Do you know when women are at an increased risk of metabolic syndrome? You’ve got it: menopause and postmenopause. The prevalence of this condition is believed to be at least partly responsible for the significantly higher risk for cardiovascular disease among women postmenopause. What do you need to know about menopause and metabolic syndrome?
What is metabolic syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is a combination of abdominal obesity, insulin resistance, and dyslipidemia, which is abnormally high cholesterol and lipids (fats). According to the National Institutes of Health, women who have at least of these five issues are usually diagnosed with metabolic syndrome:
- Increased accumulation of body fat around the abdominal area resulting in a waist measurement of at least 35 inches.
- High levels of triglycerides in the bloodstream: 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or greater.
- Low levels of good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, HDL) of less than 50 mg/dL.
- Fasting blood sugar (glucose) of 126 mg/dL or higher.
- Blood pressure of 130/85 mmHg or higher.
This cluster of conditions places women at greater risk of stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
What is the association between menopause and metabolic syndrome?
A greater understanding of the association between menopause and metabolic syndrome can help the medical community identify better ways to avoid metabolic syndrome and the consequences women face during menopause and postmenopause. Yet exactly how estrogen changes are related to metabolic syndrome is not clear. It’s also unclear whether going through menopause raises the risk of cardiovascular disease in all women going through menopause or just those who develop signs of metabolic syndrome.
Here’s a sample of what investigators have found thus far. In a Canadian study, for example, it was shown that the chance of developing metabolic syndrome is up to 38 percent among postmenopausal women. This highly significant percentage is one great reason why all women in their menopausal years need to take action to protect themselves against metabolic syndrome and its consequences.
In a study appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, more than 900 women free of metabolic syndrome were followed for nine years, from premenopausal years through menopause. After they transitioned into menopause, the women were nearly 25 percent more likely to develop the syndrome than they were before.
Researchers believe among the most significant factors that contribute to a high risk of metabolic syndrome in postmenopausal women are the increased percentage of overall body fat, a loss of lean muscle tissue, and a redistribution of fat in the abdominal area. All of this is partly but not completely associated with the dramatic decline in estrogen.
How can you manage metabolic syndrome naturally?
Preventing and managing metabolic syndrome requires lifestyle changes. The sooner women begin to make those changes, the better. Here are some of the suggestions.
- The dramatic decline in estrogen levels is often accompanied by an increase in visceral fat, a persistent fat that is stored in the abdominal area. This type of fat is more difficult to lose than subcutaneous fat, which is more common before menopause. To help prevent or reduce abdominal visceral fat, it’s important to avoid gaining weight and to increase physical exercise.
- Cut out simple carbs, such as white flour products, refined grains, fried foods, alcohol, and anything with added sugar. The Mediterranean diet, DASH, and flexitarian diets are three of the top-rated diets for heart and overall health.
- Get at least 30 minutes of physical exercise daily. If you can’t find time to do 30 minutes at one time, break it up into two or three sessions during the day. A brisk walk or jog, using the stairs, a spin on a stationary bike, or jumping rope can be done in short spurts.
- Lose weight if you need to. Even a 7 to 10 percent reduction in weight can help reduce both your blood sugar and blood pressure levels.
- Practice stress reduction activities daily. In addition to yoga, deep breathing, visualization, massage, and tai chi, try writing in a journal, starting a new fun hobby, spending time in nature, or taking dance or singing lessons. Such activities can also help boost your self-esteem and creativity, which in turn can enhance your mood.
When to see your doctor
The factors involved in metabolic syndrome can be challenging for some women to manage. If you have not had your yearly physical or seen a doctor to have your blood pressure, blood sugar, or complete blood count done, you should do so as soon as possible. Knowing where you stand can help you navigate and improve your metabolic health.
Metabolic syndrome affects a significant number of women who are transitioning from menopause to postmenopause. You can take steps to help prevent and reduce the impact of the factors that can affect your cardiovascular and overall health.