Menopause and cholesterol

Menopause and Cholesterol: What You Need to Know

Did you know that menopause and cholesterol are closely related? This blog post will discuss the connection between them and treatments to help ensure it doesn’t cause health problems later in life.  

We will also provide some helpful tips on controlling cholesterol to reduce your risk of developing heart disease. 

Menopause and Cholesterol

During menopause, hormones fluctuate dramatically, leading to changes in metabolism and the way cholesterol is processed in the body.

Studies examining its relationship to menopause are ongoing, but it’s already clear that there is a connection between the two. 

Menopause Increases LDL Cholesterol

LDL cholesterol, also known as the ‘bad’ type, can build up in the arteries and cause blockages.

During menopause, estrogen levels drop sharply, which can cause an increase LDL. This is because estrogen helps remove it from the body, so levels may increase when hormone levels decrease. This buildup creates a significant risk for heart disease.

A review of 66 studies, that altogether included 114,465 women, found that post-menopausal women had higher triglyceride levels, higher LDL, and higher total cholesterol than premenopausal women.

What Else Can Affect Cholesterol Levels?

Besides menopause, there are several other factors that can increase the amount of LDL in your body, such as:

  • Genetics (like familial hypercholesterolemia)
  • Unhealthy eating
  • Type II diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Consuming alcohol 
  • Low physical activity
  • Smoking

How to Lower Cholesterol in Menopause

There are several actions you can take to help improve cholesterol levels and reduce any risk of heart disease.

Menopause and cholesterol Infographic

Eat a Well-Balanced Diet

For overall good health, but particularly to control cholesterol during menopause, you should eat a healthy diet with a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, lean or plant-based protein, complex carbohydrates, and moderate amounts of healthy fat.

Eat  Foods High in Soluble Fiber

Soluble fiber decreases cholesterol levels by binding with it and then excreting it from the body. Foods high in soluble fiber include:

  • Oats
  • Barley
  • Peas
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Citrus fruits
  • Beans (black beans, lima beans, white beans)
  • Chia seeds
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Flax seeds

Choose Healthy Fats

Unsaturated fats help decrease LDL building up in the body while increasing HDL cholesterol levels (also known as the ‘good’ type).

However, even these good fats need to be consumed in moderation.

Some examples of healthy unsaturated fats include:

  • Nuts (cashews, peanuts, almonds)
  • Avocados
  • Olive oil
  • Omega 3 (found in salmon, mackerel, flaxseed, flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts)

Limit Saturated Fats

Saturated fats can increase LDL levels. They are found in animal products, such as:

  • Meats, including beef, pork, veal, lamb
  • Processed meats, such as salami, ham, pepperoni, sausages
  • High-fat dairy products such as ice cream, whole milk, certain cheeses like cheddar cheese, parmesan
  • Tropical oils like coconut oil, palm oil
  • Butter, lard
  • Baked goods like croissants, pastries, desserts

Decrease Added Sugar and Sugary Drinks

Sugar is not a well-known direct cause of high cholesterol. But consuming too much sugar can lead to weight gain, which is a big risk factor.

What’s more, the way that sugary drinks are broken down and utilized in our bodies creates fatty acids. Also, sugary drinks don’t alert your brain to the fact that you have energy; therefore, it’s easy to over-consume calories and sugar without realizing it. Think about how easy it is to drink a 20-ounce bottle of soda.

To help lower cholesterol, aim to limit sugary foods and drinks, including:

  • Cakes
  • Candies
  • Cookies
  • Ice cream
  • Pies
  • Fruit juices with added sugars
  • Regular soda 

This may not be easy, especially with the increased sugar cravings that menopause brings. But don’t worry; here are our 11 Tips to Stop Menopause Sugar Cravings.

Limit Alcohol

Alcohol and cholesterol have a complicated relationship.

Moderate consumption of alcohol can result in higher amounts of HDL in the body. But, heavy drinkers are at an increased risk for high LDL and other chronic diseases, such as liver disease and cancer. 

If you do drink alcohol, the American Heart Association recommends that women have no more than one drink a day and men have no more than two drinks a day.

A standard drink measures:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer (about 150 calories)
  • Five ounces of wine (about 100 calories)
  • One and a half ounces of 80-proof liquor (about 100 calories)

However, this doesn’t mean you can no longer enjoy your favorite cocktails. Here are more than 15 alternatives to alcohol you can enjoy ― without the hangover

Lose Weight

Obesity can increase LDL cholesterol and decrease the beneficial HDL levels. Studies have shown that obesity affects the way cholesterol is created and absorbed. This results in an unhealthy buildup in the liver.

Weight loss can be an intimidating journey during menopause and perimenopause, particularly because the changes in your hormones during this time can make it more challenging. Weight loss after 40 is possible, but it takes a different approach.

Exercise

Women outdoor exercising

Physical activity is great for us in many ways. Exercise keeps the blood vessels healthy and improves blood flow, which has a protective effect against plaque build-up in the arteries. 

Exercise can also help raise HDL cholesterol.

Dietary Approaches

It can be daunting to decide which foods to include and exclude from your diet. If you struggle with planning your healthy diet you may prefer to follow specific diet plans.  

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is by far the one that experts recommend the most. 

This eating pattern focuses on an abundance of healthy food and on enjoying the meals. 

It’s a diet that is rich in seeds, nuts, olive oil, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats, and fish.

The components of the Mediterranean diet can decrease LDL and increase HDL cholesterol. It’s also widely known that this diet has a protective effect on heart health.

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Inflammation is linked to high cholesterol and heart disease. Therefore, an anti-inflammatory diet may help reduce the risk of heart disease.

The anti-inflammatory diet focuses on eating whole, unprocessed foods. This plan includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, and healthy fats.

Read more about the anti-inflammatory diet and get a meal plan here.

The Bottom Line

The decreased estrogen levels that women face during and after menopause can have a negative impact on their risk of high cholesterol, which increases the likelihood they will contract heart disease.

But high cholesterol and heart disease are not guaranteed. There are many ways to help you regulate your cholesterol levels, like a healthier lifestyle generally and dietary changes.

If the amount of LDL in your system is greater than it should be, talk to your healthcare provider to determine if medication is necessary to help control it.

“Menopause and Cholesterol: What You Need to Know” was written by Su-Nui Escobar, DCN, RDN, FAND, and soon-to-be Registered Dietitian Irene Mejia

References

Ambikairajah A, Walsh E, Cherbuin N. Lipid profile differences during menopause: A review with Meta-analysis. Menopause. 2019;26(11):1327-1333. doi:10.1097/gme.0000000000001403

Currie H. Menopause, cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. USC Journal. https://www.uscjournal.com/articles/menopause-cholesterol-and-cardiovascular-disease-0. Published December 10, 2020. Accessed May 27, 2022.

Familial hypercholesterolemia. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/genomics/disease/fh/FH.htm. Published February 10, 2022. Accessed May 27, 2022.

Surprising causes of high cholesterol. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/ss/slideshow-surprising-causes-high-cholesterol. Accessed May 27, 2022.

Team Hand V. Why a sweet tooth spells trouble for your heart. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/sweet-tooth-spells-trouble-heart/. Published December 28, 2021. Accessed May 27, 2022. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top