The study’s findings, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association as well as two other medical journals, are in stark contrast to previous research which has suggested that women had a higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease or suffering from a stroke after menopause.
The findings further show that the group of risk factors – known as metabolic syndrome, and include high blood fat levels, low “good” cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and having a large waistline – become increasingly more pronounced in black women.
“Previous research showed that after menopause, women were at much greater risk for metabolic syndrome than before menopause began,” said Dr Mark DeBoer, study author and professor of paediatric endocrinology at the University of Virginia in America. “This latest study indicates that the increased risk observed earlier may be related more to the changes happening as women go through menopause and less to the changes that take place after menopause.”
The study was conducted among 1 470 American women (black and white) who were selected based on whether they experienced menopausal changes over a 10-year period. Researchers developed a formula to assess and score the level of metabolic syndrome in the women.
After taking into account factors that could manipulate the findings, like hormone replacement therapy, the study found that the women experienced greater changes in blood fat levels, cholesterol and blood sugar during the last years of premenopause and the transition years to menopause (perimenopause), and deducing that black women are more at risk for heart disease and diabetes than white women.
Dr DeBoer said women should be encouraged to make lifestyle changes such as adapting their diet and exercise regime to lower the risk of having a heart attack or stroke, or developing diabetes.
“Of course you could argue that all of us should be eating better and making sure we’re getting enough exercise,” he said. “That’s definitely true, but the years transitioning to menopause may present a teachable moment when patients are especially receptive to learning and putting into practice health habits that can make a difference in their cardiovascular disease risk.