February is Heart Month. This is a great time to bring attention to the importance of cardiovascular health. More importantly, how can we reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease with heart healthy hormones?
Heart disease affects approximately 2.4 million adult Canadians – that is about 1 in 12 adults. Every hour, about 12 Canadian adults die from diagnosed heart disease. It is the second leading cause of death in Canada, and it is THE leading cause of death in the United States. In the U.S. one person dies every 37 seconds from cardiovascular disease. 647,000 Americans die from heart disease each year – that is 1 in every 4 deaths.
Those are some pretty staggering numbers – a good reason to dedicate the month of February to bringing awareness to cardiovascular disease. You may already be aware that men have nearly double the risk of women for heart troubles. But women in their menopausal and post-menopausal years see their risk increase due to a decrease in estrogen levels.
Hormones play a role in cardiovascular health, in both men and women
In fact, when it comes to the health of your heart, there are several hormones that play a major role. How your hormones are functioning directly impacts your cardiovascular system. This means that when your hormones are behaving, they may help prevent heart disease. And when they are out of balance they can contribute to the development of heart disease.
Key Systems for Heart Healthy Hormones
Your cardiovascular system includes your heart and circulatory system (blood vessels that carry blood away from and towards the heart, arteries that carry blood away from the heart and veins that carry blood back to the heart). Your circulatory system carries oxygen, nutrients, and hormones to cells. It also removes waste products, such as carbon dioxide.
Imagine that your circulatory system is a highway and your hormones are vehicles travelling on that highway. If your hormones are vehicles, then we can imagine that the glands that produce them are car makers who are all part of the larger control system – your endocrine system.
The endocrine system has makers of hormones all through your body: the pancreas, thyroid, adrenals, ovaries, and testes, to name a few. Let’s look more closely at the major hormones associated with each of these important glands and how they can affect your cardiovascular health.
Pancreas: Producer of Insulin
Your pancreas secretes insulin. Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Having insufficient levels of insulin or insulin resistance can cause health issues. If blood sugar levels remain elevated for extended periods of time you may develop symptoms of pre-diabetes. Left untreated, this can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes. This is a major risk factor for cardiovascular problems like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease. So, insulin is one of the players in your overall heart health. Keeping your blood sugar levels stable is key to your hormone health and your overall wellness. Check out Heart Healthy Hormones – Take Action for tips to help you keep your blood sugar in check.
Thyroid: Maker of T3 and T4
Your thyroid makes and releases several hormones into the blood. The most prominent ones are Triiodothyronine (T3) and Thyroxine (T4). These are hormones that play a key role in your metabolism, normal heart and digestive functions, mood and bone maintenance.
T3 and T4 work together to regulate metabolism and heart rate. So balanced levels of these hormones are key to your overall good health. If levels are low it can affect digestion and contribute to constipation. It can also cause a slow heart rate resulting in circulation issues. If levels are too high it can result in an overly active metabolism leading to unhealthy weight loss and an increase in heart rate. This, in turn, could cause issues with body temperature regulation, anxiety, and more.
You can see how thyroid hormones have a direct effect on the heart. Also, hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Learn how to best support your thyroid in Heart Healthy Hormones – Take Action.
The Mighty Adrenals: Producers of Adrenaline and Cortisol
Your adrenal glands play important regulatory roles in several body functions. These include stress response, immunity, and metabolism. All of these are regulated by the release of adrenaline and cortisol (among others) from the adrenals. During the stress response (fight or flight) adrenaline and cortisol both play important roles. Adrenaline is the hormone that helps you prepare to either fight or flee. As adrenaline rushes into your systems, your heart rate increases, ensuring your brain and muscles are primed for dealing with the perceived threat. But, it also increases the level of sugar in your blood to provide your body with instant energy. Recall the effects of elevated blood sugar on your heart health. Yes, everything is connected!
Cortisol is meant to help the body convert stored energy into readily usable energy in the form of glucose. So, during a stressful moment it is helpful. However, when cortisol levels remain high, as they often due in our fast-paced society, it can lead to anxiety, overeating, and weight gain. And we are all familiar with the fact that being overweight is another risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Dealing with stress in a healthy manner is key to our adrenal health. Discover some key tips and strategies in Heart Healthy Hormones – Take Action.
Reproductive Organs: Makers of Estrogen and Testosterone
Ovaries, the primary female reproductive organ, are responsible for secreting the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Both of these play a role in menstruation and an overall healthy reproductive system. Estrogen represents an entire class of hormones that affects almost every tissue or organ, including the heart and blood vessels. Here are some of estrogen’s known effects on the cardiovascular system:
- Increases HDL cholesterol (the good kind)
- Decreases LDL cholesterol (the bad kind)
- Promotes blood clot formation (also causes some changes that have the opposite effect)
- Relaxes, smooths and dilates blood vessels so blood flow increases
- Soaks up free radicals (naturally occurring particles in the blood that can damage the arteries and other tissues)
The testes are the sex organ in the male reproductive system responsible for the secretion of testosterone. This is the hormone responsible for the development of male physical sex characteristics. Its influence is clearly exhibited during puberty when males start to notice: lower voice, increased body hair, general growth, and muscle development. Testosterone also plays a vital role in healthy sperm production. Studies on the effects of testosterone on cardiovascular health are still inconclusive. Some find that higher levels have negative effects and other find that lower testosterone levels have negative effects. The safest bet is to maintain optimal, balanced levels of hormones.
Keep in mind, though, that men’s endocrine systems also produce estrogen – just in much smaller quantities than women. Research speculates that this lower level of estrogen may be a contributing factor to the statistics of men being more prone to cardiovascular disease than women.
Aging and Hormones
Levels of these sex hormones fluctuate over the lifecycle – for both men and women. As you age, the secretion of these hormones will decline. For menopausal women, the ovaries eventually cease their estrogen-production role, leaving the adrenal glands to take over. This leads to producing much lower levels of estrogen. Men’s adrenals also produce estrogen. So, keeping your adrenal glands happy and healthy is key to your heart health.
How will you support your hormone and heart health this week?