person holding notepad and pen journaling
| | |

My Cholesterol-Lowering Journey (Part 1)

I decided that my quest to get heart healthy (aka my cholesterol-lowering journey) should be shared publicly. Mostly to help you, women in midlife during changing hormones, but also to hold myself accountable. And since it’s February, it seems fitting to share what I’m learning so we can get heart-healthy together.

I had a physical in October 2023 and was anxious to learn the results of my bloodwork. My cholesterol had been climbing slowly during my 50s, and I knew I needed to improve my lifestyle choices.

My total cholesterol was slightly over 200 in 2022, and this increase started to get my attention. But, I’ll remind you that this was during COVID and I was stressed out working as a nurse in healthcare. Truth be told, it was difficult some days to remember to prioritize my health. However, I made small adjustments to my diet and exercise routine and felt fairly confident my numbers would improve.

To my surprise, I had a physical in 2023 which showed my total cholesterol was 248 and my LDL was 148. I thought, ‘What the heck??’ The good news is that my HDL was also elevated (that’s a good thing) with a result of 82 and my triglycerides were within normal at 70. I attribute this to my regular walking and running some days to hit 10,000 – 15,000 steps regularly. But clearly, I needed to work on my diet to correct my total cholesterol and LDL levels. See the chart below for what the numbers mean.

cholesterol chart

Declining Estrogen and Heart Disease

It’s pretty well known that estrogen declines during menopause. However, many women are less aware that estrogen is not only responsible for fertility but also protects against heart disease. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that heart disease increases after menopause.

It’s also worth mentioning that historically, women haven’t been well represented in clinical trials of heart-related conditions. You may not be educated on reportable symptoms and treatment of heart disease at your doctor’s office or in the emergency room of your local hospital may be different than men’s. The good news is that the culture is slowly changing and gaps are starting to close.

Clearly, my early menopause at age 44 (average age-51) contributed to my rising cholesterol. The earlier you go through menopause, the larger health problems you are at risk for. Unfortunately, my peri-menopause, fluctuating and ultimately, plummeting estrogen most likely started in my late 30s.

For many women, going through menopause means cholesterol changes for the worse. Research shows that heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. Over 60 million (44%) women in the U.S. are living with some form of heart disease.

Knowing your cholesterol numbers and when your peri-menopause journey starts is important. Making changes as early as possible will benefit your heart health. A discussion with your doctor about lifestyle changes and possibly starting hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may be needed. Since I’m 15 years post-menopausal, HRT is probably not an option for me. But it will be part of a bigger, more in-depth conversation with my physician.

See my symptom tracker on my RESOURCES page as a tool to help with identifying symptoms and talking to your physician about solutions. And remember it’s never too late to get healthy!

How to Manage Elevated Cholesterol

To improve my cholesterol, it was suggested that I make healthier food choices and increase my exercise. I would also need to get my bloodwork checked in six months after making these changes. Additionally, I was given a prescription for a coronary calcium score test, also called a heart scan. It’s a CT scan of your heart that takes detailed images of the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle.

When given a new diagnosis or poor test results, patients are confused about what improvements to make to their lifestyle. Most admit they aren’t given specific changes to make and without proper support, they usually go back to old unhealthy habits.

The plethora of health information out there is extremely confusing for many people. Once you start searching for something on the internet, it’s difficult to know who to trust and follow. Or, let’s be honest, even remember what you initially went on the computer to search. Reach out to me if you would like to know how I can support you.

What Does a Coronary Calcium Score Show?

The coronary calcium images will show calcium deposits I may have in my coronary arteries. I will also get a score, and the higher the score, the more at risk I am for heart disease. My doctor will get the results a day or 2 after the test. These results along with the repeat bloodwork will help me and my doctor decide if prescription medication is necessary along with additional lifestyle choices.

red and yellow bird figurine

Lifestyle Changes to Improve My Cholesterol

  • DIET IMPROVEMENTS: I mainly strive to eat a Mediterranean diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low amounts of processed foods and refined carbohydrates. I recognize that I cannot be too strict or I won’t make lasting changes. I indulge on special occasions with dessert so I don’t feel like I’m missing out. I’ve also increased my fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids (healthy fats) which are shown to help lower cholesterol. I start the day by putting Spectrum Essentials ground flaxseed in my oatmeal as well as blueberries and walnuts. All are rich in fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids.
  • MOVEMENT: Fortunately, I’ve always loved exercising. But to help with declining muscle mass, I recently added 20 minutes of weight training 2-3 times a week.
  • SUPPLEMENTS AND HERBS: I’ve been taking Fish Oil for a few years which may explain, along with my walking and running, why my triglycerides level was ok. I will continue taking this supplement as well as adding turmeric, ginger, and additional garlic to my diet.

You can also check out my blog post ‘Five Ways to Stay Heart Healthy in Menopause’ for additional information. Knowing this information is important but putting these practices in place is even more critical.

weight loss tips

Ask For What You Need

Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor specific questions about what to change or add to improve your health. See if they have printouts to guide you or reputable websites to visit. Also, ask if there is additional support available to help you succeed in your decision to become healthier. Many local hospitals offer wellness classes and support groups specific to certain health conditions. And, be thankful if you are in your 50s and still menstruating – at least when it comes to the protection estrogen is providing.

I’ll be back with my coronary calcium score results and my repeat bloodwork in part 2 of my cholesterol-lowering journey. I’ll also let you know how I’m doing following better food choices, consistent exercise as well as regularly adding anti-inflammatory herbs and spices to my diet. Reach out if you would like to know how I can give you the support you deserve on your quest to become healthier! Subscribe to my newsletter to get monthly women’s health updates as well as alerted to part 2 of my cholesterol-lowering journey.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *