Aging women experience menopause, a natural end of their menstruation cycle. Menopause is caused by declining reproductive hormones, estrogen especially.
Low estrogen levels lead to classic and common symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes, mood swings, and night sweats. Reduced reproductive hormones also increase the chance of developing more severe health consequences.
Menopause places greater risk of metabolic syndrome, which further increases the likelihood of other conditions such as heart disease in women.
What Is Metabolic Syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions shown to increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other health conditions. Diagnosing metabolic syndrome is based on National Cholesterol Education Adult Treatment Panel (ATP) III criteria.
Three or more of the five components in adults indicates metabolic syndrome:
• Fasting glucose: > 100 mg/dL
• High triglycerides (hypertriglyceridemia): > 150 mg/dL
• High-density lipoprotein (HDL): < 50 mg/dL for females and < 40 mg/dL for males
• Blood pressure: > 130/85 mmHg
• Waist circumference: > 35 for females and 40 for males
Research from the Journal of Mid-Life Health identifies metabolic syndrome risk factors include:
• Obesity, based on a body mass index equal to or greater than 30
• Body fat distribution
• Physical inactivity
• Excess caloric intake
• Unhealthy dietary habits
• Exposure to certain medications such as antipsychotics
• Family history
• Socioeconomic factors
• Low vitamin D levels
While metabolic syndrome can occur at any age and in any gender, pre- and postmenopausal women face great risk.
Heart Disease, Menopause & Metabolic Syndrome
Menopause is the ceasing of menstruation related to the natural decline in women reproductive hormones. It is signaled by 12 months following last menstruation and mostly experienced during ages 40s and 50s.
The ovary starts to decline in function and an egg is no longer released consistently each month. As women approach their late 30s, estrogen levels start to decline. These female-dominant sex hormones regulate menstruation and ovulation.
Declining estrogen levels are mostly responsible for the symptoms women experience, too. They are also at higher risk for a number of health conditions, including metabolic syndrome.
Higher Risk for Metabolic Syndrome
About 20 to 30 percent of the middle-aged population has metabolic syndrome. The risk increases amongst genders, as 8 to 24 percent occurs in males and 7 to 46 percent in females. What's more, studies have shown an increased risk of metabolic syndrome in postmenopausal women. These statistics vary from about 33 to 42 percent.
Truly, the prevalence of the metabolic syndrome may help explain greater risks of cardiovascular diseases after menopause. And according to the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, the menopausal transition is associated with many features of metabolic syndrome. These higher risk factors include:
1. Increased central (intra-abdominal) body fat.
The effects of weight on menopause is one of the greatest risk factors of compromised metabolic health. Postmenopausal women often experience changes in body fat storage and distribution.
They are more likely to carry excess weight as abdominal fat, which is also known as android obesity. Fat carried around the abdomen increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic health conditions.
2. A shift toward a more atherogenic lipid profile.
Atherogenic is a clinical term describing the formation of fatty plaques in the arteries. This is often caused by lipids, or fats, in the blood. Menopausal women often display the following:
• Increased low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol
• Increased triglycerides
• Reduced high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol
3. Increased glucose and insulin levels.
Menopausal women are at high risk of insulin resistance, a metabolic disorder in which cells do not respond well to insulin. They cannot easily take up glucose from the blood, thus leading to high blood sugars.
If insulin resistance is left uncontrolled, insulin resistance can result in prediabetes or type 2 diabetes over time. Insulin resistance can also develop into insulin resistance syndrome, which is linked to diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and other health conditions.
How to Prevent and Manage Metabolic Syndrome
Despite the higher risk and prevalence of metabolic syndrome in menopausal women, it can be prevented and managed.
This often includes lifestyle modifications, such as diet and exercise, that target the underlying causes and disease processes. Medications may also be recommended and prescribed.
Consult with a Doctor
First, consult with a doctor for professional assistance. Their medical expertise can help develop a personalized and safe plan of action. This may include medications for menopause, such as hormone replacement therapy (HT), and others that target blood levels.
They can also recommend appropriate lifestyle factors proven to combat metabolic syndrome and support overall healthy aging.
Adopt a Healthy Eating Pattern
Adopting a metabolic syndrome diet supports weight loss, including reducing central obesity. It also improves blood lipid and glucose levels.
Components of the Mediterranean diet has proven beneficial for metabolic syndrome and heart health. The diet encourages whole, plant-based foods and healthy fat sources. Healthy fats specifically include monounsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids, which are all considered to be anti-inflammatory nutrients.
A specific breakdown includes whole grains, cereals, fruits and veggies, legumes, nuts and seeds, olive and canola oils. Fresh herbs and spices are also used to offer extra nutrients and flavor without the need for salt.
Ultimately, fill the diet with whole foods rich in nutrients, including those offering fiber, protein, and healthy fat. Also limit the intake of processed foods laden in refined flour, sugar, oil, and salt.
Physical activity and exercise help prevent and metabolic syndrome by managing weight and lab levels, including blood pressure, lipids, and glucose.
When the body is active, muscles uptake glucose as available energy, in turn reducing circulating glucose in the blood. It can also help women lose weight, in turn improving insulin sensitivity. Research also shows people who are physically inactive significantly increase their risk of coronary death.
The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. This breaks down to 30 minutes weekly. Cardio exercises include brisk walking, jogging, biking, or any activity that elevates the heart rate.
Also incorporate strength training two or three times weekly to support a healthy body weight and composition. Focus on targeting all major muscle groups, including of the back, chest, core, legs, and arms.
Limit Alcohol Intake
Interestingly, evidence does show light to moderate alcohol intake may reduce cardiovascular mortality and the risks of diabetes. It may improve HDL cholesterol levels and insulin sensitivity, too.
But heavy, lifetime alcohol users may be toasting metabolic syndrome. Presented by the American Heart Association (AHA), research indicated a strong relationship between metabolic syndrome and alcohol intake.
Researchers found heavy drinkers have a 60 percent greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome than light drinkers! "Heavy drinkers" consumed more than four drinks a day for women or six for men. The "light drinkers" were those who generally took in only 1 to 1.5 drinks daily.
So if deciding to drink, men should limit alcohol intake to no more than two drinks daily. Women are limited to one. Stick to proper serving sizes, too. Standard drinking sizes include 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
Modify Other Lifestyle Factors
Diet and exercise are at the core of preventing and managing metabolic syndrome. However, other lifestyle factors also come into play. These include:
• Managing stress. Chronic stress can wreak havoc on emotional and physical health, including increasing the risk of metabolic syndrome. Practicing positive coping techniques, including yoga and meditation, can protect from chronic stress and its health consequences.
• Ensuring adequate sleep each night. Lack of sleep can lead to weight gain and negatively impact overall health. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults should sleep between 7 to 9 hours nightly. Adults aged 65 or older, though, are recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep nightly.
• Stopping smoking. Cigarettes are undeniably harmful to health, including the risks of cancer, heart disease, and death. So if you do smoke, there really is no better time to quit.