If you’ve been fortunate enough to go through the first 40 or 50 years of your life without blood pressure problems, you’ve been lucky enough.
But that also makes it even harder to deal with if and when your blood pressure does start creeping up…
Sadly, it’s an experience shared by women around the world who’ve crossed a certain bridge… menopause.
While the reason behind the blood pressure flip-flop that comes with dropping hormone levels has been somewhat of a mystery for the medical community, it’s one that has now been answered, and boy is it a doozy…
How “the change” changes your immune system
You see, before menopause, women, in general, have lower blood pressure than men, and with it, lower risk of heart disease.
But post-menopause… the opposite is true.
And since previous research had shown that estrogen (the hormone that takes a deep dive during a woman’s change of life) plays an important role in preventing kidney inflammation and heart disease in women, scientists at the University of Arizona started wondering…
What changes were those falling estrogen levels causing that lead to heart disease?
Luckily for us all, they found their answer.
The team discovered that estrogen has the power to directly impact a woman’s immune system. When estrogen levels are high enough, it can increase the number of protective, anti-inflammatory T regulatory cells the immune system churns out.
That process is what works to guard younger women from hypertension.
But as those estrogen levels fall, pro-inflammatory markers go up and the numbers of T regulatory cells, which control inflammation, go down. When this happens, blood pressure can rise dramatically.
In other words, it’s the changes in your immune system that menopause kicks off that results in high blood pressure.
So how can knowing this help you?
Well first, it’s important to note that while your risk of heart disease goes up after menopause, and your chances of having a more severe heart attack than a man are higher, today’s blood pressure medicines are not as effective in women as they are in men. It’s just a fact.
So, while your risk is rising, your chances of getting help through a prescription are not.
You could opt for hormone replacement therapy to make up for the loss of estrogen. But that comes with an elevated breast cancer risk.
This makes embracing the lifestyle changes proven to help keep your pressure in the normal range incredibly important (possibly even more so as a woman).
- Getting regular exercise — The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of physical activity each week.
- Eating a heart-healthy diet — This should include fruits and veggies as well as whole grains, fish, nuts and poultry. You should also plan to limit red meat, sugary food and drinks, and alcohol.
- Managing stress — The Mayo Clinic points out that managing stress plays an important role in keeping your blood pressure healthy. So take time to breathe, take a hot bath, or try out a yoga class.