The Heart Risk Challenge to Women
Heart attacks are sometimes thought of as man’s disease. Nothing could be further from the truth. Women are equally at risk: heart attacks remain the leading cause of death among American women. Over 300,000 women will die of heart disease this year.
This is just the beginning of the challenge.
Most heart attacks are the result of cardiovascular diseases that affect the heath of the arteries. Diseased arteries are the cause of strokes — over 100,000 American women will die of stroke this year. It also is the cause of congestive heart failure, peripheral arteries disease and vascular dementia. The restricted flow of blood also has been associated with weaker bones as we age.
So, why is heart disease still thought of as a man’s disease?
Perhaps it is because heart attacks strike more men earlier in life. The female hormone, in fact, protects the arteries delaying the onset of heart disease. After menopause, women find themselves at increasing risk for cardiovascular disease. Moving through their sixties, women and men of the same age are about at equal risk for a heart attack or stroke.
Researchers are not sure as to how the female hormones protect the heart. One thing is clear: high-density lipoproteins, the good cholesterol, drop after menopause. Similarly, low-density lipoproteins – the artery damaging cholesterol – have been found to rise through menopause.
As the good cholesterol falls and the bad cholesterol rises, doctors will to seek to address the growing risk for heart disease. You may already know the recommendations – eat healthier, exercise more, loss some weight, stop smoking and if these measure fail to bring your blood cholesterol numbers to acceptable levels, you will likely be prescribed a cholesterol lowering medications.
But, should you be wait until your cholesterol level rises after menopause to act? Absolutely not!
New Cholesterol Equation for Success
While the risk of a heart attack or a stroke rises quickly after menopause, the underlying health of your arteries is partially defined earlier in life. Women who are concerned about their bone health know this story. After menopause, bone density drops. To prevent the weakening of the bone to the extent that it causes osteoporosis, younger women are encouraged to build bone density. Bone density is built throughout the teen years into their twenties. After that, women are encouraged to preserve this density through the right diet and the right types of exercise.
The same thinking should apply to arterial health. Cholesterol can start to do its damage in early adolescence and sometimes during childhood. By our fifties and sixties, we simply have given the process enough time to reach concerning levels.
Mayo-clinic trained cardiologist, Dr Richard Collins suggests that to prevent heart disease, your total cholesterol needs to be “100 plus your age.” Think about this. Dr Collins is suggesting a stricter standard for cholesterol when you are younger. Many doctors and most patients think differently. They are looking reduce target cholesterol levels as a woman ages.
“Cholesterol is a challenge associated not with growing old,” says Dr Collins, “It is a problem of living long with elevated levels. We need to be more mindful of bringing these levels into line earlier before we give them the time to do their damage.”
If you are already have gone through menopause, there is still much you can do. Researchers like Dr. Collins, Dr. Dean Ornish of Preventive Medicine Research Institute and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn of the Cleveland Clinic have shown how a structured plant-based diet can reverse the damage done to the arteries.
Studies on the Mediterranean diet and Asian diets also have shown how delicious styles of eating can support significant and measurable improvements in not only cholesterol levels, but also in blood pressure, blood sugar and inflammatory levels, especially in menopausal women.
Start acting now. To learn more about delicious, heart healthy nutrition read Dr. Collins, latest book, The Kardea Gourmet: Smart & Delicious Eating for a Healthy Heart.