Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is important for both genders, but some women tend to consider heart health more of a mens health issue. Whether this is because men have a higher risk for heart attacks than women or because women are concerned with female-only health issues, the fact is heart disease is the leading cause for both men and women.

High cholesterol is an indicator of heart health and must be taken seriously by both genders.

What It Means to Have High Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a substance produced by the liver. It is required by the body to create vitamin D in response to sun exposure. Nearly everyones body is capable of producing enough cholesterol to maintain good health. Unfortunately, many foods also contain cholesterol, so people end up increasing cholesterol levels when it is not needed.

When cholesterol exceeds healthy levels it increases a persons risk for cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Cholesterol levels are one of the most controllable factors affecting heart health. Though age, gender and heredity affect a persons cholesterol, so do weight, diet, and overall lifestyle. Other diseases also play a role in heart health, many of which can also be controlled through diet and lifestyle.

Though all women should worry about high cholesterol, those with other risk factors must pay special attention to the controllable factors.

Estrogen and Cholesterol

Women have an additional concern when it comes to heart health and cholesterol. The hormone estrogen, considered a female sex hormone, is known to raise so-called good (HDL) cholesterol. This helps keep cholesterol levels in check during a womans reproductive years, but as she reaches menopause, estrogen levels decrease.

This can lead to a dip in good cholesterol and a spike in bad (LDL) cholesterol. Estrogen levels can also affect weight gain, further exacerbating heart health problems.

Some women treat a dip in estrogen with hormone supplementation therapy. Unfortunately, research has shown this has little effect on cholesterol levels and in some cases, triggers serious negative side effects.

The American Heart Association encourages women of menopausal and post-menopausal age to consider cholesterol-lowering medications to reduce the risk for heart disease. Even if medication is not necessary, it is a good idea to make diet and lifestyle improvements to keep cholesterol levels in check. Women are also encouraged to quit smoking and incorporate exercise in their daily routine to reduce their risk.

Dietary Suggestions for Managing Cholesterol Levels

One of the best ways to manage cholesterol is to eat a heart healthy diet. Limiting processed foods and saturated and trans fats reduces cholesterol intake. Research has also shown some foods help increase HDL and lower LDL cholesterol.

An ideal heart healthy diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other fiber rich foods. Women should also eat omega-3 rich fish, including trout, salmon, and herring about twice a week.

High cholesterol is a health issue that sneaks up on many women. Since it is often not a problem until menopause, some women are surprised to learn cholesterol has become a health concern.

Making cholesterol-conscious decisions throughout life makes the transition less difficult and keeps heart health a priority throughout a womans life.