Your heart is powerful. It will fill and empty 2.5 billion times over the course of your lifetime. It beats approximately 100,000 times every day, more than 35 million times every year. Every hour it pumps about 100 gallons of blood through your vascular system, which contains 60,000 miles of blood vessels. Your blood vessels, lined up end to end, would wrap around the earth’s equator – twice.

Over time, the cardiovascular system suffers damage from a variety of insults that may (and often does) lead to heart disease. A quick Google search for the term “heart disease” will render a wide scope of heart-related diseases and symptoms, but fundamentally, heart disease is anything that damages the heart. Heart disease is linked to a long list of related conditions, including heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, Alzheimer’s, and depression.

The Heart Disease Gender Gap

Historically, men have been the focus of heart disease attention and research, primarily because it develops nearly a decade earlier, on average, in men than in women, and therefore kills more men in middle age. But the truth is, since 1984, more women have died of heart disease each year than men. Heart disease is the #1 cause of death for women in the United States, claiming more female lives every year than all forms of cancer combined.

Thanks to the research in men’s heart health over the last several decades, the rate of heart attacks in men, ages 35 – 54, is declining. In women of the same age, however, heart attack rates are increasing by a disturbing rate of 1% per year.

One in 4 women are diagnosed with some manifestation of heart disease during their lifetime, and it’s likely that many more are being overlooked or misdiagnosed. Women present different symptoms of heart disease than men usually do. Plaque in the walls of arteries collects differently in women than in men, often making it harder to see in an angiogram. Although most women have pressure or pain in the chest during a heart attack, some women can experience vomiting and/or stomach, back, or jaw pain – symptoms easily confused with other, less lethal ailments. Electrocardiograms/ECGs (heart monitors) are not as accurate on women, leading to more false negatives in women, meaning the report says that a woman is not having a heart attack, when she actually is.

Survival rates of heart disease are lower in women than in men. For half of all women who suffer from a heart disease, the first warning sign is sudden death. If they do survive, women are twice as likely as men to die within the first few weeks after the attack. Many women don’t get a second chance when it comes to heart disease.

Risk Factors for Heart Disease in Women

The risk of heart disease in women is often underestimated due to the misperception that females are totally protected against cardiovascular disease.

During their reproductive years, women do have a distinct heart health advantage over men. Due to the more physically flexible structure of the female heart, arteries and veins, combined with the cardio-protective qualities that female hormones can provide, women naturally have a layer of protection that reduces their risk of heart disease before menopause. The problem, however, is that this may provide a clouded picture of a woman’s complete heart health. These cardio-protective benefits disappear after menopause, leaving many women who thought they were healthy with a sudden, unexpected arrival of heart disease.

If you’re perimenopausal, you may have several risk factors for heart disease and not even realize it. The American Heart Association reports that 90% of all women in the U.S. have at least one risk factor for heart disease. The most common risk factors include:

  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Persistent, unhealthy diet
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Drug abuse
  • Depression
  • Hormone imbalance
  • High blood pressure
  • Genetics

It’s important for younger women to monitor their heart health closely, especially in the absence of some of the feedback mechanisms available to men.

Lowering Your Risk of Heart Disease

Chronic, uncontrolled inflammation is the primary driver of disease in general and heart disease specifically.  It can be difficult to figure out which parts of your lifestyle and diet causes inflammation in your body. The good news is that personalized, lifestyle medicine gives us the tools to drastically reduce not only heart disease risk, but also the other symptoms and diseases associated with heart health. 

Achieve Optimal Nutrition

  1. Eat a healthy, plant-rich diet. Eat 8 – 10 servings of colorful fruits and vegetables every day. Colorful produce contains disease-fighting vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, fiber, and anti-inflammatory molecules. 
  2. Eat clean protein and eat healthy fats: 
    • Extra virgin olive oil -unfiltered, stored in a dark bottle in cool temperatures
    • Tallow and bone broth – from grass-fed, organic beef and pork
    • Avocados and avocado oil
    • Eggs – pasture raised
    • Oily fish – salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, bluefish
    • Butter – grass-fed, eaten in small portions
    • Nuts, seeds, and seaweed – as alternative sources of omega-3
  3. Eliminate hydrogenated oils and trans fats. Avoid all processed junk foods, process sugars, and sugary drinks, including diet sodas.
  4. Avoid or reduce alcohol.
  5. Figure out your personal food sensitivities and avoid them.

Calm Your Mind

  1. Manage your stress by using active relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, breathing, or whatever you enjoy doing. Using active relaxation techniques activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps lower cholesterol, lower blood sugar, lower inflammation, and boost metabolism. 
  2. Sleep well. 

Exercise

  1. Move your body for 30 – 45 minutes, 6 days a week. Cardio and weight training exercises both have cardiac benefits.

Balance Your Hormones

  1. Work with a medical provider to gain insight into your hormone imbalances and reduce inflammation causing the hormonal, adrenal, and thyroid confusion.

Regardless of your age, your internal systems may be out of balance, reducing your body’s ability to function optimally and increasing your risk of heart disease. By seeking balance between your bodily systems and taking steps toward vitality, you may reduce your risk of a future heart disease diagnosis.

FMI is here to partner with you to create an individualized treatment plan to identify your heart disease risk factors, lower inflammation in your body, and lower your personal risk of heart disease. Click below to start the new patient process

Stephanie Ritari, PA-C

Stephanie Ritari is a board-certified Physician Assistant who offers primary care for adults at the Functional Medicine of Idaho Meridian Wellness Center. She specializes in Internal Medicine and has spent the majority of her career in the field of cardiovascular disorders.

Stephanie has more than 15 years experience as a Physician Assistant in a variety of medical areas, including cardiology and electrophysiology. Holistic practices have long been a part of Stephanie’s lifestyle, with a particular focus on clean living and nutrition. She has embedded functional principles into her conventional medicine practice throughout her career. After watching family members struggle to find answers for their chronic illnesses, Stephanie became more interested in finding ways to take a root cause approach in her own practice. Wanting to provide a proactive, comprehensive, and preventative scope of care for her patients, Stephanie began studying functional medicine. In 2021, she joined Functional Medicine of Idaho, where she is able to provide evidence based, root cause medicine.

Stephanie earned her Bachelor's of Science in Exercise Physiology from the University of Montana and her masters in Physician Assistant Studies from Rocky Mountain College. She is currently working towards her certification with The Institute for Functional Medicine. 

In her spare time, Stephanie enjoys spending time with her husband, son, and dog doing outdoor activities including biking, hiking, and skiing. She also loves interior design and traveling, and is hoping to start her own garden in the near future.

Dr. David Musnick, MD, IFMCP

David Musnick is a board-certified medical doctor who offers in-person and telemedicine care from the Functional Medicine of Idaho Eagle clinic (coming soon). Dr. Musnick offers Functional Medicine, Sports Medicine, Functional Immunology, and Primary Care for adults and teenagers. He specializes in sports medicine, internal medicine, frequency specific microcurrent (FSM), scars, homeopathy, prolotherapy, and low-level laser treatments. 

Dr. Musnick is interested in getting to the root of underlying causes and factors that affect healing, including diet, sleep, exercise, stress, GI health, brain region health, toxins, hormones, infections, and electromagnetic fields (EMF). In medical school, Dr. Musnick spent a year studying nutrition. He has always been interested in the complex interrelationships of different systems of the body. Taking on challenges in the past, he created new treatment programs to heal the brain after concussion, treat chronic pain, arthritis, and tough SIBO and IBS cases. Dr. Musnick wants to help his patients achieve the highest level of health, vitality and function. 

After his internal medicine residency in Seattle, Dr. Musnick completed a fellowship in sports medicine where he became interested in helping patients get back to optimal musculoskeletal health and eventually back to their favorite activities. He quickly learned that many areas of the body were interrelated and started learning more about nutrition, supplements, and other facets of functional medicine. Dr. Musnick has more than 24 years of experience in Functional Medicine and achieved a very high level of both experience and expertise with many health conditions. He is also the author of the book, Conditioning for Outdoor Fitness, and helped in writing textbook chapters on arthritis and concussions.

Dr. Musnick received his Doctorate of Medicine from the University of California, San Francisco. He is certified through the Institute for Functional Medicine as an IFMCP. He also studied in the French school of Homeopathy. He is uniquely rare in that he teaches Frequency Specific Microcurrent (FSM) and how to integrate it with functional medicine. 

In his spare time, Dr. Musnick enjoys hiking, nature photography, cooking healthy food, mountain biking, and skiing.

IFM Certified Practitioner

Aaron Dykstra, DNP, FNP-C

Aaron Dykstra is a board certified Family Nurse Practitioner with a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. He offers pediatric primary care, including well-child checks and acute visits, in the Pediatric Department of the Functional Medicine of Idaho Meridian Wellness Center.

Functional and alternative therapies were a part of Aaron’s life from a young age, and he has implemented these principles into his conventional medicine practice throughout his career. Aaron has more than 8 years of experience in a variety of medical disciplines, including pediatrics, obstetrics, mental health, and nutrition. He has practiced in rural health clinics in California and Oregon. For the last 5 years, Aaron has had a passion for working with children and implementing positive change through the family unit. Aaron joined the Functional Medicine of Idaho Pediatric Team in 2021. His enthusiasm for educating children and parents about living a healthy lifestyle allows him to provide preventative and acute care for infants, children, and adolescents. 

Aaron obtained his Bachelor of Science in Nursing at Brigham Young University. He earned both his Master’s of Science in Nursing and Doctor of Nursing Practice through the University of Arizona. He has obtained a Family Herbalist and Family Nutritionist certifications through The School of Natural Healing by Dr. Christopher. He is currently working towards his certification with The Institute for Functional Medicine.

Outside of work, you will find Aaron spending time with his wife and 5 kids, mountain biking, running, or camping in the backyard. Aaron is a big fan of Master Chef and enjoys cooking.

Nadia Kravchuk, DNP, FNP-C

Nadia Kravchuk is a board certified Family Nurse Practitioner with a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. She offers functional pediatric primary care, including well-child checks and acute visits, in the Pediatric Department of the Functional Medicine of Idaho Meridian Wellness Center.

Nadia and her family immigrated to the United States in 1989 where they first settled in Oregon and then moved to Idaho in 2001. Complementary medicine practices were embedded into her lifestyle at a young age, and she has implemented these principles into her conventional medicine practice throughout her career. She has more than 15 years experience in a variety of medical environments, including emergency room, intensive care unit, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, family practice, and aesthetics.

Nadia joined Functional Medicine of Idaho so that she can combine functional principles with the foundations of conventional medicine to address the underlying causes of disease and promote optimal wellness. As an avid gardener, beekeeper, and sustainable living enthusiast, she understands the importance and role of optimizing nutrition, sleep, physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being. She has a passion for pediatric functional medicine and understands that early recognition and interventions can correct imbalances, prevent chronic illness, and improve overall outcomes for children.

Nadia obtained her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at Northwest Nazarene University. She earned both her Master’s of Science in Nursing and Doctor of Nursing Practice through Frontier Nursing University. In 2017, she was the recipient of the HCA Excellence in Nursing Award. She is currently working towards her certification with The Institute for Functional Medicine.

Outside of work, you will find Nadia working on her urban homestead, hiking, foraging, camping, snowboarding, and spending time with her husband and her dog, Wolfy. She is also fluent in both English and Russian.