Aging is one of those double-edged swords--the good news is that we get to live, the bad news is that some of the working parts begin to show just the teensiest bit of wear and tear and may need a little more care and maintenance to look (and work) quite they way that they used to. If you’re lucky, one year your doctor will look deep into your eyes and say “it’s about time we checked those cholesterol levels.” It’s then that you’ll know you’ve “arrived” at that “certain” age. (Why do they call it that “certain” age? I personally prefer being a “classic” age versus a “certain” age. Of course I’m certain of my age!)
High cholesterol (specifically low-density lipoprotein, commonly called LDL, or “bad” cholesterol) is one of the more well known risk factors for developing heart disease. Sooner or later, your doctor is going to want to evaluate your risk of heart disease. If you’re levels come back high, he/she will start taking a closer look at what’s going on under the covers.
What your doctor may not know is that where you are in your menstrual cycle may impact your cholesterol levels. In a study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, researchers found real inconsistencies in cholesterol levels in women depending on where they were with respect to Mother Nature’s monthly visit. These variances in cholesterol levels were not minor little swings; we’re talking major differences in cholesterol levels. Researchers reported more than a 19 percent difference on average in cholesterol levels depending on where women were in relationship to phase of the cycle. Other findings included:
• HDL (high-density lipoprotein or the “good” heart protective) cholesterol levels increase as estrogen levels increase (estrogen levels are at their highest at the time of ovulation)
• LDL (low-density lipoprotein or “bad” cholesterol), triglycerides and total cholesterol levels go down when estrogen levels increase
• LDL, triglycerides and total cholesterol levels are at their lowest just before your monthly visitor comes to call
Researchers also found that women who were over 40, and overweight (like so many of us are), experienced much greater variances in cholesterol levels that other study participants.
In all, 259 women participated in the study. All participants were relatively young (between 18 and 44 years of age), non-smokers, and indicated that they were physically active. Most of the participants were also considered very healthy. Despite the fact that only five percent of the participants had cholesterol levels in the high range (greater than 200 mg/dL), almost 20 percent of all the women in the study hit the 200 mg/dL range at least once during the course of the study. This study didn’t address cholesterol levels in women who were post-menopausal or who were taking hormone replacement therapy. But previous studies have shown that hormone replacement therapy and birth control pills (both of which contain estrogen) may also affect cholesterol levels. (Complete study results have been published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.)
Since these findings are so new, chances are that your doctor may not yet be aware of the link between your menstrual cycle and cholesterol levels. It’s pretty easy to see that our moods are the only thing that swings at our special time of of the month! Nineteen percent is a large pendulum push and could be enough of a difference to give your doctor “bad” results (which of course, could lead to a bad treatment decision based on faulty information). Make certain that you talk to your doctor about the best time of the month to have your cholesterol tested so that you get the most accurate (and useful) results!
Women’s cholesterol levels vary with phase of menstrual cycle, National Institutes of Health, 10 Aug 2010, http://www.nih.gov/news/health/aug2010/nichd-10.htm
Mary Kyle is a free lance writer, editor, and project manager. She has a Master of Arts in Legal Studies, a Bachelor of Music, and multiple professional certifications in project management. In addition to health advocacy, she is passionate about literacy and volunteers in local schools teaching writing seminars and reading.
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