Menopause and Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome, also called insulin resistance syndrome, is a cluster of five related health conditions that increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. In general, there are no specific physical signs that you have metabolic syndrome, but the results of biomarker tests will determine if you are at risk.
Women, particularly postmenopausal women, are at high risk if they have three or more of the five risk factors: high blood glucose, low HDL, obesity, high triglycerides, and high blood pressure.
1. Blood Glucose
Excess sugar running through your body can cause damage to blood vessels, resulting in a myriad of health issues. Then, blood vessel damage can cause a blood clot that turns into a heart attack or stroke. Chronic high blood sugar can lead to kidney disease. Your pancreas makes insulin, and when your body becomes resistant to insulin, pre-diabetes can occur and progress to type 2 diabetes if not treated. Your doctor can test your risk factor; numbers higher than 100 mg/dL warrant further intervention by your provider.
2. HDL Cholesterol
High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is “good” cholesterol. A robust level may protect against heart attack or stroke, as HDL carries Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, from the heart to the liver, where it is broken down. The HDL numbers that may cause concern are less than 50 mg/dl for women.
Triglycerides are a type of fat that comes from stored foods in your body. The body stores the excess energy, so when you need the energy, it is released. High levels of triglycerides can raise the risk of heart disease. A triglyceride level of 150 mg/dL is a risk factor for metabolic syndrome.
4. Waist Circumference
If you tend to store fat deposits around your middle section, scientists have concluded that this may increase the risk of triglycerides and lower levels of HDL cholesterol. Overall, obesity increases the risk of metabolic syndrome. You have this risk factor if your waist circumference measures 35 inches or more.
5. Blood Pressure
Your heart is like a pump that keeps the blood flowing through your body. If blood pressure is high, the heart works extra hard, and the flow can impact arteries and organs. The decline of estrogen in menopause can cause high blood pressure or hypertension. It can also lead to the buildup of blockages in the blood vessels. Blood pressure over 130/85 mm/Hg can cause your heart and blood vessels not to work as effectively.
Does Menopause Raise the Risk of Metabolic Syndrome?
According to a study from Canada, menopause is associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome. Menopausal women showed significant increases in impaired blood sugar, elevated blood pressure, and increased triglycerides, all markers for metabolic syndrome.
The cause of metabolic syndrome is unknown, but a lack of exercise, genetics, and obesity can add to its development. Researchers found that menopausal women were at a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Metabolism slows as we age, contributing to weight gain. Women gain an average of 1.5 pounds annually, which can creep up over the years if not mitigated.
During menopause, estrogen levels drop, and that also causes fat to redistribute to the belly, another risk factor for metabolic syndrome. In addition, the estrogen drop causes fat cells to store even more fat deposits. Research has also shown that a decline in estrogen can increase the risk for cardiovascular diseases, meaning the lipoproteins increase the development of the hardening of the arteries. This condition can lead to heart attacks or strokes when the arteries can not process the blood effectively. So, while menopause does not actually cause metabolic syndrome, it does impact the five risk factors.
Preventing Metabolic Syndrome During Menopause
Metabolic syndrome is a lifestyle disease, meaning your health habits directly impact your chances of getting the disease. Obesity is the main risk factor, as being overweight contributes to cholesterol and high blood pressure levels. As a risk factor, menopause is associated with the redistribution of body weight to the abdominal area. Premenopause and perimenopause are the best times to engage in healthy lifestyle behaviors to prevent Metabolic Syndrome, but it’s never too late to start in postmenopause. The risk factors are reversible, giving you control over your health.
Managing weight is the single best thing to do to prevent your risk of metabolic syndrome. Pivotal lifestyle recommendations include:
- Eating a healthy diet with fewer fats and carbohydrates
- Giving up smoking
- Limiting excess alcohol intake
- Maintaining a healthy weight
If you already have three of the five risk factors, being especially vigilant about lifestyle changes can have an impact. You may want to track your “numbers” with your healthcare provider on a scheduled basis to see if your efforts are moving the risk factors in the right direction.
Also, talk to your provider to learn if medical therapies are warranted to decrease cholesterol or high blood pressure. Most importantly, gradually increase exercise and make healthy changes in your diet. A consistent and concerted effort toward positive habits will help decrease your risk factors for metabolic syndrome.
Sara Egnatz BSN, RN-BC is a registered nurse and a freelance health writer.
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