Declining oestrogen levels during menopause increase a woman’s risk of developing heart disease. But what most women don’t realise is that hypothyroidism also causes high cholesterol which can result in coronary heart disease.
Menopause and the Risk of Heart Disease
Have you had your cholesterol levels checked recently?
If you’re a woman in your forties, chances are you’ve entered perimenopause, the years in the lead up to menopause when hormone levels, particularly oestrogen, are in decline.
Studies have shown that oestrogen plays a positive role in protecting women against coronary heart disease (CHD) by lowering LDL cholesterol, raising HDL cholesterol and supporting blood vessel walls.
This may explain why women under the age of 55 have a lower risk of developing heart disease than men. But after the menopause women lose the hormonal protection of oestrogen and their risk of developing CHD rises and becomes equal to that of men.
High Cholesterol and Hypothyroidism
I had no worries about my cholesterol levels as I am on bio-identical HRT, which includes oestrogen, and I thought I would be protected.
But my latest blood test results revealed that I have high cholesterol. Here in the UK, patient guidelines suggest aiming for a Total Cholesterol (TC) level of 5.0 mmol/L or less. My TC level is 7.1 mmol/L.
The test results also showed that I am iron deficient (again) and my thyroid is underactive. And to top it all, my blood pressure is high.
I have to admit that this news came as a bit of a shock as I exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet.
My GP thinks that my high cholesterol and high blood pressure are probably a result of my hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and I hope she’s right.
The Risk of Hypothyroidism during Perimenopause
Thyroid problems are very common during perimenopause and postmenopause. Approximately 26% of women in or near perimenopause are diagnosed with hypothyroidism. And 20% of women older than forty with high cholesterol levels have underactive thyroids.
There is a direct link between hypothyroidism and heart disease, including a general weakening of the heart muscle and coronary atherosclerosis (furring up of the arteries).
According to Dr Ridha Arem, author of The Thyroid Solution, an underactive thyroid causes or worsens hyper-cholesterolemia, which could result in coronary heart disease (hardening of the arteries of the heart).
The problem is that the symptoms of hypothyroidism are very similar to that of perimenopause and it may be difficult for women to differentiate between them.
Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Irregular periods
- Reduced libido
- Muscle aches and pains
- Weight gain
- Poor memory
- Mood swings
- Poor concentration.
There are many more, but any women over the age of forty will be able to tell you that these are also common symptoms of perimenopause. How can you tell them apart?
Hypothyroidism and Brain Fog
This is what happened to me. For months I’ve been complaining of brain fog and fatigue. I’ve been finding it really difficult to concentrate and have been unable to focus on my work and what I want to achieve. Hell, some days I find it difficult to string a coherent sentence together or formulate a clear thought.
For a while I thought it was just another symptom of the menopause – after all, it is meant to affect brain function. But I couldn’t understand why I was taking bio-identical hormones and still experiencing negative menopausal symptoms.
In recent months the one thing that’s changed is that I’ve doubled my oestrogen dosage. Thinking I may be oestrogen dominant I returned to the original low dose and waited for mental clarity to arrive.
I’m still waiting, so that obviously wasn’t it. That’s when I decided it was time to ask my doctor for a blood test to check my thyroid function.
Treatment for Hypothyroidism and High Cholesterol
Research has shown that correcting low-grade hypothyroidism will result in a lowering of both total cholesterol and ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels.
My GP has increased my daily thyroxin dose and advised me to cut down on the amount of saturated fat in my diet from meat and dairy products.
It’s only been a week since I increased my thyroxin dosage so I’ve noted a minute improvement in my energy levels. Writing this article has been a real struggle as I’m still finding it difficult to formulate my thoughts in a coherent fashion.
But the more I discover about the link between menopause, hypothyroidism and high cholesterol the more certain I feel that correcting my thyroid function will improve my brain function and reduce my risk of heart disease.
Check Your Cholesterol Levels
If you are a woman in your forties or above I urge you to have your cholesterol levels checked. It’s just a simple blood test. If they’re high it could be a symptom of hypothyroidism.
And if you’re experiencing any of the hypothyroidism symptoms I described above ask your doctor to check your thyroid function as well. Any underlying thyroid problem will only exacerbate your perimenopausal symptoms, so the sooner you get it checked out the better.
If you’re perimenopausal and have an underactive thyroid I’d love to hear how you are coping. Please leave a comment in the box below.
Photo: Thanks to Jo Christian Oterhals on Flickr.com