By Janelle Boyington, RM, CPM
The number one killer of women in the United States is cardiovascular disease. More women die from heart disease than from the next three causes of death combined, including all forms of cancer. While the story of a man experiencing the classic chest crushing heart attack is prevalent in movies and television; the symptoms for a woman may be more subtle and are sparingly told in our popular media. We are too often uninformed that women may experience a heart attack as neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort; as a fullness, indigestion, or choking feeling; nausea or vomiting; with sweating, lightheadedness,
or dizziness; unusual fatigue; and rapid or irregular heartbeats; instead of or in addition to, the characteristic pain, pressure, or discomfort in the chest. So many women are unaware of these indicators and even when they are, countless numbers will ignore or downplay them. Women die when they deny symptoms and fail to act. Love your Valentine, love yourself, your mother, sister, best friend, and neighbor and educate them about women’s symptoms of heart attack. This could be the difference in survival.
For both men and women risk factors for heart disease include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. There are important risk factors specific to women that also include metabolic syndrome, mental stress, depression, smoking, and low levels of estrogen following menopause. A risk assessment such as the Framingham Risk Score can determine if one’s risk is low, intermediate, or high with prevention strategies able to be made with a care provider depending on expected rates of death or heart attack. As one’s risk changes with time, annual monitoring with a naturopathic doctor or a medical doctor is advised with assessments including physical exam, blood pressure and pulse check, weight, listening to heart and lungs, and procuring blood for laboratory testing of lipid panels, total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, triglycerides, cholesterol/HDL ratio and thyroid and glucose levels.
Though there are genetic pre-disposing factors, heart disease is largely preventable with appropriate diet, exercise, emotional balance, and stress management. Diets that are focused on reducing cholesterol have shown long-term effects similar to those of statin therapies. Statins are a class of drugs commonly used to lower cholesterol by inhibiting its production in the liver. That’s right, diet and drugs have separately shown similar outcomes! The American Heart Association has endorsed the National Cholesterol Education Program and their Step 1 and Step 2 TLC diets designed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (view the diet here). The simple addition of dietary fiber significantly decreases blood pressure and triglyceride and cholesterol levels as well as the progression of coronary atherosclerosis. Dietary and concentrated supplements can have a great impact on prevention; Vitamin E lowers LDL and prevents free radical damage; calcium and magnesium support heart muscle strength; Niacin is a lipid lowering agent; potassium aids nerve transmission, muscle contraction, enzymatic reactions, and carbohydrate synthesis. While caffeine is discouraged for high blood pressure, the flavonoids found in green and black teas are rich in cardio-protective and lipid inhibiting properties, which reduce cardiovascular disease. Red yeast rice inhibits the synthesis of cholesterol with beneficial effects on lipids. Recent research supports the consumption of fish oils which prevent clots, inhibit inflammation in the blood vessel walls, cause vasodilation, and promote a regular cardiac rhythm; in addition, fish oils are similar to aspirin in that it prevents vasoconstriction and “sticky” blood.
Enough cannot be said for moderate exercise and its benefits on heart health. It reduces obesity, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and incidence of type 2 diabetes. A fascinating reality is that women’s heart health appears to be far more vulnerable to stress than that of men and its reduction should not be underplayed for overall cardiovascular health. Techniques such as deep-breathing exercises, biofeedback, acupuncture, meditation, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, and hypnosis have all been shown effective.
Working in the holistic model for heart health and disease prevention can provide individualized dietary and supplement plans, based on the needs of your lifestyle and physical body.
While prevention is our best protection, a heart attack strikes someone about every thirty-four seconds. When a person experiences cardiac arrest, survival depends on early and skilled CPR. If you have never been trained, just push “hard and fast in the center of the chest.” Getting training couldn’t be easier these days, the majority of the learning can be done inexpensively and online at the American Heart Association website www.heart.org, then skills practice, testing, and certification can be accomplished in two to three hours with a CPR instructor. As a midwife and former Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) I bring a blend of field experience and energetic understanding to my CPR instruction. At Stillwater Healing Arts Clinic I am offering community and professional CPR classes. The next Community CPR class is Sunday, March 3, at 12:30 p.m. Check our calendar at here for dates and sign-up information.
Janelle Boyington, RM, CPM is a midwife providing homebirths, well-woman care, and lactation services; offering educational classes and CPR certification, seeing patients at Stillwater Healing Arts Clinic, 304 Main Street, Unit C, Lyons (303-823-9355).