Taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) during the menopause can reduce the risk of heart failure and heart attacks, a study has suggested.
And researchers said that taking HRT is not associated with an increased risk of cancer or strokes.
HRT, which is used to relieve symptoms of the menopause, is a hotly debated subject between academics. Previous research indicated that taking the drugs could lead to an increased risk of breast cancer and there were growing concerns that it could be linked to heart disease and stroke.
But this new research lends support to the use of the drugs.
Researchers in Denmark examined 1,000 women who began the study when they were aged between 45 and 58. Half of the group were given HRT which was started early after the menopause and the control group received no treatment.
The study, published on bmj.com, found that after 10 years, 33 women in the control group had died or suffered heart failure or a heart attack compared with just 16 women who were given HRT.
They also found that 36 women in the HRT group were treated for cancer compared with 39 in the control group - 10 women in the HRT group were treated for breast cancer compared with 17 in the control group.
Eleven women in the HRT group were treated for stroke compared with 14 in the control group.
The health benefits noted by the researchers occurred 10 years after the women started taking HRT and continued for six years afterwards, they said.
"Our findings suggest that initiation of hormone replacement therapy in women early after menopause significantly reduces the risk of the combined endpoint of mortality, myocardial infarction, or heart failure," the authors conclude.
"Importantly, early initiation and prolonged hormone replacement therapy did not result in an increased risk of breast cancer or stroke."
1. Not Smoking
While not entirely surprising, it doesn't make the message any less important: <a href="http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/smo/" target="_hplink">Smoking kills</a>. The habit is considered the No. 1 cause of preventable death and sickness in the U.S. Specifically, <a href="http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/smo/" target="_hplink">smoking cigarettes harms the heart</a> in that it damages heart and blood vessel function, thereby upping the risk of atherosclerosis (where your arteries harden), according to the National Institutes of Health.
2. Being Physically Active
Aerobic exercise is good for the heart in that it makes you take in more oxygen, helps you <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/aerobic-exercise/EP00002/NSECTIONGROUP=2" target="_hplink">keep to a healthy weight</a>, reduces plaque buildup in the arteries and helps to lower blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults are recommended to get at least <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/adults.html" target="_hplink">150 minutes of aerobic exercise</a> a week (moderate to intense level), and also do muscle-strengthening at least twice a week.
3. Maintaining Normal Blood Pressure Levels
<a href="http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hbp/bp/bp.htm" target="_hplink">Blood pressure measurements</a> are written in terms of systolic over diastolic. Systolic pressure is "as the heart beats," according to the National Institutes of Health, while diastolic pressure is the relaxation of the heart between heartbeats. A person with a normal blood pressure level has a systolic blood pressure reading of 120 millimeters of mercury or less, and a diastolic blood pressure reading of 80 millimeters of mercury or less. A person is <a href="http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hbp/detect/categ.htm" target="_hplink">considered hypertensive</a> (has high blood pressure) when the systolic blood pressure is between 140 and 159, and the diastolic blood pressure is between 90 and 99.
4. Maintaining Normal Blood Glucose Levels
Having chronically <a href="http://diabetes.webmd.com/blood-glucose" target="_hplink">high levels of glucose</a>, a kind of sugar, in the blood can lead kidney and blood vessel damage, according to WebMD. Insulin, a hormone in the body, is responsible for helping the body's cells to <a href="http://www.medicinenet.com/insulin/article.htm" target="_hplink">use glucose in the blood</a>. However, if the body doesn't have enough insulin or isn't able to use it properly, then <a href="http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/blood-glucose-control/hyperglycemia.html" target="_hplink">blood sugar levels may rise</a>, according to the American Diabetes Association. High blood sugar is considered a diabetes complication. Tests to check for high blood glucose can help show whether a person has diabetes, and are used to <a href="http://diabetes.webmd.com/blood-glucose" target="_hplink">monitor someone with diabetes</a> over time, WebMD reported.
5. Maintaining Normal Total Cholesterol Levels
<a href="http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/chol/wyntk.htm" target="_hplink">High cholesterol</a> is a known risk factor for heart disease, because it causes hardening of arteries going to the heart, according to the National Institutes of Health. When part of the heart is deprived of blood, it could trigger a heart attack. The <a href="http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/chol/wyntk.htm" target="_hplink">optimum total cholesterol level</a> is 200 or fewer milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood, while having a total cholesterol level of 200 to 239 milligrams per deciliter is considered borderline high. High total cholesterol is having 240 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood, or more, according to the National Institutes of Health.
6. Having A Healthy Weight
Calculating your body mass index (BMI, a ratio of weight to height) is a good starting point for knowing if you're at a <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/index.html" target="_hplink">healthy weight</a>, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the BMI chart, having a BMI of 18.5 or below is considered "underweight" and a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered "normal" or healthy weight. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, and a BMI of 30 and above is considered obese. <a href="http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/" target="_hplink">Click here to calculate your BMI</a>. <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/index.html" target="_hplink">Waist circumference</a> can also give clues to your weight; a man may be at risk for health problems from obesity if his waist circumference is more than 40 inches, the CDC reported. For a non-pregnant woman, it's more than 35 inches.
7. Eating A Healthy Diet
While there are obviously differences in opinion depending on who you ask as to what you should or shouldn't eat for optimal health, there are some <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-healthy-diet/NU00196" target="_hplink">heart-healthy nutrition rules</a> that remain true across the board. The Mayo Clinic reports that eating a diet low in cholesterol and "bad" fats (saturated and trans fats), with low-fat proteins (like lean meats, fish and beans), whole grains (with lots of fiber), and little sodium is good for your heart. For more nutrition advice, <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/healthy-diet/NU00200" target="_hplink">click over to the Mayo Clinic</a>.
Follow a heart healthy diet to reduce your risk of coronary disease.