Supporting heart health with nutritionist Karen Newby

October is Menopause Awareness Month and this year the theme is cardiovascular disease, but I’d like the focus to be on cardiovascular health instead, as this is far more positive! I will be looking at the many preventative ways we can support our long-term cardiovascular health through food and lifestyle. The added advantage of eating more of the foods below are that they will help ease other symptoms of menopause too and help give you more energy so a win win!

Why things change in menopause

Let’s firstly look at why our cardiovascular health can change during the menopause transition. Menopause is now classified as an inflammatory transition in our lives[1] and inflammation is one of the key drivers of cardiovascular disease[2]. When oestrogen is high, it helps to dilate our blood vessels; and when it dips, it constricts them, hence why heart palpitations are a common symptom of menopause and why women have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease post menopause[3]. Remember that heart attacks in women are 50% more likely to be misdiagnosed than men because our symptoms are often different[4]. These can include: pain in the jaw, back or neck, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and cold sweats, overwhelming weakness or fatigue, anxiety, lethargy and loss of appetite.

Key foods to try

BUT, much can be done to support our cardiovascular health pre and post menopause with what we eat and simple lifestyle shifts. Here are some of my key foods that can help:

Anti inflammatory omega-3s are known to help keep our blood vessels healthy[5]: oily fish such as salmon, sardines, trout and mackerel; and vegan sources in linseed oil and nuts like walnuts. A study has shown that regularly eating nuts such as walnuts, is associated with a lower risk of heart disease[6].

Turmeric and ginger are also potent anti inflammatories known to benefit our cardiovascular health. Ginger is known to reduce arterial plaque, preventing platelet aggregation that leads to blood clots[7]. Turmeric shown to reduce oxidative stress and improve vasodilation[8].

Phytoestrogens can help support us when our oestrogen is rollercoastering, which can cause these sudden dips and raises of blood press ure leading to panic attacks. A 2019 observational study in Asia showed that dietary intake of soy isoflavones had a significant inverse association with coronary heart disease[9]. They are not oestrogen but have a mild oestrogen like effect on the body. They are known to support vasodilation and also have beneficial effects on cholesterol due to their plant stanol content which can block cholesterol being absorbed in the gut. Key foods to eat in abundance include: organic soy (tofu, tempeh, miso, organic soya yogurt – Sojade is a good brand, edamame beans), ground linseeds, alfafa, brassicas, peppers and pulses.

Magnesium can also help with heart palpitations[10]. It is known as nature’s tranquiliser – it supports our smooth muscles, which we have no control over, like our heart! Best sources: black beans, avocado, pumpkin, sunflower andsesame seeds, green leafy vegetables, almonds, spinach, Swisschard; and use Epsom bath salts.

Berries, cherries, beetroot – rich in antioxidants like anthocyanins, which protect against inflammation that contributes to heart disease[11].

Numerous trials have shown the effects of garlic and reducing cardiovascular risk factors[12].

Lycopene, rich in tomatoes – low blood levels of lycopene have been linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke[13].

Green leafy veg for folate & Vit K – a study of 29,689 Italian women showed a high intake of leafy green vegetables (and olive oil) was linked to a significantly lower risk of coronary heart disease (probably also do to with the other beneficial minerals and vitamins in green leafy veg like vitamin C, calcium and magnesium)[14]. Higher vitamin C status is associated with lower risks of hypertension, coronary heart disease, and stroke[15].

Making lifestyle changes

Some simple lifestyle shifts are important too like including movement into your day – doesn’t have to be at the gym! Getting our 10k steps in a day is a great way of staying active and being in the sunshine can help increase our vitamin D which research has shown how it can improve the pumping capacity of the heart[16].

Stress resilience is important – which is so hard when we feel so overwhelmed at menopause and we’re super busy. Focusing in on the first hour of the day is something that is easy to focus on, even if you’re super stressed out. It can have a massive ripple effect across the rest of the day stress resilience wise. On waking have a hot water with a slice of lemon instead of caffeine (which puts us into stress mode), then enjoy a protein rich breakfast (eggs, avocado, high protein granola with no dried fruit which are basically sugar lumps, porridge with nuts and seeds and blueberries and ground linseed for added protein) and have your caffeine then.

You should feel a subtle ripple effect across your morning of feeling more in control and not having to snack so much. Adaptogens like ashvaganda, holy basil, turmeric, licorice, resihi mushrooms can help too. These are ancient herbs and roots which can help support our tolerance to stress. Practicing yoga or pilates vs HIIT can also reduce the stress levels. Make sure that when you eat you take time out to eat and eat mindfully.

Remember, 15 minutes is just 1% of your day. It’s so incredibly important to take a little time to nourish yourself and to move too. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup and I think we often run around looking after everyone else except ourselves. Now is the time to put yourself at the top of the to do list – your cardiovascular health will benefit from it!


















Read Karen’s previous articles on QVC Stories:


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We understand there’s a lot of information out there on the menopause. You can read through the NICE guidance on menopause management, as well as the NHS overview on the menopause.