Improving Your Heart Health with Bioidentical Hormones
You probably don’t have to be told that your heart health is important. But what exactly can you do to reduce your risk of heart disease — or even take steps to improve your cardiovascular health? And what effect do hormones have on your heart?
Hormones have potentially beneficial effects on the heart for both men and for women. For men, low testosterone has been found to be an independent predictor of increased risk of heart disease. That means that, for men, if you have a low testosterone level, then your risk of developing heart disease is greater than men who fall within a normal range. And that’s regardless of any other risk factors you may have. So, that alone — having a balanced testosterone level — is certainly an advantage towards cardiovascular health.
Testosterone has other, indirect advantages for heart disease in men, as well. If a man has an adequate testosterone level, he is likely to have more energy and improved lean muscle mass. He’s also more likely to exercise, more likely to maintain a healthy weight and lose that mid-abdominal fat, which, in turn, decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease. So, there seems to be both direct and indirect effects of hormones on the heart for men. But it’s not just for men. There are now studies which have shown that both men and women with congestive heart failure can benefit from testosterone therapy.
Hormones also have direct effects on heart health for women, as well. Bioidentical estrogen seems to decrease the risk of plaque formation in the coronary arteries — a leading cause of atherosclerosis. Estrogen and progesterone also increase cardiovascular health by decreasing cardiovascular ischemia, which is basically heart straining. Several studies have shown that when women use bioidentical estrogen and have symptoms of heart disease, their ability to exercise without creating that heart straining is increased. And that means they can exercise longer without causing the heart to strain. That effect is increased even further when you add bioidentical progesterone, as well.
Cholesterol and hormones
Hormones also have an effect on cholesterol, especially in women. What we’ve seen is that, with women, bioidentical estrogen has shown beneficial effects on both the good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. That means that when you use bioidentical estrogen, your bad cholesterol (LDL) tends to decrease, and your good cholesterol (HDL) tends to increase. And that effect is also shown with bioidentical progesterone.
When it comes to heart health and cardiovascular risk, it’s important to know the differences between bioidentical and synthetic hormones. Synthetic hormones are most frequently taken orally. A variety of studies have shown that any estrogen that you take orally increases your risk of stroke, blood clot and heart attack. But, if you take the bioidentical estrogen topically or transdermally — meaning that it’s absorbed through the skin, whether it’s in a patch form or cream — that increased risk of stroke, blood clot and heart attack is eliminated. So we can reduce that risk simply by using the correct method of administration.
The risk of heart disease in women has also been shown to be decreased by using bioidentical estrogen — but only bioidentical estrogen. If you use synthetic estrogens, and especially if you use synthetic progesterone, your risk of heart disease actually increases. In fact, there have been some studies that show that the risk of coronary artery spasm — basically, the artery that supplies the muscle of the heart seizes up and spasms, limiting blood flow — increases with the use of synthetic progesterone.
Keeping Your Heart Healthy
There are also many ways you can protect your heart without using hormones. Exercise is key. You really need to keep yourself moving for cardiovascular fitness. It’s also important to keep the saturated fats in your diet to a minimum and make sure that you watch your cholesterol.
While hormones can help improve your cholesterol levels, they aren’t the first step you should take. I strongly advocate that you try to manage cholesterol with lifestyle changes, at least initially. Your cholesterol levels can often be improved with supplements, exercise and proper nutrition, especially by eliminating excess sugars and starches from your diet. In addition, I typically recommend fish oil supplements to my patients. Fish oil has demonstrated benefits for both the cardiovascular system and the blood lipid profile. All of these things, when done together, can effect marked changes in your cardiovascular risk.
It’s always a good idea to visit your primary care provider to assess your potential risk of heart disease. Heart disease is affected by your lifestyle, family history and other disease processes that may be going on, such as diabetes or lung disease. Anything that you can do to positively impact the other risk factors that you have also adds up to a cumulative positive benefit in the long term. So make sure that you see someone to assess your risk and address and any potential problems.