Women…Are You at Risk for Heart Disease?

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Did you know your blood pressure could be out of control without you even knowing? High blood pressure is a major contributor to heart disease, and the months of stress, uncertainty, poor diet, and immobility we have all been going through are not helping matters.

When the way your blood flows through your body is affected by your habits, vital nutrients and oxygen can’t get to where they are needed in the body. And as the pressure continues to mount, we start to see physical damage in the arteries and organs that can lead to heart disease and stroke.

Heart Disease is Killing Women

Heart disease is the biggest contributor to deaths worldwide, and in spite of what many believe, it’s not only men who are affected. In fact, men represent 49% of deaths from heart disease, whereas women represent 51%. Here are some more surprising facts on women and heart disease:

  • Nearly 300,000 women died of heart disease in American in 2017; 1 in 5 female deaths.
  • Early signs of an impending heart attack were missed in 78% of women, according to a retrospective study published in Circulation.
  • Two-thirds of heart disease clinical research still focuses on men.
  • Women are five times more likely to die from heart disease than breast cancer.
  • Among women, the risk of having a heart attack greatly increases during the 10 years after menopause

Approximately 1 in every 16 women age 20 and older have coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease.

Typical symptoms of heart attack are angina, dull, heavy, or sharp chest pain; pain in the neck, jaw, or throat, and pain in the upper abdomen or back.   Women can also have some other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.

The good news is that there is a lot you can do to bring down your blood pressure and reduce your risk of developing more serious issues in the future.

 

The 2 Types of High Blood Pressure

Primary hypertension

Primary hypertension is the most common type. It is a long-term, chronic condition that develops over time due to factors such as a lack of exercise, poor diet, or a genetic predisposition to high blood pressure. A 2020 study showed that variations in the CYP24A1 gene, a gene that helps detoxification in the liver, can have a strong impact on a person’s risk of developing chronic high blood pressure.

Secondary hypertension

Secondary hypertension is acute, and not as common. It is the direct result of other conditions such as thyroid or adrenal gland issues, kidney disease, or alcohol dependence.

 

High Blood Pressure Leads to Other Health Conditions

The effects of high blood pressure has are determined by which major arteries are affected.

 

1 – Heart Disease and Heart Attacks

High blood pressure affects the body in many ways that increase the risk of developing heart disease or having a heart attack.

–        Atherosclerosis

High blood pressure damages blood vessel walls. They respond by putting down fatty deposits (plaques), which act like band-aids over damaged areas but over time make the artery walls hard and inflexible. Arteries become narrower due to the plaque build-up, preventing them from delivering vital oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. And if the plaque breaks apart it can result in a blood clot that could block arteries entirely.

If the heart arteries are affected, Atherosclerosis can lead to coronary heart/artery disease, chest pain, and increased heart attack risk.

–        Enlarged Heart

High blood pressure means that the heart needs to work overtime to pump out a higher volume of blood. This increases the risk of heart thickening (hypertrophy) especially of the main pumping left chamber of the heart, which makes the heart enlarged and less efficient. As the size of the heart increases, so does the risk of a heart attack.

 

2 – Cognitive Impairment and Stroke

When atherosclerosis affects the neck instead of the heart arteries, the brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen and nutrients which can cause an entirely different set of symptoms.

–        Vascular Cognitive Impairment

Over time, reduced oxygen flow to the brain can impact our cognitive and problem-solving ability. The most severe form of Vascular Cognitive Impairment is called Vascular Dementia, but milder symptoms can happen much earlier and heart issues should be considered and investigated if problems with multitasking and memory arise.

–        Stroke

If a blood clot or severely narrowed arteries prevent blood flow to the brain for even a short time, it can result in a stroke. The impact of a stroke depends on which part of the brain has been deprived of blood flow.

An Ischemic Stroke happens when the artery is fully blocked and is the most common type of stroke. Mini strokes happen when an artery is temporarily blocked, then clears up causing what is sometimes called a ‘warning stroke’.

Because high blood pressure weakens artery walls over time, the weakened wall may finally give way leading to a hemorrhagic stroke – when a brain artery bursts entirely.

Any stroke is a dangerous medical emergency.

  • Kidney disease

Hypertension is a huge risk factor for developing kidney failure, even to the extent of needing dialysis treatment.  Intense pressure chronically can damage the sensitive arteries of the kidney glomerulus cells.  This is seen more in African American patients and is a leady cause of end-stage renal disease.

 

Lifestyle Factors to Help Lower High Blood Pressure

If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you should continue to take the medication prescribed and have regular check-ups. The following factors are an important part of a heart-healthy lifestyle:

 

1 – Diet

Fat, sugar, and salt are classic comfort foods, but they can wreak havoc on blood pressure and heart health. When do you crave these foods? Is it when you’re sad? Lonely? Anxious? One way to stop negative dietary habits in their tracks is by recognizing when you’re triggered into emotional eating.

Reduce Saturated and Trans Fats

Fats play a vital role in the body, such as helping us absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, E, D, and K, and providing energy but not all fats are healthy fats. Here’s how to reduce saturated and trans fats and increase intake of healthy mono- and poly-unsaturated fats.

Eat Less of These Fats
Replace With These Fats
●      Fried foods (chips, French fries)

●      Processed meats (deli meats, burgers, hot dogs)

●      Fatty meats

●      Grain-based desserts (cakes, cookies, donuts)

●      Plant oils (palm and palm kernel)

●      Dairy

●      Nuts (walnuts, peanut butter)

●      Seeds (sunflower, flax)

●      Tofu

●      Fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines)

●      Avocados

●      Plant oils (olive, avocado, coconut)

●      Beans and Legumes

Reduce Your Sugar Consumption

Although sugar provides the body with valuable energy, too much can raise blood pressure. Even ‘healthy’ sugars such as coconut sugar and honey should be reduced.

–        Read Product Labels

Sugar goes by several names, making it hard to recognize on product labels. The worst offender is high fructose corn syrup, but anything that ends with ‘ose’ is a sugar. The surprising biggest culprit? Sugar-sweetened beverages.

 

Consume less
Replace With
●      Alcohol

●      Soft drinks

●      Sports drinks

●      Canned fruit in syrup

●      Processed desserts (candy, chocolate bars)

●      Water

●      Green tea

●      Fruits

●      fresh herbs to boost flavour

●      Acceptable alternative sweeteners include stevia, monk fruit, xylitol and erythritol.

Reduce Your Sodium Intake

We need salt to maintain electrolyte and fluid balance, but in moderation only. Salt is frequently added to processed foods to extend shelf life and enhance the taste. Here’s how to cut back:

Reduce Intake
Replace With
●      Less processed, pre-packaged, and fast foods

●      Rinse canned goods before eating

●      Remove the salt shaker from your table

●      Taste food before adding salt

●       Breads, crackers, chips, and salted nuts

●      Herbs, spices, or lemon to enhance the flavor

●      Salt Substitutes like LoSalt Original

●      Cooking more at home, where you can control salt levels

●       Raw nuts, homemade crackers, homemade sweet potato chips, or kale chips

●       Cut-up veggie sticks

 

2 – Exercise

Exercise can effectively reduce high blood pressure by improving artery health and managing weight. The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise for adults, and one hour per day for children and youth.

Tips to Increase How Much You Exercise

  1. Mix it up: do weight-bearing exercise two days per week and cardio 3 days per week
  2. Set daily hour limits on sedentary activities like watching TV
  3. Use active transportation like walking or biking for short trips
  4. Plan active family outings like hiking or going for a swim
  5. Do active household tasks as a family, like shoveling snow and dog-walking
  6. Embrace outdoor winter activities like ice skating, tobogganing, and skiing
  7. Try indoor cardio like an online aerobic class or put on your fave tunes and dance like nobody’s watching

 

3 – Reduce Your Stress Levels

Stress has a strong blood pressure-raising effect. Here’s how to lower your stress response, and improve stress resilience:

Mindfulness and Meditation

A 2020 review examining behavioral strategies found that mindfulness training had the greatest blood pressure-lowering effect. How does it work? Participants in a 2020 study reported that increased self-awareness, attention control, and emotion regulation helped them make better health choices, and improved their ability to handle stress.

Another 2020 study found that after 12 months of using a breathing meditation app, participants’ blood pressure was significantly reduced.

Simple Activities That Help Increase Mindfulness
  • The key is to focus on one thing to the exclusion of all else. Try one of the many free meditation apps (like Headspace). Try fixing your mind on a single candle, or close your eyes and visualize a peaceful spot.
  • Deep Breathing. Breathwork can quickly bring you back to a calm state and can be done anywhere, anytime. Try the simple but effective box breathing technique: breath in for four counts; hold for four; breath out for four, hold for four.
  • Combining breathing, focus, and exercise, yoga is one-stop shopping for stress relief. Include forward bends but avoid poses that compress the diaphragm. Try these 5 blood pressure-reducing poses from Yoga International.

 

4 – Blood Pressure-Friendly Food Based Supplements

While supplements are not a substitute for maintaining close contact with your physician and following their advice, certain everyday nutrients have shown positive results in research studies.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C does more than support our immune systems. A 2020 review concluded that Vitamin C supplementation resulted in a significant reduction of blood pressure in patients with essential hypertension. Another 2020 review found that low vitamin C levels were strongly associated with high blood pressure.

Garlic

What kitchen staple can reduce blood pressure? The allicin in garlic supplements has been shown to lower blood pressure by widening blood vessels, increasing nitric oxide production, and relaxing the smooth muscles found in blood vessels.

Botanicals:

There are many botanicals that are very effective in lowering blood pressure.  They should be recommended by your physician.

 

Are you at risk of high blood pressure? It’s never too early to talk about prevention. Naturopathic/Integrative Medicine can help put you on a path to a healthy lifestyle designed to work for you. Prevention and management requires changing lifestyle habits but going at it alone can be challenging. Let’s work together to ensure your heart health and overall health is maximized!

Give us a call today 480-284-8155!

 

 

References

Nardi WR, Harrison A, Saadeh FB, Webb J, Wentz AE, Loucks EB. Mindfulness and cardiovascular health: Qualitative findings on mechanisms from the mindfulness-based blood pressure reduction (MB-BP) study. PLoS One. 2020 Sep 23;15(9):e0239533. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0239533. PMID: 32966308; PMCID: PMC7510988.

Ran L, Zhao W, Tan X, Wang H, Mizuno K, Takagi K, Zhao Y, Bu H. Association between Serum Vitamin C and the Blood Pressure: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Cardiovasc Ther. 2020 Apr 29;2020:4940673. doi: 10.1155/2020/4940673. PMID: 32426036; PMCID: PMC7211237.

Tabassum N, Ahmad F. Role of natural herbs in the treatment of hypertension. Pharmacogn Rev. 2011 Jan;5(9):30-40. doi: 10.4103/0973-7847.79097. PMID: 22096316; PMCID: PMC3210006.

Benjamin, E.J., Muntner, P., Alonso, A. Bittencourt, M.S., Callaway, C.W., Carson, A.P., … & Virani, S.S. (2019). Heart disease and stroke statistics – 2019 update: A report from the American Heart Association. Circulation,139, 56-528.

Heron, M. (2018). Death: Leading Causes for 2016. National Vital Statistics Report, 67(6), 1-76.

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