Developing prevention strategies to reduce a certain kind of heart fat in postmenopausal women may lower their risk factors for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
A certain population of postmenopausal women may be at increased risk for heart disease.
A study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, was conducted by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. It evaluated data from 478 women in varying stages of menopause, including CT scans of the heart and blood samples. The women were an average of 51 years old, did not have a specific weight or blood pressure profile, and were not on hormone replacement therapy.
Can menopause affect your heart?
Researchers found that postmenopausal women with a higher volume of a specific type of fat surrounding the heart is associated with a higher risk for heart disease after menopause.
There are two types of fat that surround the heart. The first, epicardial fat, directly covers the heart tissue. It is located between the outside of your heart and the pericardium, or the membrane that encases your heart. Epicardial fat provides energy for your heart. The second type, paracardial (or pericardial) fat, is located outside the pericardium, and researchers have not yet uncovered any ways that it protects or supports your heart’s function.
In a previous study, the Pittsburgh team had discovered that a higher level of pericardial fat is linked to the decline in certain types of estrogen in postmenopausal women. The current study built on that research to examine the consequences of these higher volumes of fat around the heart.
The research showed that a higher volume of paracardial fat is not only common in postmenopausal women, it is also associated with an increased risk for coronary artery calcification, an early sign of heart disease. A high volume of epicardial fat is associated with an increased risk for other health concerns, like obesity, but is not directly linked to an increased risk of heart disease. It also appears to be less specifically associated with the hormonal changes associated with menopause.
Heart disease in women
In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women, accounting for approximately one in every four deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Heart Association estimates that 44 million American women suffer from cardiovascular disease, and 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for heart disease or stroke.
African-American and Hispanic women are especially at risk. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both groups, killing approximately 48,000 African-American women and 21,000 Hispanic women annually. Women in general have a higher lifetime risk of stroke than men do, and fewer women than men survive their first heart attack. In spite of this, women are often unaware of their risk for heart disease.
The study’s findings could help doctors identify women at risk for heart disease and recommend lifestyle changes that can decrease their chances of suffering from potentially fatal cardiovascular episodes, such as a heart attack or stroke.
“Developing prevention strategies to reduce cardiovascular fat in women at midlife may reduce their heart disease risk, especially knowing that the menopausal transition puts women at risk for excess fat around their hearts,” Samar R. El Khoudary, PhD, MPH, the study’s lead author, said. “Clearly there is a need for larger scale studies to determine the best intervention strategies to help postmenopausal women reduce fat near the heart.”
Previous research has found that postmenopausal women can reduce pericardial fat deposits by eating a moderate-calorie diet and increasing levels of exercise. Too much sedentary time, by contrast — such as sitting in front of the television or a computer for long periods of time during the day — is linked to higher levels of pericardial fat.
If you are postmenopausal and want to protect yourself against the danger of heart disease, eating a healthy diet and moving more may be two of the best places to start.
January 11, 2018
Janet O’Dell, RN