A woman’s risk of developing heart disease rises considerably when she reaches menopause, but a healthy lifestyle can do much to reduce the risk, researchers report.
Follow-up of menopausal women taking part in a diet and exercise trial showed slowing of atherosclerosis - plaque build-up in the arteries - according to an article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
The Woman’s Healthy Lifestyle Study demonstrated that such measures “could prevent the adverse cardiovascular risk factor changes that occur with menopause,” senior investigator Dr. Kim Sutton-Tyrrell of the University of Pittsburgh told AMN Health.
Ultrasound measurements were made of the thickness of the carotid artery walls twice over the course of four years in 353 women, 44 to 50 years of age. The participants were assigned to a lifestyle-intervention group or to an assessment-only “control” group.
In controls, artery wall thickness accelerated from an increase of 0.003 millimeters per year before menopause to 0.008 mm during and after menopause.
However, this 0.008 mm per year progression in controls was reduced to 0.004 mm per year in the intervention group.
The data, Sutton-Tyrrell concluded, “show that these lifestyle changes really do slow the progression of disease - atherosclerosis - and we can measure it.”
Also, she added, “Women in the intervention group avoided weight gain over a 4.5-year period and their LDL cholesterol did not rise.”
In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Nanette K. Wenger of Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta notes that the findings suggest the time around menopause offers a “unique opportunity for coronary risk reduction.”
It is worth investigating whether such an intervention started “later after menopause would provide similar benefit,” she adds.
SOURCE: Journal of the American College of Cardiology, August 4, 2004.
Revision date: June 11, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD