Originally published August 8 2008
Getting to the Heart of Women's Health
by Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.
(NaturalNews) Cardiovascular Disease has long been thought of as a man's disease while in reality it is the leading cause of death among women today. This year 435,000 women in America will have heart attacks with over half of them resulting in death. 8 million women in the U.S. are currently living with Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) and an astounding 35% of the female population will die from this disease. So why is it that you aren't hearing more about this?
The simple fact of the matter is that men have long been the test subjects in CVD related studies. The data that we currently rely upon to help diagnose and treat CVD is based primarily on male physiology. However recently it has come to the attention of researchers that symptoms of CVD show up differently in women and men and that the risk factors vary between genders.
The male and female bodies are governed by two separate, yet equally important sets of sex hormones. While the presence of the female and male sex hormones can be found in both genders, testosterone is present at higher levels in men while women have higher levels of estrogen, and it is the estrogen that makes all of the difference in the CVD equation.
While researchers don't yet know the cause, it appears that estrogen has a cardioprotective effect during the fertile years of a woman's life. It is during those years that estrogen is plentiful in the body and plays an important role in the monthly menstrual cycle. However, as a woman enters the menopausal phase of her life, estrogen levels drop severely. When comparing the age related data for men and women side by side, it is not surprising that women tend to develop CVD an average of 10 years later than men. The theory behind this is the loss of estrogen that occurs at menopause.
Spurred by this theory, a wide scale clinical study called "The Women's Health Initiative" began in 2002. Researchers believed that women taking synthetic hormones would find relief from the side effects of menopause while lowering their CVD risk. There was high hope that synthetic hormonal supplementation was the answer. However, the study was abruptly halted when the data suggested that, instead of protecting women from heart attacks and stroke, the synthetic hormones were actually increasing the subject's risk of CVD as well as breast cancer. Since the findings were publicly released, synthetic hormone replacement therapy has been under intense scrutiny. A safe alternative to these synthetic hormones are biologically identical hormones. In the proper doses, they can provide relief from menopausal symptoms as well lower your CVD risk.
While lowered estrogen levels and synthetic hormone replacement therapy are both major risk factors for CVD in women, other factors can have a serious impact on women's heart health as well. Family history, high blood pressure and/or cholesterol levels, obesity, diabetes and sedentary lifestyle are all significant risk factors for CVD. Recent data indicates that 33% of women have high blood pressure, approximately 56 million women have high cholesterol, nearly 7 million women have been diagnosed with diabetes and almost 65% of women are overweight. Clearly we are seeing a trend in health that is spiraling dangerously out of control.
There is good news though. Both men and women diagnosed with CVD can take steps to reverse the disease. And if you haven't yet been diagnosed with CVD, by making some important changes in your life today, you can prevent the disease from developing in the future. I encourage everyone to adopt the following key principles for heart health:
1. Enact A Healthy Eating Plan
Foods high in cholesterol and carbohydrates are going to adversely affect your cholesterol levels. By cutting out these heart-damaging foods you can make a great impact on your health. Instead, try eating foods that are good for your heart, such as leafy green vegetables, which are high in antioxidants. Likewise, eating fish once a week can lower your CVD risk factor thanks to its high content of Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs). EFAs are the good fats that your body requires in order to prevent or correct inflammation in the body. The American Heart Society stands behind this claim and encourages everyone to indulge in a little fish now and then. Because of the mercury contamination in our nation's waterways, supplementing with fish oil can provide the same heart healthy benefits without the risk of dangerous heavy metals. Fish oil supplements contain the EFAs Omega-3 and Omega-6 in equal amounts and can be found in your local health food store.
Supplementing your eating plan with a greens based multivitamin is a healthy way to fill in the gaps where your eating plan may be falling short. Unfortunately, the foods today provide a lower vitamin and mineral content than they once did, so it has become necessary to obtain these vital nutrients elsewhere. Taking a daily multivitamin will provide you with a combination of the healing nutrients that are essential for heart health.
2. Enjoy Daily Physical Activity
30 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity a day is vital to heart health. Today women have a lot more on their plate than they did 50 years ago. Women can be successful in many roles and are often balancing their careers with parenting and personal relationships. Unfortunately, personal time usually falls to the wayside and exercise becomes relegated to the bottom of the list. A recent study indicates that 41% of women engage in no leisure time and 60% of women are failing to get in the necessary 30 minutes of exercise a day. While leading a full life can be challenging, forgoing exercise will only make it more difficult. The same activities that will give your heart a healthy boost will also provide you with energy to get through the day. Find the time to get in a brisk walk and your heart will thank you for it.
3. Adopt A Low Stress Lifestyle
Stress can take a nasty toll on your health. Under stressful situations the adrenal glands release powerful hormones that are intended to guide you to safety. In a life or death situation, these hormones could give you the strength and energy to survive. However, in most stressful situations these hormones are hardly necessary to navigate through the situation. Unfortunately, the body can't discern between life threatening stress and "running late for work" stress and so the physiological response is the same. If you are under stress for an extended period of time then the release of these hormones can weaken your body, and heart disease can ensue. Taking time out to relax is key to a healthy heart. Identify the stressful triggers in your life and enact a plan to manage them. A wonderful way to reverse stress is by engaging in physical activity, such as a walk through the park. When the body releases stress hormones, it is essentially preparing you for a physical interaction. By going for a walk you are giving the body what it needs to complete the stress cycle and restore you to a "pre-stress" condition.
There are many tests available that can detect CVD and pre-CVD conditions. See your doctor today to determine your health status. The sooner that CVD is detected, the better your odds of survival are. A diagnosis of CVD does not have to mean the end of your life. By making some serious changes in your lifestyle you can live a long and healthy life. See your doctor today for a CVD screening.
For products developed and recommended by Leigh Erin Connealy, MD visit (www.perfectlyhealthy.net) .
About the authorLeigh Erin Connealy, M.D. has specialized in Integrative Medicine for over twenty years, using conventional and natural methods to determine and discover the "root of the cause" in her clinic, Center for New Medicine in Irvine, California, each and every day. Many people come in to the clinic from all over the world with severe chronic illnesses that conventional medical protocols have been unsuccessful treating. She realized early on that she can truly change lives through education as well as treatment protocols.
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D. and her medical staff strives to look at the whole person while exploring the effects and relationships among nutrition, psychological and social factors, environmental effects and personal attunement. Out of frustration of trying to find the right products to help her patients she formulated the perfectlyhealthy brand of products. All perfectlyhealthy products are clinically tested. For more information on recommended products, please visit www.perfectlyhealthy.net or www.perfectlyhealthy.com.
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