High cholesterol, also known as hypercholesterolemia, is often associated with men. But this doesn’t mean that it cannot affect women. Female hormone estrogen may give extra protection so premenopausal women are less likely to develop the condition. But when going through menopause, this hormone declines and the cholesterol level will increases easily.
Cholesterol, a fatlike substance, is naturally produced in the liver. It’s required to help serve some functions in the body. For example, healthy-balanced cholesterol level is required for the production of certain hormones, vitamin D, and plays a part for the formation of cell membranes. So cholesterol is not always bad.
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You can also get cholesterol from your diet. There are lots of foods that can boost you cholesterol up. The main ones are foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol – typically foods of animal origin such as red meat, egg-yolk, and high-fat dairy products.
And when there are more cholesterols than your body needs, this can lead to a number of health conditions. High cholesterol in the blood can lead to a dangerous plaque (a hardened buildup of cholesterol and fat) to form in your arteries.
The effect of the condition takes years or even decades to develop. So it doesn’t kill you today or tomorrow. Over time the plaque will clog the blood vessel which may end with a clogged artery like a blocked pipe.
The complication is dependent on where the clogged artery occurs. If it affects artery that carries blood to the brain, you may have a stroke. And if it occurs in your coronary artery, the consequences could be heart disease and heart attack.
To travel through bloodstream, cholesterol needs to attach to particles called lipoproteins – otherwise it cannot travel through the body because it doesn’t dissolve in the water. Lipoproteins are categorized into two main forms:
- LDL (also known as bad cholesterol), which stands for low-density lipoproteins. It is your main target to reduce in your cholesterol diet.
- HDL, high-density lipoproteins. Unlike LDL, HDL is good for your cardiovascular system since it can help carry LDL back to the liver for elimination. Therefore it is also called as good cholesterol.
There is no symptom of high cholesterol. The only way to know it is by taking a blood test to check it. In general, blood test for cholesterol is recommended at least once every five years.
Normally, your LDL level should be around 100 to 129 mg /dL (lower is better) – and 40 to 60 mg /dL for HDL (higher is better). From your LDL and HDL, you can get the number of your total cholesterol. Normal total cholesterol level is less than 200 mg /dL.
Menopause is a normal condition that signal the end of your childbearing age (typically confirmed when you have missed your periods for more than a year and there is no another obvious cause)! So actually it is not a disease.
This natural event is associated with decreased functioning of your reproductive ovaries due to aging. Your ovaries will start making less menstrual hormones (estrogen and progesterone) as you approach the late 30s. For such case, you go into a phase called pre-menopause (a natural biological process that precedes menopause). Your fertility declines during pre-menopause, but you can still get pregnant!
When does menopause occur? The answer varies, but on average it is usually found at the age of 50s (especially between ages 45 and 55). The phase after menopause is called post-menopause – here your estrogen becomes very low.
While high cholesterol is quite rare in women of childbearing age, it is common in postmenopausal women. Even during and after menopause, regular exercise and heart-healthy diet may be not enough to control your cholesterol.
Estrogen is highest in your childbearing age. On the other hand, it declines significantly after menopause. Since premenopausal woman have enough estrogen, they have higher HDL than men and less likely to have hypercholesterolemia.
The decline of estrogen is not the single answer. The following conditions can also increase the risk of high cholesterol and cardiovascular diseases in women with menopause: