In the simplest terms, people are either shaped like a fruit or an hourglass and there are three basic body types. The hourglass body type gets thinner at the waist and wider at the hips and chest. The pear body has a small chest and relatively small waist with larger thighs and buttocks. Finally, the apple has small hips, legs, (and sometimes a small chest) with a larger abdomen. This is the shape that doctors have been concerned about the most because it raises a person’s risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Doctors have known about the connection for some time now, but they haven’t been able to fully explain it. Researchers from a recent study are trying to grasp the complexity of the relationship between big tummies and high heart risk. They started studying post-menopausal and pre-menopausal women by looking at how apple-shaped bodies fit into the mix.
The rounded middle is the least common shape for women and the most common shape for men. Many women begin to develop this unhealthy body shape after they begin menopause. It’s suspected that hormonal changes are to blame for both the heart risk and fat accumulation.
Women who are sedentary may not be very large before they begin menopause, but as their hormone levels deplete, they begin to lose those hormones that emphasize the characteristic pear- or hourglass-shaped female bodies and move toward a more masculine model of body shape. This creates an unusual proportion of fat in the abdomen and starts putting higher levels of stress on blood vessels. With lowered levels of estrogen, oxidation begins to occur in the arteries at a faster-than-normal rate.
This combination will result in high oxidative stress, stiffened arteries, and a heightened risk of heart disease. In fact, this study showed that as soon as a woman passes through menopause, her arteries lose about 56% of the elasticity, in comparison to the arteries of healthy, sedentary pre-menopausal women.
The good news from this study is that this knowledge can help doctors provide preventive medicine to aging women. Estrogen therapy given at the beginning of menopause (before the damage is done), could reduce the risk of heart disease setting in.
As well, vitamin C supplements can increase the elasticity of arteries in these post-menopausal women by about 26%. So, even women who have already long passed menopause can protect their health by boosting their vitamin C and antioxidant consumption, watching their diet, and exercising. By doing this, women may be able to overcome their predestined heart risk and live longer, healthier lives.