by Dr. Kristen Bovee – Peninsula Naturopathic Clinic, Hydrate IV Wellness Centre –
Heart disease is often a stereotyped male-centered condition when in fact, it is the number one cause of mortality in Canada in women over 55. Symptoms of heart disease in women can differ significantly than from men. Recent findings from a decade-long study showed blood pressure in women rises earlier and faster than in men, which is a significant risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.
Our heart is a hard-working muscle and needs constant oxygen and nutrients to keep working. Women’s hearts in particular are vulnerable to plaque buildup as their hearts and arteries are smaller. The plaque buildup in women’s arteries tends to be softer and more likely to dislodge into the blood stream, increasing stroke and heart attack risk. Women without blocked arteries can still have heart attacks as a result of lower blood flow to the heart. Estrogen is a protective factor for women and heart disease. After menopause, cholesterol rises as a result of the reduction of estrogen production. The following are factors of health women can focus on to keep their heart working at its optimum from childhhood into menopause.
• Don’t smoke – Studies found even people who smoked one cigarette per day had a raised cardiovascular risk.
• Exercise – Women who are sedentary are four times more likely to die from heart disease than fit women. Walk 30 minutes daily, raise your heart rate for at least 10 to 20 minutes three to four times weekly, if not more, to keep the heart healthy.
• Monitor: Women over 40 should take their blood pressure monthly and have their cholesterol checked yearly.
• Eat unprocessed foods – A healthy heart diet is high in fresh fruits and vegetables, moderate in lean protein, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains and low in animal fats and sugar.
• Consume the Mediterranean diet – Studies have shown that this dietary routine has the best outcomes for a healthy heart. See www.themediterraneandish.com for excellent recipe ideas.
• Limit alcohol – Even one glass of red wine daily can increase blood pressure. Women are generally more likely to be affected by alcohol. Limit alcoholic beverages to four drinks weekly.
• Caffeine – Drink only one to two cups of caffeinated beverages daily.
• Limit salt. Foods high in salt increase blood pressure; foods high in potassium (fresh fruits and vegetables) reduce blood pressure.
Mental / Emotional
• Moderate stress – Stress affects many systems of our bodies, not just our heart. It is important to identify areas of stress and find practical solutions to identify and reduce daily stressors.
• Yoga and meditation – Done on a daily basis, these activities have been shown to reduce blood pressure by reducing stress and anxiety.
• Despite it having a bad rap, estrogen actually protects the heart. The lack of production of estrogen in menopausal women gradually causes cholesterol to rise. Studies have shown that moderate estrogen replacement therapy can help to reduce the production of cholesterol and reduce the buildup of plaques on arteries.
• The stress hormone cortisol causes the increase in belly fat in women which increases the risk of heart disease.
February is Heart month, a time to pay closer attention to the importance of cardiovascular health. Women (and men) of all ages are encouraged to pay attention to their diet, lifestyle, mental/emotional and hormonal status so they can age well with a healthy heart.