of which are bad news for your heart health.
  • Blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Research shows that high blood pressure and cholesterol levels raise the risk of heart disease. So, keep those numbers down during middle age for the sake of your heart.
  • Stress levels. Stress contributes to high blood pressure, which means it’s hard on the heart. Find ways to keep your stress levels down, like meditation, yoga, bodywork or even relaxing hobbies like gardening, sewing or woodworking.

Editor’s note: Have you heard of EDTA Chelation therapy? People who have report success with their varicose veins and other blood flow issues — important ones that have to do with heart health. To read more about it and learn how it can improve circulation, click here!

Sources:

  1. Menopause and Heart Disease — American Heart Association
  2. How To Reduce Heart Disease Risk Factors During Menopause — Penn Medicine
  3. Menopause hormone therapy and your heart — Mayo Clinic
  4. Menopause, Perimenopause and Postmenopause — Cleveland Clinic
  5. Perimenopause: Rocky road to menopause — Harvard Health Publishing
  6. Everything you need to know about estrogen — Medical News Today
  7. Menopausal changes to female heart happen earlier than thought — EurekAlert!

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Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.