Menopause is a stage of life marked by the end of menstrual periods. It usually begins after the age of 40. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance produced in the body. It falls into two categories, depending on the lipoprotein that carries it. There is low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein or HDL cholesterol.
A woman's cholesterol level can increase during or after her menopause. This increment occurs due to reduced levels of the hormone oestrogen in the body. Oestrogen helps in regulating cholesterol levels.
In most cases of menopause, the shift in hormone levels cause most of the changes in the body that come with old age. A reduction in the hormone oestrogen can lead to a higher LDL cholesterol levels.
Link between menopause and cholesterol
According to a 2018 study, sex hormones such as oestrogen helps in providing some protection against heart disease before menopause. Additionally, a 2020 study found that levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides were much higher in people after menopause, in comparison to people in their early stages. HDL cholesterol levels were reduced in almost all the participants.
Liver plays a crucial part in our metabolism by using fatty acids, triglycerides, and cholesterol to meet the body’s metabolic needs. Oestrogen helps in regulating the metabolism of lipids in the liver which as a result causes the oestrogen levels to drop during menopause. This in turn leads to higher LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Experiencing this drop in oestrogen early may increase certain health hazards. According to the Australasian Menopause Society, women who enter menopause early are twice as likely to develop heart diseases, in comparison to similarly aged women who have not yet entered the menopausal stage.
Effects of high cholesterol during menopause
In most cases of high cholesterol, there are no symptoms. A woman may only realise that they have it after experiencing a heart attack or a stroke. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends having cholesterol levels checked in every five years. During and after menopause, a woman might consider having this screening more often.
Doctors and healthcare professionals can check cholesterol levels using a blood test called a lipid profile. A laboratory analyses the blood sample to measure levels of the following:
- Total cholesterol
- HDL cholesterol, which can show good health
- LDL cholesterol, which can be harmful to health
Diet to maintain cholesterol during menopause
Some food items help in reducing the cholesterol levels in the body. Soluble dietary fibre can bind with cholesterol in the digestive system and remove it from the body altogether. Additionally, plant sterols and stanols are cholesterol-like compounds in plant foods, which help in preventing the body from absorbing extra cholesterol.
To support healthy cholesterol levels, women can consider incorporating these food items into their daily diet:
- Oats and beans
- Red meats
- Food rich in omega-3 fatty acids