Though it remains the number one killer of women in the United States, heart disease in women develops, on average, ten years later than men. This is often referred to as “the female advantage” and a recent study suggests reproductive hormones and their effects on insulin resistance might explain the phenomenon.
While it’s long been known that postmenopausal women have a higher risk of heart disease than women still in their reproductive years, the reasons why haven’t been clear. A study out of Stanford University School of Medicine stumbled across some interesting findings when comparing men and women of the same age who all had the same level of insulin resistance, meaning their bodies don’t process insulin properly, a condition which increases risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Despite the male and female participants being in the same age range and having the same insulin resistance, the women tended to have lower blood sugar, triglyceride levels, and fasting blood sugar rates. However, these differences went away when looking at women who were over 51 years old (the median age for menopause). Instead of reporting less risk than men of a similar age and insulin resistance, their risks were comparable.
These results might suggest that some aspect of the reproductive process acts as a protective measure against heart disease. However, that doesn’t mean women who have not yet entered menopause should wait to care about their heart health until their 50s. Rather, taking care of your body at all stages of life is the best way to prevent heart disease and reduce insulin resistance.
Still, being aware of how risks increase as you age can help you take the right steps toward talking with your doctor and making a plan for continual heart health. Regardless of benefiting from “the female advantage,” the study demonstrated that reduced risks were only temporary. Men and women alike need to be mindful of their heart health.