Post-menopausal women have significantly greater volumes of fat around their hearts – a risk factor for heart disease – than their pre-menopausal counterparts, new research shows.
“Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women, and it increases after age 50 – the average age when a woman is going through menopause,” said lead author Samar El Khoudary, assistant professor at University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health in the US.
“By showing that menopause appears to be associated with a shift in fat deposits that leads to more fat around the heart, we have uncovered a new potential contributor to increased risk of cardiovascular disease in women,” El Khoudary said.
The finding, published online in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, could guide potentially life-saving interventions.
Weight gain in women during and after menopause has long been attributed to ageing, rather than menopause itself.
In the new research, El Khoudary and her team evaluated clinical data, including blood samples and heart CT scans, on 456 women in the US.
The women averaged about 51 years of age and were not on hormone replacement therapy.
As concentrations of the sex hormone estradiol – the most potent estrogen – declined during menopause, greater volumes of cardiovascular fat were found.
The finding held even after the team took into account the effects of age, race, obesity, physical activity, smoking, alcohol consumption, medication use and chronic diseases.
“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,” El Khoudary said.