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With the sad news that Carrie Fisher (better known as Princess Leia from Star Wars) suffered a heart attack on a transatlantic fight during the Christmas period and died just days later, fortunately media are now rallying to raise awareness amongst women of the threat of heart disease.
The risk of heart disease post menopause
Interestingly, although the risk of cardiovascular disease increases for everyone as they get older, the increase is more age-dependent in women than in men. Pre-menopause, women generally have a lower risk than men of equivalent age, but post-menopause, this risk increases faster for women than for men. And an overall increase in heart attacks is seen for women about ten years after menopause. So what causes this turnaround in cardiovascular health above and beyond the normal effects of ageing?
The changing behaviour of women’s blood platelets during menopause
The change is linked to the effects of the hormone oestrogen on platelets and the body’s natural platelet control systems. As oestrogen levels drop over the course of the menopause, the body produces less of its most potent and important antiplatelet molecules, nitric oxide (NO) and prostacyclin. NO is responsible for calming blood platelets, which allows blood to circulate smoothly and keeps blood vessels relaxed, which also controls blood pressure. Without the natural cardioprotection provided by NO, this leads to increased blood pressure and blood platelets becoming stickier, for longer, in the circulation. The platelets themselves also stop producing an oestrogen receptor, which alters the way they are produced, their lifetime, and their numbers. Furthermore, during menopause, fat metabolism can alter and weight changes are common. Added to the changes in NO production and platelet behaviour, the body therefore faces an extremely challenging time.
Whilst HRT can reverse some of these effects, most notably on platelet numbers and NO production, which can help restore the body’s natural antiplatelet defences; HRT does not reverse all the platelet changes, so platelets are still stickier than before and can contribute to thrombosis – venous thrombosis (DVT) in particular.
How older women can better protect against the risk of heart disease
So what can women do to combat this risk? Understanding and managing blood flow and taking steps to keep it healthy, is a vital step in maintaining cardiovascular health throughout life. Taking care of it when you’re younger can ensure it will continue to flow smoothly into old age. Getting your blood pressure, blood sugars and cholesterol levels measured will give you a basic idea of what’s going on internally. On top of that, women should ensure regular exercise and good nutrition, and eliminate unhealthy habits such as smoking. Following a healthy lifestyle pre-menopause, and continuing doing so at menopause, lowers the risk for heart attack and stroke. Taking a daily dose of Fruitflow®+ Omega-3 can help to fill the gap in our natural defences as it works to smooth the blood platelets, and so helps to protect against their hyperactivity and unwanted blood clots.