I think like many of you I’m still surprised that heart disease is the number one killer of women in the U.S. That’s a sobering sentence to write. However, we know that diet and lifestyle changes can reverse many chronic conditions like heart disease. Prevention is key. But where to start?
I recently wrote a piece for Whole Foods Magazine on Women’s Health and was fascinated by the research on cardiovascular disease and the different breakthroughs that are happening.
Here are some highlights from my piece that I wanted to share:
Let’s not forget that, historically, the majority of research and clinical trials done for heart disease have only used men as subjects. What the medical industry is learning (painfully late for female patients) is that men and women differ on how the disease shows up, symptoms of stroke, and in the effectiveness of certain protocols.
Here’s an example: Men are likely to get chest pains when they’re having a heart attack, but women may instead feel discomfort in the neck, jaw, shoulder, back, or arm. Many women also experience nausea, vomiting, or a feeling similar to indigestion.
From an NIH report on cardiovascular health in women from 2016: “Women are less likely to receive preventive treatment or guidance, such as lipid-lowering therapy, aspirin, and therapeutic lifestyle changes, than are men…” the report goes on to list several additional disparities. (1)
Many factors impact heart health: genetics, lifestyle, nutrition, stress. The impact of lifestyle factors can also differ between men and women. In the famous Framingham Heart Study, a long-term ongoing cardiovascular study, beginning in 1948, on residents of the city of Framingham, Massachusetts, obesity increased the risk of heart disease by 64% in women, compared to 46% in men.(2)
As there is no magic bullet that will miraculously transform our heart health, certain supplements can make a difference. According to Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, an internationally recognized expert in the fields of integrative medicine, dietary supplements and women’s health, “We make less CoQ10, which is vitally important to our mitochondria, the powerhouses of our cells. This nutrient helps maintain the health of blood vessels, reducing the risk of atherosclerosis. It also keeps our blood pressure from climbing and supports the pumping action of our heart.”(3)
Vitamin E is also important for heart support. Typically, we think of tocopherols when discussing Vitamin E, but tocotrienols are now emerging as a star antioxidant ingredient. Tocopherols and tocotrienols both have a similar nucleus, which is the site of antioxidant activity. The difference between them is that tocotrienol is responsible for its cholesterol-lowering and other capabilities not shared by tocopherols.
Extensive and ground-breaking work has been conducted by Dr. Barrie Tan of American River Nutrition. “For a more varied approach to women’s cardiovascular health, two clinical trials support the combination of annatto tocotrienol with antioxidant polyphenols to curb inflammation and manage dyslipidemia. In these studies, supplementation led to a significant drop in C-reactive protein (a predictor for chronic inflammation)” In another recent clinical trial, results showed that after only 4 weeks, the optimum daily dose of 250mg decreased total cholesterol by 15%, LDL cholesterol by 18%, and triglycerides by 14%.(4)
Chromium is another important mineral. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is incredibly low in nutrients, including important trace minerals like Chromium. The more carbohydrates and sugars we consume the more chaos for our blood sugar regulation. According to Dr. Chris D. Meletis, Director of Science and Research for Trace Minerals Research, “Research points to the importance of chromium in blood sugar regulation and it is well documented that diabetes and pre-diabetes (metabolic syndrome) are accelerants for both heart disease, stroke and other premature aging processes.”(5)
Along with getting exercise and eating more of a whole foods, plant-based diet, these vitamins and minerals might also make sense for you. If not on an individual basis, I’m an advocate of taking a daily multivitamin. If it’s a good one, you will cover many of your vitamin and mineral requirements.
As always, these are suggestions. If you have a history of heart disease in your family, you might want to consult a doctor. Let’s move from fear to self-education and action when it comes to chronic diseases.
1. Why Doctors Still Misunderstand Heart Disease in Women: Reconsidering the “typical” heart-attack symptoms, Vidhi Doshi https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/10/heart-disease-women/412495/
3. “Fortify Your Life: Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals, and More,” Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., National Geographic, 2016.
4. Asaf A Qureshi, et al.“Impact of δ-Tocotrienol on Inflammatory Biomarkers and Oxidative Stress in Hypercholesterolemic Subjects”, 2015, 6:4