Women And Heart Health: The Risk Factors
Women and heart health: we worry about a lot of things like cancer, weight, mood, energy . . . but our risks of heart disease rarely make the list. We think it’s a men’s disease. This attitude puts us at much greater risk of dying from it, because we’re not aware we should be doing everything we can to prevent it.
Studies have shown that you can reduce the risk of heart disease by following a heart-healthy lifestyle. That includes eating well, being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, taking a heart health supplement and reducing stress.
Risk Factors We Can Control
- Smoking: Women who smoke have two to three times the risk of heart disease; exposure to second hand smoke is also a risk factor.
- Inactivity: Not getting enough physical activity (couch potato lifestyle doubles your risk.)
- Stress: Increases in blood pressure, cholesterol, and the formation of clots are all associated with both stress and heart disease.
- Carrying excess weight: Being overweight increases blood pressure, cholesterol, and the risk of diabetes—all factors that also increase your risk of heart disease.
- Poor dietary choices: Studies indicate that a high intake of saturated and trans fats or a low intake of fibre can increase the risk of heart disease.
- Excess alcohol consumption: Drinking too much alcohol (especially binge drinking) raises blood pressure and increases the risk of heart disease. On the other hand, some research has found that a moderate intake (one drink per day) can reduce the risk.
- High blood pressure: High blood pressure significantly increases the risk of heart disease.
- High cholesterol: High cholesterol doubles a
- Diabetes: Diabetes is an even bigger risk for heart disease in women than in men.
Risk Factors Beyond Our Control
- Age: Advanced age increases risk. For women, the risk of heart disease increases rapidly after age 55.
- Family history: Having a parent or grandparent with heart disease early in life (before age 65) could indicate a genetic predisposition.
- Ethnic background: Those of South Asian, Aboriginal/First Nations, Inuit, or black-African descent are at increased risk for some types of heart disease.
Emerging Risk Factors
In recent years, research has identified other factors that may increase yourrisk of heart disease:
- Homocysteine: Homocysteine is an amino acid made by the body during normal metabolism. Studies suggest that elevated homocysteine increases the risk of heart disease by causing damage to the lining of the arteries and promoting clots. Homocysteine metabolism is controlled by vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid. A deficiency of these nutrients can increase levels; likewise, supplementing with these nutrients can lower homocysteine levels.
- C-Reactive Protein (CRP): CRP is a marker of inflammation, which is a factor in the development of atherosclerosis. High CRP levels are correlated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. If you are at risk of heart disease your doctor may check your CRP levels.
The Power of Prevention
If you have heart disease or are at risk, consider the following specific recommendations:
- Have your blood pressure and cholesterol regularly checked, and discuss your results with your doctor.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet that includes colourful fruits and vegetables, soy foods, whole grains, healthy fats (fish), and adequate protein.
- Swap green tea for coffee (green tea contains antioxidants that offers benefits for the heart).
- Get regular exercise and maintain a healthy body weight.
- Manage your stress levels with regular exercise, breathing techniques, and meditation.
- Add fish or a fish oil COQ10 supplement formulated for women and heart health specifically to your routine.
- Don’t smoke, and avoid second-hand smoke. If you are currently a smoker, talk to your pharmacist about smoking cessation aids. There are many products and programs available today to help you kick the habit.
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