As women reach midlife there are many changes happening in the body which cause physical symptoms like hot flushes and night sweats. However, there are other not so obvious changes going on, including their rising cardiovascular disease risks.
Before menopause, women’s risk of heart disease is significantly lower than that of men of the same age. Researchers are not sure why, but it’s thought that oestrogen may have
a protective effect.
Oestrogen is a hormone naturally produced in a woman’s body that is vital to regulating her menstrual cycle. It can offer some protection against coronary artery disease therefore reducing the risk of a heart attack. It helps control your cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of fatty plaques building up inside the artery walls.
As we age, blood vessels can become stiffer, which is caused by high blood pressure. This is a risk factor associated with heart attacks and stroke.
During and after menopause, a woman’s body gradually produces less oestrogen than it used to. This increases the risk of the coronary arteries narrowing, whereas it previously protected the lining of the artery walls, reducing plaque build-up. This increases your risk of developing coronary heart disease or a circulatory condition such as stroke.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S., who typically develop the condition several years later than men. But women are largely unaware of their risk for heart disease, which is more likely to kill them than all forms of cancer combined. According to the most recent American Heart Association survey, awareness that heart disease is the leading cause of death among women actually fell between 2009 and 2019, particularly among Black, Hispanic and younger women, for whom primary prevention may be most effective.
Healthy Heart Action Plan
Follow a Healthy-Heart Diet
We have known for years that meat and dairy products contain saturated fats (hard fats) that can contribute to atherosclerosis, so these foods should be eaten in moderation.
According to research as far back as 1990, diet can be as effective in combating atherosclerosis as drugs or surgery. In the study, a group of people with severely blocked arteries went on a very low-fat vegetarian diet along with an exercise and meditation programme, at the end of which the plaque in their arteries was found to be reduced. Research suggests that isoflavones can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. A meta-analysis of the effects of soy protein-containing isoflavones on blood lipids showed beneficial reductions in serum total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides, with increases in beneficial HDL cholesterol.
Not all fats are harmful. Monounsaturated fats, found in olive oil, and the omega-3 essential fatty acids (found in flaxseeds, pumpkin, and walnuts as alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA) need to be included in the diet. The body converts ALA to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found naturally in oily fish, to produce anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. Most experts now agree that to reduce your risk of heart disease, you need to limit your intake of saturated animal fats, increase your intake of omega-3 EFAs, and include heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, such as those found in virgin olive oil, in your diet. You should also try to eat oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and anchovies, at least twice a week. The omega-3 EFAs in these fish can help protect against heart and circulatory disease.
For heart health, it’s important to drink alcohol only in moderation, as it can raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables daily is also important. This ensures an adequate intake of dietary fibre, which helps eliminate the “bad” LDL cholesterol from the body. Fruits and vegetables are also loaded with antioxidants, which help protect the arteries from damage and keep blood flowing smoothly.
Cut Down on Salt
Table salt, or sodium chloride, is associated with fluid retention. Some of the fluid retained as a result of excessive sodium intake is pulled into our blood vessels, increasing the volume of fluid inside the vessels and causing high blood pressure (hypertension). Over time, high blood pressure overstretches and damages blood vessel walls and contributes to the build-up of harmful arterial plaque that impedes blood flow. High blood pressure increases the risk of heart failure, as it forces the heart to work harder to pump blood through the body. It can also lead to strokes.
For many people, controlling salt intake is an effective means of managing blood pressure. Avoid eating salty processed foods or adding salt to food while cooking or at the table. Use other condiments, including herbs and mild spices, to add flavour. Seagreens is a great salt substitute derived from seaweed. It provides several good nutrients without the downside of sodium found in regular salt.
Regular aerobic exercise at least five days a week will help keep your heart and circulatory system in good shape.
Give Up Smoking
If you are still smoking, give up now for the sake of your heart. Smoke-damaged arteries attract fatty deposits that restrict the blood flow to your heart. Smoking also damages the lungs, making it harder for the heart to supply the body with oxygen. In addition, it can make blood stickier and more likely to clot, leading to a blockage in an artery and a heart attack or stroke.
By making these changes you can expect to improve your heart health and enjoy later life to its fullest.
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