Cholesterol is the underlying agent responsible for causing strokes and other cardiovascular diseases. If blood cholesterol levels gets too high, it can aggregate and form plaques inside the blood vessels, causing damage to blood vessels, making them more fragile and easier to break. Women beyond the age of menopause are especially at risk of high blood cholesterol, and need to be especially attentive to maintain a healthy blood profile to minimize their chances for heart diseases.
Know Your Blood Cholesterol
The first step in the prevention of high blood cholesterol and heart diseases is by knowing your blood cholesterol level. A fasting blood cholesterol test, known as a lipid profile, can tell you exactly how much of each type of cholesterol you have. Women past the age of menopause are recommended to get their cholesterol tested annually.
There are three types of cholesterol.
- Low density lipoproteins (LDL): this is often referred to as your “bad” cholesterol. LDL is prone to stick together and form deposits. The normal range of LDL should be kept under 100.
- Very low density lipoproteins (VLDL): this is also “bad” for you. VLDL has similar properties as LDL, and is measured by the amount of triglyceride in your blood. You need to keep your triglyceride level to below 50.
- High density lipoproteins (HDL): this is the only “good” cholesterol in your blood, and you want to keep this number as high as you can. Ideally, you want to keep your blood HDL to above 60.
Your total blood cholesterol is the sum of your LDL, VLDL and HDL. To stay healthy, women should keep their total blood cholesterol below 200.
Why Postmenopausal Women Need to Take Extra Care?
Age, sex, genetics, weight and health conditions are all factors that affect blood cholesterol. The female sex hormone, estrogen, can naturally inhibit synthesis as well as dietary absorption of cholesterol. This is why women, during their reproductive years, generally have lower blood cholesterol than men. However at menopause, women’s estrogen level drops significantly, resulting in a sudden increase of blood cholesterol, especially LDL. This rise of LDL and total cholesterol subjects postmenopausal women to much higher risks of coronary heart disease.
Obesity and diabetes are two medical conditions that often affect postmenopausal women and are both contributors to high blood cholesterol. This is why women after menopause need to be extra attentive to watch their dietary intake of fats and sugar and keep their body weight within the normal range.
How to do to Prevent High Cholesterol
Here are some guidelines to help postmenopausal women control their blood cholesterol.
- Diet: avoid animal fat and maintain a predominantly vegetarian diet. Get your proteins and essential fatty acids from lean meat, fish and soy products.
- Supplementation: Take an extra fish oil supplement and/or a vitamin B complex every day. Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B6 and niacin are all very effective to blood cholesterol control.
- Moderate intake of alcohol: Studies have shown that one drink per day can reduce LDL levels in postmenopausal women and two drinks per day can raise the level of HDL. Red wine is especially good for your cholesterol since it has resveratrol, a phytosterol that can double the effect of cholesterol reduction.