How Menopause Increases The Risk of Heart Disease
Menopause is a phase every woman must go through as her age progresses. Usually occurring between 49-52 years of age, menopause is diagnosed after a woman has gone 12 months without a menstrual period. At this point, her body ceases to produce the oestrogen and progesterone hormones. During this biological process, many women experience both physical and emotional symptoms:
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal dryness
- Variation in sleeping patterns
- Drastic mood changes
- Noticeable weight gain
- Uncontrolled leakage of urine
In addition to these symptoms, menopause also increases the risk of certain health problems. These include heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries), urinary incontinence, high blood pressure and deteriorating oral health.
We caught up with Senior Interventional Cardiologist Dr Hasmukh Ravat, and Senior Nutrition Therapist Minal Shah from Fortis Hospital, Mumbai. They helped us understand how women can improve their cardiac health and fulfil their nutritional needs after menopause.
The Link Between Menopause & Heart Disease
It is found that oestrogen helps protect women against heart disease. During menopause, as oestrogen levels drop, the level of fat in a woman’s blood can surge. These changes puts a woman at risk of developing heart and circulatory system disorders such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, increased risk of stroke and heart disease..
Managing Heart Health After Menopause
There isn’t much you can do about the changes your body is undergoing during menopause. But, you can control external factors such as lifestyle, habits, and behavioural changes that impact your health and mind. Here are some ways you can manage your heart health better after menopause:
- Stay on top of your health: Get annual checkups, including blood pressure and cholesterol tests. You should even consider getting a home monitoring device for regular updates. If you have existing conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure, don’t take them lightly. Manage them as prescribed by your doctor so that they don’t pose an added risk to your heart.
- Stop smoking: Smoking is even more harmful for women than men. Women who smoke are at a higher risk of heart disease than women who don’t. In fact, they may experience symptoms of heart disease much sooner too. Resolve to quit smoking and use all the necessary resources you need to kick the butt, once and for all.
- Follow a diet and exercise plan: Consume a low-fat diet which will help bring down the risk of heart disease. Also, simply walking 10,000 steps a day or other low-impact cardio activities can help improve blood circulation and heart health.
- Manage your stress: Mood swings, stress, anxiety, depression and panic attacks are hard on your heart. Find a way to stay calm and keep your emotions in check. Meditation, therapy, yoga, walking, dance, there are a whole host of activities that help release endorphins (happy hormones). You can pick any activity you like to manage your stress.
- Check your family history: Knowing your family history can help a physician assess your risk for heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and other poor health markers. It enables a doctor to plan your treatment better. They may even recommend an appropriate schedule to monitor your health on a recurring basis.
Diet & Nutrition For Menopausal Women
Food plays an important role after menopause. Given that women gain weight, experience increased water retention, and are at high risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, diet and nutrition become even more important in this phase. The right foods can help regulate your insulin, keep your fat levels in check, and help manage your weight after menopause. Here are some important nutrients that should be part of a woman’s diet for menopause:
- Calcium: Include good portions of dairy products and calcium-rich foods in your diet. You can eat sesame seeds, soya, ragi and fortified food items like natural (unsweetened) juice and cereal.
- Iron: Make sure you’re getting enough iron. It can be found in niger seeds, sesame seeds, garden cress seeds (halim), black raisins, and chicken liver, make sure you’re getting enough iron. It is always advisable to have iron in between a meal with a vitamin c rich source like lemon juice or orange juice to enhance absorption. Avoid consumption of calcium and fibre rich food with iron rich food items together, as it inhibits iron absorption.
- Fiber: Eat foods rich in fiber like raw and cooked vegetables. Cut fruits (with edible peel), whole grains, nuts and seeds are also good options.
- Fruits & Vegetables: Have at least 2-3 portions of fruits and 3-4 cups of vegetables each day. In fact, try and make sure they’re all different colours because each colour signals a different nutrient. This way, you can get your fill of antioxidants and important vitamins and minerals that may be lower because of menopause.
- Water: Drink plenty of water through the day. You can hydrate by having alternatives like coconut water, fresh lime water, ginger ale, herbal non-dairy teas, or even water-dense fruits like melons.
In addition to taking better care of yourself, the best thing you can do is to have regular checkups with your GP or specialists. This will help you stay on top of your health and catch any warning signs, well in time.