As if getting older, seeing more wrinkles, sweating through your sheets and feeling moody wasn’t bad enough — perimenopause also often ushers in high cholesterol.
High cholesterol, also called dyslipidemia, means three things:
- Your LDL (bad cholesterol) level is too high.
- Your good cholesterol (HDL) level is too low.
- You have elevated levels of triglycerides, likely due to a drop in estrogen levels.
A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology over a 10-year period found that cholesterol levels jumped around the time of menopause for almost every single woman in the study. During the study, researchers found that “in the two-year window surrounding their final menstrual period, women’s average LDL, or bad cholesterol, rose by about 10.5 points, or about 9%. The average total cholesterol level also increased substantially, by about 6.5%.”
Tips for Managing Your Cholesterol
- Eat a heart-healthy diet: It’s important — now more than ever — that you limit your intake of red meat, sugary drinks and food, and sodium. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, fish and poultry. As a busy mom, career woman, wife, sister, or friend, we know that eating healthy isn’t always easy. Try prepping meals in advance to save time, and avoid eating junk in a pinch.
- Exercise: It goes without saying that regular exercise has a positive impact on your overall health. According to ACOG, “exercise strengthens your heart and promotes the health of your blood vessels, which in turn helps boost your HDL levels and lower blood pressure levels.”
- If you smoke, quit: According to ACOG, “smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease. It decreases HDL levels and may increase the level of triglycerides in your blood.”
- Lose weight: If you are overweight or obese, weight loss is recommended. Good news — weight loss will happen naturally if you follow the first three tips in this list! The American Heart Association states that “Women should aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week to help prevent heart disease, and 300 minutes or more weekly for a significant weight loss program, depending on individual needs.”
- Take medication: When cholesterol cannot be managed by lifestyle changes, your provider may suggest medication. Statins are drugs that cause the liver to make less cholesterol and can be prescribed by your provider as a method of decreasing the levels of triglycerides and increasing the levels of HDL.
While these lifestyle changes may not be easy, they are essential for managing cholesterol to remain healthy. High cholesterol that goes untreated can result in heart disease — the leading cause of death in women.
As always, remember you are not alone. High cholesterol during perimenopause doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. You didn’t eat too many eggs and not enough Cheerios. This change of life is common, and it’s important that you discuss your questions and concerns with your healthcare provider.