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Mastering Menopause: Your Guide to Maintaining Healthy Cholesterol Levels

Understanding the relationship between cholesterol and menopause, especially for those facing early menopause, becomes crucial as they navigate this transitional phase for an extended period.


cholesterol diagram

Let's dive into the details of cholesterol, its impact on your health, and how to manage it effectively.

 

The Importance of Cholesterol:

Although cholesterol is often deemed one of the villains in this world, it isn't. Cholesterol serves several vital functions in our body:


1. Hormone Production: Cholesterol is a precursor to many hormones.

2. Cell Membranes: It plays a role in building and maintaining cell membranes.

3. Brain Function: Approximately 60% of the brain is composed of fat, including cholesterol.

4. Vitamin D: Cholesterol is a precursor to vitamin D production.

5. Bile Production: Cholesterol is essential for bile production, which aids digestion.

 

Common Causes of High Cholesterol:

Several factors can contribute to high cholesterol levels, including:

- Genetics: Inherited genetic factors can influence cholesterol levels.

- Diet: Consuming a diet high in carbohydrates and calories can elevate cholesterol.

- Weight: Being overweight or obese is associated with higher cholesterol levels.

- Thyroid Function: Poor thyroid function can affect cholesterol regulation.

- Gut Health: Gut dysbiosis, an imbalance in gut bacteria, can impact cholesterol metabolism.

- Stress: Chronic stress can contribute to elevated cholesterol levels.

- Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol intake can raise cholesterol.


 

Cholesterol and Menopause:

During menopause, changes in hormone levels, particularly a decrease in oestrogen, can lead to alterations in cholesterol levels. Oestrogen plays a role in regulating cholesterol in the liver.


Consequently, post-menopause women often experience an increase in LDL cholesterol and a decrease in HDL cholesterol. Other factors like weight gain and reduced physical activity, which can occur around this time can also contribute to unfavourable cholesterol changes.

 

Interpreting Cholesterol Test Results:

Cholesterol doesn't dissolve in water and needs carriers in the blood called lipoproteins, mainly HDL and LDL:

- HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein): Known as the "good" cholesterol, HDL helps remove harmful cholesterol from the bloodstream.

- LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein): Referred to as the "bad" cholesterol, LDL carries cholesterol to cells, potentially leading to plaque buildup in blood vessels.

 

It's essential to consider not only cholesterol numbers but also the ratio of LDL to HDL, triglyceride levels, and the size and number of LDL particles. Small, dense LDL particles are more concerning than larger, fluffy ones.


Moreover, cholesterol is just one piece of the heart disease puzzle; factors like blood pressure, inflammation, and lifestyle choices also matter.

 

Managing Your Cholesterol:

While some individuals are prescribed statin medications, which come with potential side effects, it's crucial to also/ instead address the root causes of high cholesterol:


Adopting as near to a Mediterranean-style diet as possible which is rich in fibre, lean protein, and healthy fats. The essential parts are;


blood sugar imbalance

1.Blood Sugar Control:

 

When it comes to managing cholesterol during menopause, it's essential to pay attention to your diet and blood sugar control.



Excess blood sugar in the body can increase cholesterol levels, particularly the more harmful LDL cholesterol.


Here are some strategies to help keep your blood sugar in check:

- Have protein with every meal.

- Limit carbohydrate intake – especially the refined and processed stuff.

- Avoid eating carbohydrates alone.

- Have regular meals and snacks if needed – just not sugary snacks.

- Monitor your HbA1c levels – this tells you about your average blood sugar levels.

- Hydrate.

- Don't drink sugary beverages – please….

 

 

2. Fibre Intake:

 Incorporate high-fibre foods, as soluble fibre can help bind to cholesterol. That means more fruit and veggies and whole grains.

 



healthy fats

3. Choose the Right Fats for Heart Health:

 

When managing your cholesterol levels during menopause, paying close attention to the types of fats you consume in your diet is crucial. It is the type of fat rather than the quantity that is important.



Here's a detailed look at selecting the right fats to include and avoid:

 

  • Avoid Trans Fats and Hydrogenated Fats:

Trans fats and hydrogenated fats are considered the worst culprits for heart health. These fats are typically found in processed and fried foods, baked goods, and margarines.

Check food labels for any mention of "partially hydrogenated oils" and avoid products that contain them.

 

  • Limit Saturated Fats:

Saturated fats, primarily found in animal products like red meat, butter, and full-fat dairy, should be consumed in moderation. While their role in heart health is complex, excessive intake of saturated fats can raise LDL cholesterol levels. This means, where possible,

- Choose lean protein. (fish, lean cuts, and poultry

- Use healthier cooking oils: olive oil, avocado oil, or canola oil, rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

- Embrace plant-based options: Incorporate plant-based protein sources such as beans, lentils, tofu, and tempeh into your diet.


  • Increase Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

Omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and trout have well-documented heart-protective benefits. They can help lower triglyceride levels, reduce inflammation, and improve overall heart health. Here's how to incorporate more omega-3s into your diet:

 

  • Fatty Fish: Aim to include fatty fish in your diet at least twice a week. Baking, grilling, or steaming fish are healthy cooking methods.

 

  • Plant-Based Sources: If you're not a fan of fish, consider plant-based sources of omega-3s such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and hemp seeds. These can be added to cereals, smoothies, or salads.

 

  • Omega-3 Supplements: Consult your healthcare provider about omega-3 supplements, especially if you have specific dietary restrictions or preferences.


4. Check Thyroid Function

Monitor thyroid function, as it can influence cholesterol levels and has a greater tendency to go wonky around perimenopause.

5. Lifestyle Factors:

Avoid smoking, engage in cardiovascular exercise, and manage stress.

6. Alcohol Consumption:

Limit alcohol intake to prevent elevated triglycerides and liver fat accumulation.

 

HRT and Cholesterol:

For women facing early menopause, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) can be a recommended option. HRT, if deemed suitable for your situation, can help manage cholesterol levels and mitigate some of the adverse effects of hormonal changes during menopause.

 

Fundamentally:


As Michael Pollan famously said:

Eat Food.

Not too much.

Mostly plants.

 

He also said, and I like this quote too;


It's not food if it arrives through the window of your car.

 

In conclusion, understanding the relationship between cholesterol and menopause is crucial for women's long-term heart health, no matter when you experience menopause.

 

While cholesterol is a significant factor, it's just one piece of the puzzle.

 

Embracing a holistic approach that includes dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, and, if necessary, HRT can help women effectively manage their cholesterol levels and reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.

 

Small, sustainable changes in your diet can lead to lasting improvements in your overall health.


 

Please schedule a complimentary call with me to discuss your experiences. This conversation is an opportunity to explore your symptoms and the possible ways to manage them with absolutely no obligation. Remember, understanding and then addressing your symptoms is vital to finding relief and improving your daily life.


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