heart health woman
Heart Health
Women's Health

Take This to Heart, Ladies

While cardiovascular disease may be top-of-mind in February during American Heart Month, any time is the right time for women to learn more about what has been deemed their number one killer.

More deadly than all forms of cancer combined, cardiovascular disease affects approximately 44 million women in the US.  Along with stroke, it can be blamed for one in three women’s deaths each year, claiming one woman every 80 seconds.

Given these alarming statistics, you’d think the female population would be savvy about what causes heart attacks and strokes, and what can be done to prevent them.  That might not necessarily be the case.

Here are some commonly asked questions along with my responses.

Q: How do I know that I might be having a heart attack?  

A: Unlike in men, heart attacks in women may not be heralded by chest pain, pressure or discomfort. Less-traumatic but equally concerning symptoms for women include shortness of breath, intense fatigue, indigestion, upper back discomfort etc.  What’s especially frightening is that some ladies exhibit no symptoms at all.

Q: What are some things I can do from a lifestyle perspective to help prevent heart disease?

A: For optimal heart health, I advise my female patients to live an active, balanced lifestyle – which positively impacts their overall well-being as well.  Exercise regularly, striving for a good combination of cardiovascular, strength training and stretching activities. But I advise my patients to exercise only if I am sure that it is safe.  Sometimes I request stress test before advising my patient to go to a gym. Just as important as how much you move is what you eat. Think raw, as much as your body will allow, establishing a solid nutritional foundation of fresh fruits and vegetables, omega-3-rich fatty fish, and lean protein from organic sources.

Q: Is a glass of wine good for my heart?

A: While some people suggest that the polyphenol resveratrol in red wine is heart healthy, I do not think that the rule of “all things in moderation” still applies. It’s not fine to relax with a glass of wine at the end of a busy day, and of course excessive alcohol use should be avoided. In my opinion there is no such thing as a safe dose of poison. Also eliminate smoking and recreational drug use, as those unhealthy habits add nothing – except to increase the likelihood of other health complications.

Q: How does cholesterol factor in?

A: Functional medicine suggests that you look below the surface to find out what underlying factors may have spiked your LDL levels to begin with.  When there’s any type of inflammation in the gums, teeth, sinus cavity or digestive system, the body triggers the cortisol hormone to get everything back in balance. Cortisol comes from cholesterol – the more inflammation, the more cholesterol is needed to provide cortisol. Once you address the inflammation, the root cause, your concerns might become manageable.