During the last few blogs we talked about the relationship between estrogen and one form of heart disease called atherosclerosis. Let’s talk about why estrogen is so important to a woman’s heart-health.
First off, artery walls are supposed to be smooth to allow blood to easily flow through. As we age, factors like high blood pressure, poor cholesterol levels, smoking, diabetes, genetic factors, poor diet, and lack of exercise contribute to plaque build-up inside the arteries. Some people get plaque really easily, and others don’t, but in either case, this plaque build-up sticks to the side of the artery wall, hardening the artery itself, and it starts blocking blood flow. Think of a garden hose. You’re watering your garden and the water pressure is really good. What if you were to lodge a rock or some other obstruction inside the hose? What would happen to the water pressure? Without a way through, the water pressure would drop significantly. Now think if that garden hose was your coronary artery pumping blood to your heart. Although not a perfect example, this is atherosclerosis, and it is a serious matter because unlike the rock in the garden hose, plaque build-up occurs slowly over time– and it does so silently; oftentimes it’s only discovered when it’s too late.
Now let’s talk about cholesterol. LDL is considered the “bad” cholesterol; it contributes to plaque build-up in the arteries. HDL is considered the “good” cholesterol, and it helps to keep arteries clear. A healthy individual should have a good balance of the two. We have found that estrogen helps keep LDL and HDL in balance. As women enter menopause (whether naturally or surgically) they are no longer producing the same amount of estrogen, so there is potential for LDL cholesterol levels to increase. When this happens, more plaque is being deposited in the coronary arteries, and the development of atherosclerosis accelerates. As we learned in the ELITE trials from the previous blogs, women who take estrogen in the form of Hormone Replacement Therapy within six years of the onset of menopause will slow the progression of atherosclerosis. If a woman waits longer, she might miss out on these heart benefits. And although estrogen cannot prevent all the different types of heart diseases out there from developing, it’s shown to slow down atherosclerosis, and that can save lives.
There are many factors that contribute to a healthy heart, so it’s important to keep your heart healthy on all levels. Come see us to talk about estrogen and, if necessary, we can send you to a blood drawing station to ascertain your current HDL/LDL cholesterol levels.