Cholesterol differences between men and women
Lawrence Kline, D.O. is a cardiologist on staff at Banner Estrella Medical Center. His office can be reached at (623) 298-5220.
Question: Are there specific differences in the way cholesterol affects women, when compared to men? What should women know about cholesterol and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels?
Answer: Cholesterol is a prominent health issue due to the fact that our cholesterol level is a significant indicator of heart disease risk. Now, even though heart disease impacts women and men, when it comes to cholesterol, gender does in fact make a difference.
Cholesterol levels are comprised of two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoproteins (LDL), known as the “bad” cholesterol; and, high-density lipoproteins (HDL), considered the “good” cholesterol. The estrogen produced by women has been found to raise HDL cholesterol, generally giving women higher HDL levels than men.
Since women produce the greatest amount of estrogen during their childbearing years, premenopausal women usually have some level of protection from heart disease. As estrogen production drops, however, HDL levels also drop. As a result, postmenopausal women generally experience less protection against heart disease.
The fact that women enjoy higher levels of HDL doesn’t mean that they have a free pass to let their cholesterol run wild and unchecked. It’s recommended that women, and men for that matter, have their cholesterol tested every 5 years, beginning in their 20s. This is especially true for those who may have an increased risk of heart disease due to diabetes, family history, or other risk factors.
An appropriate cholesterol level is important for proper heart health and there are several things pre- and postmenopausal women can and should do to maintain balanced cholesterol levels, including: following a nutritious and well-balanced diet; engaging in regular physical activity; and, making healthy lifestyle choices. When appropriate, there are also medications available that, when used in combination with the above measures, are effective in lowering and managing cholesterol levels.
Regardless of gender, it’s important for women and men to have their cholesterol checked regularly, and if necessary, work with a healthcare provider to establish a plan for effectively achieving and preserving a well-balanced cholesterol level and healthy heart.