Heart Health

Cardiovascular Health

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death worldwide in women and men (World health statistics, 2007) and in the United States, cardiovascular disease accounts for one third of all deaths in women.  Yet, there are important gender differences in the way CVD presents in men and women.

Prevention:

  1. Quit Smoking: stopping smoking reduces the risk of CVD by 36%
  2. Stay FIT – with the following exercise prescription
    1. Frequency: most days of the week
    2. Intensity: moderate to vigorous (50-85% of maximal heart rate)
    3. Time: 30 minutes per day
  3. Manage your stress
  4. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet
  5. Maintain or achieve a healthy weight

Symptoms  Chest pain or discomfort may be what you most commonly associate with angina. However, women are more likely than men to have less specific symptoms including upper back or neck pain, shortness of breath, abnormal heartbeat, indigestion, fatigue and dizziness, nausea or vomiting.

Conditions that increase your risk:

Hypertension: One of three adult Americans has hypertension.  Although hypertension affects men at younger ages than women, the rise in hypertension seems to be steeper in women as they age. Women who have hypertension have been shown to have higher risk for stroke, renal disease, heart failure and CVD later in life.

Diabetes: Diabetes is a major risk factor for heart disease.

Sedentary lifestyle: Men and women achieve cardiovascular benefit from exercise. Women who have a sedentary lifestyle have three times the risk of cardiovascular disease or death when compared to women who are physically active.

Emotional Health: There are strong links between socioeconomic stress factors and psychoaffective disorders that have been linked to CVD. Socioeconomic stress factors include marital stress, caregiver strain, and financial hardship. Psychoaffective disorders include depression, anxiety, anger and hostility.

Nutritional Recommendations

Enormous progress has been made in our understanding of the relationship between diet and cardiovascular disease. Rather than advising a low-fat diet, we know now that there are good fats and bad fats.  We also know that not all carbohydrates are alike;  high glycemic index carbs can rapidly raise blood sugar and increase inflammation in the body. Inflammation, we now know, is the root cause of atherosclerotic heart disease.

Diet: Several studies have shown that the Mediterranean, Anti-Inflammatory, and Indo-Mediterranean diets have a favorable effects on CVD. In general, a heart healthy diet incorporates vegetables, legumes, whole grains, high fiber foods, and oily fish high in omega-3 fatty acids a few times a week.  I also recommend avoidance of trans fats, a limited intake of saturated fats, reduced high glycemic index carbohydrates, and minimal meat.

Fiber: High fiber diets prevent many of the risks associated with CVD.  In general, a diet with 5 to 10 grams of soluble fiber is recommended to people seeking a heart healthy diet.  Good sources of soluble fiber include freshly ground flax seed (my personal favorite) oat bran, psyllium, guar and pectin.

Tea: It has been shown that there is an inverse relationship between green tea consumption and cardiovascular mortality.  This association seems to be stronger in women than in men with the maximum benefit obtained with 3 to 4 cups of green tea a day.

Nuts: Three large prospective cohort studies have found an inverse relationship between nut consumption and CVD events. In a study by the National Health Service, women who consumed more than 5 oz of nuts a week had a significantly reduced risk of fatal and non-fatal coronary heart disease than women who consumed less than one ounce a month.