"Research in animals suggests that the five years before menopause are when bone is lost and when heart vessel disease begins to accelerate," according to Jay Kaplan, Ph.D., from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, who spoke today at the annual meeting of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists in Boston. "Waiting until menopause is not the time to start thinking about prevention."
Kaplan, a professor of comparative medicine, was invited to summarize his extensive research on how hormone levels affect health. His work has focused primarily on how stress during the younger years can interfere with ovulation and reduce estrogen levels, which can set the stage for heart disease later in life.
"But, this isn't just a problem in younger women," he said. "At perimenopause, all women are affected by variably changing and ultimately declining estrogen levels. Perimenopause is a time of increased vulnerability to chronic disease."
Women have traditionally been considered immune from heart disease until after menopause, when their estrogen levels dramatically drop. However, Kaplan's research has shown that in monkeys, the process starts much earlier. He found that stress in the younger years can reduce estrogen levels and lead to the buildup of fatty deposits in the blood vessels (atherosclerosis) that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
"Our research adds to the growing body of evidence that cardiovascular health after menopause is influenced by hormone levels many years earlier," said Kaplan. "Our monkey studies showed that a deficiency of estrogen before menopause places these females on a high-risk trajectory, even if they got estrogen treatment after menopause."