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