A recent study showed that overweight postmenopausal women with high blood levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL; "bad") cholesterol face the increased risk of atherosclerosis. The study included 21 postmenopausal women (average age 55 years) and 10 premenopausal women (average age 23 years). Despite being healthy, all the participants were inactive. The researchers found that the carotid arteries of the women in the postmenopausal group were 56% less elastic, compared with those in the control groupmeaning an increased risk for cardiovascular events such as stroke.
One explanation for the hardening of the arteries may involve oxidative stress on cells, which is higher after estrogen production drops significantly following menopause. Oxidative stress also may be the result of low levels of healthy antioxidants in the body. Furthermore, many postmenopausal women experience a shift in body fat that results in more fat in the abdomen, according to the researchers. The accumulation of abdominal fat can cause the body's sympathetic nervous system to become more active and can result in a decrease in arterial responsiveness.
"Taken together, all these factorsincreased abdominal fat, elevated sympathetic nervous system activity, higher LDL cholesterol, and loss of estrogenproduce oxidative stress, which, in turn, contributes to a loss of elasticity in arteries," reported study coauthor Kerrie L. Moreau, PhD, in Hypertension (May 2, 2005).