Women in menopause are at an increased risk of heart disease and cardiovascular issues, but there are many lifestyle activities you can do to significantly reduce that risk. Making dietary changes is a major step, and one of those food-related changes involves fiber intake.
A little bit about fiber
Fiber intake recommendations are 25 grams for women up to age 50 and 21 grams for those 51 years and older. Yet even with the slight reduction in recommended fiber intake among older women, most still do not meet the healthy daily amount.
Plant foods (fruits, vegetables, seaweed, beans, legumes, seeds, nuts, grains) are the sole sources of fiber, both soluble fiber (dissolves in water) and insoluble fiber (does not dissolve). Both types of fiber appear together in most plant foods.
Fiber also has other qualities: it can form a viscous gel (trait of soluble fiber), which aids digestion and binds to cholesterol so your body cannot absorb it. The cholesterol that is especially harmful is LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, and the smaller the particles are, the more dangerous they are. Paul Ziajka, MD, PhD, and a clinical lipidologist with Southeast Lipid Association, notes that the smaller LDL particles “are four times as likely to cause heart disease” than the larger ones. If your triglycerides reading is greater than 200, you likely have many of these smaller particles.
Fiber also may be fermentable, which means beneficial bacteria in the colon digest it and produce many byproducts that provide health benefits. For example, bacteria use fermentable fiber to produce short-chain fatty acids, which can help lower cholesterol.
The role of fiber in helping to prevent heart disease is believed to be associated with its ability to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure. It also fills you up, which can assist with appetite reduction and losing weight.
Fiber and heart disease
Researchers around the world have explored the benefits and effects of fiber on the risk of heart disease. Here are the findings of just a few of them.
One study involved systemic reviews and meta-analyses of carbohydrate quality and disease incidence and an effort to identify recommendations for intake of dietary fiber. The series involved 243 studies and 4,635 participants.
The reviewers found a 15 to 30 percent decrease in coronary heart disease, stroke, and deaths related to cardiovascular events among those who consumed the greatest amount of fiber when compared with those who ingested the least. Higher fiber intake also was associated with significantly lower body weight, systolic blood pressure, and total cholesterol, all risk factors for heart and cardiovascular diseases. The most beneficial range of dietary fiber intake was between 25 and 29 grams, which is slightly greater than the recommended daily fiber intake for women. Data from the study also indicated that higher intake of fiber could provide even more protection against cardiovascular diseases.
In a 2022 review and meta-analysis, scientists looked at the ability of fiber to impact high blood pressure. Increasing fiber in the diet lead to significant improvement in blood pressure in individuals with hypertension, regardless of the use of high blood pressure medications. Several factors seem to be at play here, such as the ability of fiber to reduce bad cholesterol (LDL, or low-density lipoprotein) and triglycerides, which improves the elasticity of blood vessel walls and thus lower pressure.
In an American College of Cardiology study, experts showed that a high-fiber diet can reduce cardiovascular risk in people with high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes by improving blood pressure, fasting glucose, and cholesterol levels. Both type 2 diabetes and hypertension are risk factors for heart disease. In this study, participants consumed more than 30 grams of fiber daily. The high fiber diet was associated with a 23 percent reduction in triglycerides, 15 percent reduction in systolic blood pressure, 9 percent reduction in cholesterol, and 28 percent reduction in fasting glucose.
Fiber can contribute to heart health in another way. Plant foods are typically very good sources of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants, many of which have anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is a major contributor to heart disease. A supplement, like Fiberus, can help you make sure you're getting between 25 and 35 g of fiber a day.
Fiber is an often forgotten nutrient that can play a significant part in helping women in menopause lower their risk of heart disease and cardiovascular disease. Boosting your fiber intake can provide several health benefits that protect your heart and overall health.