to the NIH, heart disease — not breast cancer — is the number one killer of women.

Ladies, listen up here are some important statistics from the American Heart Association:

  • “An estimated 43 million women in the U.S. are affected by heart disease.
  • 1 in 31 American women die from breast cancer each year, but 1 in 3 die of heart disease.
  • Only 1 in 5 American women believes that heart disease is her greatest health threat.”

Love is in the air this month, so I reached out to Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, the Executive Director of the North American Menopause Society and Professor of Ob-Gyn at the University of Virginia to help us learn how to heart our hearts!

Heart disease risk increases with age, but for women often symptoms can also become more evident after the onset of menopause. I asked Dr. Pinkerton to explain the role that our hormones play in our heart health.

“The decline in estrogen may be a factor in the increased heart disease seen in postmenopausal women. There may be a critical window of timing with the heart in that women within 10 years of menopause benefit from estrogen. Those who are older with already developed atherosclerotic plaque may be worsened with estrogen. Estrogen may decrease total cholesterol, decrease plaque formation or improve the inner layer of the artery wall.”

Since estrogen plays such a crucial role in our heart health, in order for you to base your healthcare decisions on facts instead of fears, (especially if heart disease is in you or your family’s health history), I asked Dr. Pinkerton to give us the facts on hormone therapy.

“Fear is a powerful force. When the results of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) were first released in 2002, they led to fear with many women discontinuing their hormones and many providers being afraid to prescribe. Since that time, we have learned many important pieces of information. Experts agree now that women who are under 60 and within 10 years of menopause may have a benefit over risk for hormone therapy.”

Dr. Pinkerton listed the following ways to increase the safety of hormone therapy:

  1. “For women at risk of blood clot or stroke, transdermal may be safer.
  2. There appears to be less breast cancer risk with natural micronized progesterone over synthetic medroxyprogesterone acetate, the progestin tested in the WHI.
  3. Women with premature menopause (surgical or natural) have higher risks of heart disease, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s disease and dementia which go back to normal risk if given estrogen therapy until at least average age of menopause (51-52).
  4. Hot flashes themselves are more than just a nuisance and may increase the risk of heart disease and dementia. Treatment at menopause MAY help decrease these risks.
  5. Hormone therapy when started in older women, appears to increase the risk of heart disease and dementia, particularly those 70 and over.”

We know that genetics and family health history contributes to a women’s heart disease risk. For the most part, these are out of our control. However, Dr. Pinkerton wanted to be sure to impart her top 5 health tips that we can all easily implement into our heart health regime:

Eat healthy- a Mediterranean diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, fresh fish (tuna, herring with omega-3 fatty acids). Avoid excess salt, saturated fats, sweets, and red meat. Keep your blood sugar and cholesterol levels within normal limits.

Handle your stress- find a way to relax that works for you. Mindfulness, meditation, yoga, music, aromatherapy. Avoid strong emotions of anger and hostility.

Regular exercise- 30 minutes per day, but it can be in small times allotments. Find those “exercise moments”. Avoid being sedentary! Move around when you talk on the phone or use a treadmill desk. Do short exercises in the morning for 7 min to ‘jumpstart’ your day.

Don’t smoke or quit if you do smoke. Don’t think about quitting! Quit! Even a few cigarettes per day increased your risk of heart disease.

Know your “numbers” Monitor your blood pressure, your cholesterol and your blood sugars. If any of these are elevated, find a way to bring it down- mindfulness, stress management, lose weight or take medication if nothing else works.”

Now that you understand the role estrogen plays in your heart health and you have some helpful tips on how to stay heart healthy, be sure that you have a good Menopause Specialist to help you on your healthy aging journey.

This American Heart Month, pay special attention to the one thing that keeps us living and loving, our hearts.

My motto: Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!

Click here to download my free eBook, MENOPAUSE MONDAYS The Girlfriend’s Guide To Surviving and Thriving During Perimenopause and Menopause.

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