For the first time, scientists are researching the link between mood, menopausal symptoms, quality of life, and vascular health. From the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, scientists show how menopausal symptoms that are the most frequent and most severe are connected with markers of vascular aging.
Menopause is the time in a woman’s life, occurring around age 45, where her ovaries stop producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Symptoms include a change in periods, hot flashes and night sweats, trouble sleeping, vaginal dryness, mood swings, and trouble focusing.
Along with menopause often also comes changes in heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, weight gain, and insulin resistance. Researchers believe these specific changes may explain the decline in vascular health that occurs during menopause.
In addition to affecting vascular health, menopause is linked with depression, but the study researchers see no link between vascular health markers and symptoms of depression.
"Many women also experience menopausal symptoms that can negatively affect their quality of life and can contribute to depression, which is an established risk factor for cardiovascular disease,” explained lead author Kerry Hildreth, MD. “We investigated whether these symptom and mood aspects of menopause were associated with markers of vascular aging."
Depression is linked to many of the same menopausal symptoms that vascular aging is linked to, even though researchers think the two conditions occur independently of each other. The risk of depression is two or three times higher for women during menopause. Researchers theorize that it is because the brain has to adapt to changing levels of estrogen before and after menopause.
In their study, researchers included 138 participants, all healthy women organized into different groups based on how far along they were in the process of menopause. As women were farther along in menopause, their arteries were stiffer and their endothelium was less healthy. The endothelium is the layer of tissue that lines the blood vessels, made up of endothelial cells (ECs). Additionally, researchers saw that more severe menopausal symptoms and lower quality of life were connected with worse vascular function.
"A better understanding of these aspects of the menopausal transition will be important for developing effective lifestyle and therapeutic interventions to promote psychosocial well-being and cardiovascular health in women," Hildreth said.
The present study was published in the journal Menopause.