Today at A.Vogel Talks Menopause, we're going to be talking about how the menopause can affect your heart and what you can do to keep your heart healthy.
How does menopause affect your heart?
So, how does the menopause affect the heart? There are a number of different things that go on here. We know that oestrogen does help to reduce the fatty plaques that can build up in your arteries. In a way, it protects the heart.
But, when your oestrogen starts to fall, it can mean that there is a bigger build-up of fatty plaques in the arteries and this can lead to a variety of symptoms. Falling oestrogen also affects the blood vessels, so your arteries may get less elastic and slightly more static.
This is not good, especially for the big coronary arteries. Every time your heart beats, these big arteries need to expand to take up the pressure that is behind each heartbeat. If your blood vessels lose their elasticity, then this is going to do a number of things.
First, it’s going to increase your risk of a heart attack. Your levels of cholesterol can go up, which is really common in the menopause. A lot of women find that their cholesterol starts to rise quite quickly as they go through the menopause.
We know that falling oestrogen can affect the electrical system of the heart as well. This means that some women experience fluctuations with their heartbeat, similar to palpitations they either miss a beat or get two heartbeats very close together. This can be a really horrible one; I’ve experienced it myself and it really does feel like you’re having a heart attack.
Weight gain can be an issue as well and that's going to have an impact. If you're eating the wrong foods, it's going to raise your cholesterol; but, also, putting on too much weight can affect your blood pressure. And, if you also have problems with the arteries expanding, such as the big coronary arteries, then you can end up with high blood pressure as well.
Other risk factors
And there are other risks, too.
There can be familial ones. If members of your family are predisposed to heart attacks, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, then you may be slightly more vulnerable as you start to go through the menopause.
Smoking is a huge issue here too, as I’m sure we’re all aware. Falling oestrogen can also make you more susceptible to diabetes. Diabetes can also be associated with heart problems; so, as you can see, there are a number of issues, such as diet and falling hormones, which can mount up and potentially increase your risk.
How do you know if something is wrong with your heart?
The problem with knowing whether or not something is wrong with your heart is that, in menopause, very often oestrogen can decrease quite slowly. This can mean you’re not necessarily aware of any changes to your heart, your blood pressure or anything else that’s going on because these changes are so subtle. And, for some women, there are no symptoms at all.
You might not realise that there's anything wrong, but there can be one or two symptoms that might just give the game away. It can be things like chest pain – this is not so much pain when you’re breathing, just if you feel that there is an ache or you’re getting regular pain.
You might find that you're getting shortness of breath. You could be getting more puffed out if you’re climbing up a hill or if you’re climbing up the stairs. Dizziness can be another factor too, and some people find that their ankles or legs can swell up. If you get any of these symptoms, then it is really important to get them checked out by your doctor.
There can be loads of other causes for these symptoms during the menopause. They can be directly related to the menopause itself rather than being linked to the heart. But, it's really important to get these things checked out as soon as you can.
How to keep your heart healthy during menopause
So, how can you keep your heart healthy during the menopause? We're looking at a number of things here.
Balance your hormones
If low oestrogen is part of the problem, then, balancing and gently raising oestrogen is going to beneficial for most women. So, if it’s appropriate, you could look at our Menopause Support remedy. This can help to just gently balance oestrogen levels.
This is vital – look at your diet. High salt, high sugar, high caffeine and highly saturated fats are all going to be contributory factors to watch out for. If you look at your diet, include more healthy fats – things like fish oils are absolutely great here.
If you’re vegan or vegetarians, though, you can look at flaxseed oil. You can also include lots of vegetables and a little bit of fruit in your diet, as well as pulses and healthy grains.
If you're vegetarian or vegan, you can look at flaxseed oil. You can look at having loads of vegetables, a little bit of fruit, a good varied diet. Also, look at things like your pulses and healthy grains as well. Keep your salt to a minimum too – you do need salt, but you also need to stick within the recommended daily allowance which, in the UK, is 6 grams.
If you do like a little bit of salt, go for sea salt. The reason being is that sea salt is a more comprehensive salt. Table salt these days is highly processed. White table salt is a bit like white bread, you want to go for the healthier option. In terms of salt, this would be things like sea salt or Himalayan rock salt. These are salts that you can include in your daily diet.
Look at exercise. This is vital for keeping your heart healthy. There should be a little bit of stress put on the heart when you’re exercising; but, if you’ve not exercised for a long time, and you’re in the menopause, get your heart health check first before you jump straight into it.
The second thing is, obviously, don’t go mad with exercise. Just start things off really, really slowly to keep things going. We also know that a lot of women suffer from joint pain and fatigue in the menopause.
So, if you’re really tired, your joints are achy and your get-up-and-go has gone, then it can be very difficult to motivate yourself to exercise. In these situations, it's still important to keep as active as you can, so even a 15 minute walk every day, as brisk as you can manage it, will help to keep your heart healthier than if you were doing nothing but sitting all day.
Again, stress is a huge one for the heart and we know an awful lot of menopausal women end up with stress palpitations which can be as frightening as your hormonal heart palpitations. So, make sure that you get on top of stress. We have lots of lovely stress remedies and I’ve done a number of blogs on how to look after yourself and keep stress to a minimum, so it’s well worth another look here.
Smoke less or quit if you can
Try to stop smoking. I know this is a difficult one and most people do need a little bit of help, but it's certainly worth it as far as your heart health is concerned, both in the menopause and post-menopause.
Watch your alcohol intake
Limit alcohol as well. This is another known baddie for the heart.
Get your blood pressure and your cholesterol checked regularly
Now, by regularly, I don't mean every week. Please don't go out and buy one of those blood pressure monitors because you can end up getting obsessive about it. You can end up worrying about the slightest little variation. If you're worried at all, see your doctor.
Ask how often you should be tested. For the majority of women, probably every six months would be absolutely fine. Changes can occur quite quickly in the menopause, so it's better doing it slightly early rather than waiting for a year or every two years.
Support your heart
The other thing you can look at, if you want a nice gentle remedy for protecting and supporting heart health, is the herb hawthorn. This is known to be a lovely, gentle one for the heart. It can also help with high and low blood pressure, so this is a nice one in that it's a balancing herb.
It can take three to six months to show benefits, though, so if you need some kind of treatment really quickly, then this is not one to go on for an immediate fix. This is something you can look at taking long term.
I hope you found this one helpful. It's an important one because not everybody realises that their heart can be affected and the fact that there's, very often, few symptoms that will actually let you know there's anything going on.
So, just be aware of everything here. Be aware of your heart health and, as I said before, if you are worried about anything, then please just go and see your doctor and get a quick check-up.