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Hormonal changes during menopause may cause cholesterol to rise, study finds

Hormonal changes during menopause may cause cholesterol to rise, study finds
Elevated "bad" cholesterol levels in menopausal women may result from hormone changes, a new study suggests. Photo by silviarita/Pixabay

May 12 (UPI) -- About 10% of the rise of bad cholesterol women experience during menopause is caused by shifts in sex hormones, meaning hormone replacement therapy could help, a study published Thursday found.

Menopause was associated with changes in levels of 85 metabolites, with up to 11% increases in low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol, also called "bad" cholesterol, the data presented Thursday by the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology showed.

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These changes, which also included increases in triglycerides, fatty acids and amino acids, appeared to occur in tandem with declines in estrogen and rises in follicle-stimulating, or hair-growth, hormone seen in women experiencing menopause, the researchers said.

Changes in estrogen and follicle-stimulating hormone levels accounted for roughly 10% of the rise in bad cholesterol in these women, and their effects may be reversed at least somewhat through hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, according to the researchers.

RELATED Tough menopause may signal future heart issues, study says

"This study links hormonal changes during menopause to metabolic alterations that promote heart disease," study co-author Eija K. Laakkonen said in a press release.

"Menopause is unavoidable, but it is possible that the negative metabolite shift can be diminished by eating healthily and being physically active," said Laakkonen, a research fellow at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland.

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Women usually experience menopause between ages 48 and 52, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

RELATED Study: Postmenopausal women have higher bad cholesterol levels

Menopause causes drops in estrogen and increase in follicle-stimulating hormone, or FSH, and may increase a woman's risk for heart disease, since it typically develops 10 years later than in men, the organization says.

Previous studies have shown that menopause is associated with heart disease-promoting levels of certain metabolites, including LDL, or "bad" cholesterol.

However, in this study, which included 218 women in menopause, these metabolite shifts were partially reversed by HRT, which also appeared to raise high-density lipoprotein, or "good" cholesterol levels, in some of the women, the researchers said.

The findings are based on tests of blood samples collected from participants every three to six months until they reached early post-menopause, or no periods for over six months and elevated FSH levels on at least two consecutive occasions, they said.

Among all study participants, 35 started HRT during the study, according to the researchers.

"Regarding HRT, very strong conclusions cannot be drawn solely based on our ... study since the number of women starting therapy was small and the type of drug was not controlled," Laakkonen said.

"Nevertheless, our findings indicate that initiating HRT early into menopause, [or] during the menopausal transition, offers the greatest cardioprotective effect," she said.

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