The finding could help explain why postmenopausal women have a much higher risk for heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular events than women who are still menstruating.
Menopause Raises LDL
Researchers followed 1,054 women in their 40s and early 50s who were still menstruating when they entered the study but had stopped by the time follow-up ended about nine years later.
They found that total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and a related protein known as ApoB rose substantially one year before to one year after a woman’s final menstrual period.
Even after considering the influence of age and other risk factors for rising cholesterol, the association was clear, lead researcher Karen A. Matthews, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh tells WebMD.
“You couldn’t miss it,” she says. “This study shows for the first time that the change in menstruation correlates directly with the change in cholesterol.”
The menopause-related increase was seen for all women in the study, regardless of their prior cardiovascular risk factors or their ethnicity, suggesting that menopause has a similar influence on blood lipid, or fat, levels for all women.
“The data really underscore the need to monitor LDL cholesterol levels as women age and enter the menopausal transition,” study co-author Kim Sutton-Tyrrell, PhD, said at a news conference held today.
Estrogen Drops, LDL Rises
“I don’t think this necessarily represents a change, but rather a reminder, that risk factors change at the time of menopause,” she tells WebMD. “Women should have their risk factors measured on a regular basis and discuss with their physicians what interventions are indicated.”
Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs may be needed if attempts to address rising lipid levels through lifestyle are not working, Matthews says.
“Most physicians would not start with statins before trying to make changes in lifestyle like following a healthier diet and increasing exercise,” she says.
Matthews says the rise in LDL cholesterol around the time of menopause is most likely linked to the drop in the hormone estrogen, which regulates the menstrual cycle.