"Why did I suddenly develop high cholesterol with menopause? I have never had high cholesterol before I had hormone imbalance. What is the connection?" Katrina, Scottsdale, AZ
Although high cholesterol can give my patients anxiety, and is never something women want to hear about, it is oftentimes a classic sign that a woman is experiencing hypothyroidism, perimenopause, or menopause related hormone imbalance known to slow metabolism, narrow arteries, boost inflammation and block the burning of fat and cholesterol.
Hormones absolutely can cause high cholesterol. You are correct for asking this question. Although most docs will just place you on a statin medication for high cholesterol and not bother to check much other than a TSH level to assess minimal thyroid function.
Here is the #1 best thing to do if you have high cholesterol aside from having me properly balance your female hormones and thyroid. Increase fiber.
Oftentimes patients are so focused on avoiding high cholesterol foods, that they forget to increase vegetarian fiber sources to help bind and excrete high cholesterol. Constipation is not helping my high cholesterol patients!
My High Cholesterol Diet most likely excludes many of your favorite foods….meat and fried foods to say the least!!
Women often argue with me about their "Full Fat Organic Cream" in their coffee, coconut fat consumption, and cheese addition, only for me to wave my white flag and state that I surrender to prescription drugs and that is what they should take if they cannot follow my nutrition rules.
Yes, I have a few women in my practice that thrive on a high saturated fat diet, are thin, and have zero high cholesterol problems, but they are the exception to the rule, and everyone else needs to be following the rules.
Before we get started, let’s talk about why we even care about this thing called cholesterol…
High cholesterol levels over time deposit in the linings of your arteries and cause a condition known as “atherosclerosis” or hardening of the arteries. Hard arteries cause high blood pressure. Remember when you were a child and you would stick your thumb over the hose and watch how much further you can make the water shoot? Well this same principal is what causes your blood pressure to elevate from clogged arteries. The plaques that form can also be of concern as they can break off and close down blood supply to the heart or the brain and cause a “heart attack” or “stroke” respectively.
So, in the long term we are primarily concerned about this “high cholesterol” turning in to high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, erectile dysfunction, and other not so fun things.
Cholesterol levels become high as a result of increased dietary intake, or increased production in the liver. What your doctor is mostly concerned about is what is referred to as the “bad cholesterol” or “LDL cholesterol”. Contrary to popular belief, LDL is not actually a cholesterol, it is a protein that transports cholesterol molecules to be deposited in the arteries.
Yikes!!! No wonder this LDL thing is so bad!!!
So we want to decrease this LDL cholesterol while increasing the “good cholesterol” also known as the “HDL cholesterol”. HDL sucks up cholesterol from the arteries and brings it back to the liver for recycling. Hooray!! The more of this HDL cholesterol the better, right?
Aside from medications or natural supplements that should be instigated and monitored by your own Naturopathic Doctor (hopefully me! 😉 there are several things that can be done on your own to improve this LDL/HDL ratio.
Exercise is the best known way to increase your HDL levels.
Please check with your doctor and insure that you are healthy enough to start a new exercise routine.
Aside from exercise we obviously need to follow a low cholesterol diet to reduce the amount of intake from foods.
A great way to reduce the amount of cholesterol that is already circulating through our system is through a high fiber diet.
Fiber sucks up cholesterol like a sponge. When we eat, the liver secretes cholesterol rich bile in to the intestine to help break down our food, this bile will get re-absorbed back to the liver through a process known as “Entero-hepatic circulation”.
One way to circumvent this process is to eat tons of fiber to bind the bile and thus cholesterol and other toxins so that they can be eliminated properly from the body and not re-absorbed.
Fiber is fabulous because it will not only lower your cholesterol levels but it is the best thing you can do to detox your system.
Be sure to drink plenty of water when increasing your fiber levels.
Be sure to also increase your fiber levels gradually to 30g daily. You can add a Fitness tracking app to your phone to keep count.
The final key component that I will discuss to get you started on your cholesterol lowering program is the use of antioxidants.
Vitamins and minerals, and phytonutrients found in fresh fruits and vegetables such as vitamin C are very important anti-oxidants for the reduction of cardiovascular disease that develops from high cholesterol levels. The free radicals in fried foods for instance help create the “Glue” for holding these plaques of cholesterol down. An anti-oxidant such as vitamin C destroys the shark like free radical molecules wreaking havoc in your bloodstream.
By reducing the consumption of the amount of cholesterol that is allowed to be glued down to your arteries you are reducing the long term consequences of cardiovascular disease and other complications that typically result from high cholesterol.
A high fiber low cholesterol diet rich in anti-oxidants as well as exercise are the key to any cholesterol lowering program, if you are overwhelmed by making these changes all at once, simply pick one thing to work on each month. It takes a month to create a new healthy habit and feel rewarded from the benefits of your work.
Working hard on these foundations to a cholesterol lowering program should prevent having to increase your medication levels whether prescription or alternative in the future.
Remember that this is a long term issue that will not resolve in a few months. Most of my high cholesterol patients need to focus on their cholesterol lowering diet for a full year to achieve results with Naturopathic Medicine.
If the cholesterol is high from hormone imbalance, I do see it clear up much more quickly than that. Need my help achieving optimal Cardiovascular and hormone health? Simply visit my SCHEDULE page to treat yourself to a Naturopathic visit!
Dr. Nicole Sundene
Dr. Sundene is a Naturopathic Doctor in Scottsdale, Arizona, and is considered a Female Hormone Specialist in Women's Health and Bioidentical Hormones. She specializes in Holistic Women's Health for Menopause, Thyroid, Hashimotos, PMS, Perimenopause, Autoimmune, Postpartum, Chronic Fatigue, Depression, Anxiety, Food Allergies, Digestion, Dermatology , Acne, Psoriasis, Eczema and Adrenal Hormonal Conditions. In 1999 she began working for a Hormone Doctor prior to starting Naturopathic Medical School. With over 22 years of experience in both Prescription and Natural women's health and hormones she presents to women the best integrated health solutions for their Chronic Disease. She has been an Herbalist for over 27 years and enjoys teaching women how to use herbs to balance their hormones, nutrition and optimize their health. Dr. Sundene relies on blood testing for her hormone metrics. The hormone testing is covered per the patient's insurance plan and conducted at certain points in the woman's menstrual cycle. To learn more about Hormone Testing for Women Visit: Bioidentical Hormones. Follow Dr. Sundene on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for more tips on Women's Health, Female Hormones and Naturopathy!