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Heart Health during Menopause

Menopause marks a significant transition in a woman's life, often bringing with it an increased risk of heart disease. This elevated risk can be attributed to various factors, including changes in body composition and the natural ageing process.

Oestrogen plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy arteries and cholesterol levels. As oestrogen levels decline during menopause, women may experience narrowing and stiffening of the arteries, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Additionally, lower oestrogen levels can lead to changes in body composition, such as increased abdominal fat, which is associated with a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Nutritional Strategies for a Heart-Healthy Diet During Menopause

Adopting a heart-healthy diet is vital during menopause. Here are some key nutritional strategies to consider:

  • Choose unsaturated fats: Opt for unsaturated fats found in plant-based oils (like olive and rapeseed oil), avocados, nuts, and seeds over saturated fats found in butter, coconut oil, pastries, and fried foods.

  • Increase fibre intake: Incorporate a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and pulses (such as beans, chickpeas, and lentils) into your daily diet. Soluble fibre, in particular, can help lower LDL cholesterol (the type that increases heart disease risk) and is found in foods like oats, oat bran, beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas.

  • Consume fish regularly: Aim to eat at least two portions of fish per week, including one portion of oily fish (such as salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, kippers, or sardines). If you don’t eat fish, it’s important to note that omega-3 supplements do not provide the same heart health benefits as consuming oily fish.

  • Limit sugar and processed meats: Reduce your intake of sugary foods and red processed meats to support heart health.

  • Watch your salt intake: Minimise salt consumption by avoiding added salt at the table, using only a pinch when cooking, and steering clear of overly salty foods.

  • Incorporate soya-based foods: Eating soya-based foods like soya milk, soya yogurt, tofu, or edamame beans can help lower LDL cholesterol.

  • Moderate alcohol consumption: Limit alcohol intake to no more than 2-3 units per day, have some alcohol-free days per week, and ensure total consumption does not exceed 14 units per week (1 unit equals a single shot of spirits, half a 175ml glass of wine, or half a pint of 4% beer).

  • Consider plant sterols and stanols: These substances, found in fortified foods like certain yogurts and spreads, can reduce cholesterol absorption. Adding 2g per day to your diet can lower LDL cholesterol by 10-15% over time.

Lifestyle Considerations for Optimal Heart Health

Beyond diet, several lifestyle changes can significantly impact heart health during menopause:

  • Quit smoking: Avoiding tobacco is one of the most effective ways to reduce heart disease risk.

  • Exercise regularly: Engage in regular physical activity to maintain cardiovascular health.

  • Get adequate sleep: Ensure you get plenty of restorative sleep each night.

  • Manage stress: Implement stress management techniques to maintain overall well-being.

In some cases, doctors may recommend medication to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which can be crucial in preventing heart disease.

By making these dietary and lifestyle changes, women can significantly improve their heart health during and after menopause, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

For further reading, check out Irish Heart Foundation's website for more information on the menopause and heart health.


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