February is Heart Disease Awareness Month!

Women account for 52.6 percent of the total heart disease deaths. They also tend to have a worse prognosis with heart disease once they come to the hospital.

Women also may experience different symptoms of heart disease than men. But for both genders, chest pressure is the most common symptom of heart disease. Women, however, may experience shortness of breath, jaw pain, headaches, nausea, fatigue, and stomach upset –which we call atypical symptoms of heart disease — more commonly than men.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2009, an estimated 785,000 Americans will have a new coronary attack, and about 470,000 will have a recurrent attack. About every 25 seconds, an American will have a coronary event, and about one every minute will die from one. Heart disease is often perceived as an “older woman’s disease,” and it is the leading cause of death among women aged 65 years and older. However, heart disease is the third leading cause of death among women aged 25–44 years and the second leading cause of death among women aged 45–64 years.

Why Does a Woman’s Risk of Heart Disease Rise With Age?

Menopause is a normal stage in a woman’s life; it comprises any of the changes a woman experiences either before or after she stops menstruating. As menopause nears, the ovaries gradually produce less estrogen (a female hormone), causing changes in the menstrual cycle and other physical changes.

The most common symptoms of menopause are hot flashes, night sweats, emotional changes, and changes in the vagina (such as dryness).

Menopause usually occurs naturally in women between ages 45 and 55. However, loss of estrogen can also occur if the ovaries are removed during surgery (such as during a total hysterectomy) or if a woman goes through early menopause.

Why Is Heart Disease Associated With Menopause?

The loss of natural estrogen as women age may contribute to the higher risks of heart disease seen after menopause. Other factors that may play a role in postmenopausal risks of heart disease include:

  • Changes in the walls of the blood vessels, making it more likely for plaque and blood clots to form.
  • Changes in the level of fats in the blood (LDL, or “bad” cholesterol increases and HDL, or “good” cholesterol decreases).
  • Increases in fibrinogen levels (a substance in the blood that helps the blood to clot). Increased levels of blood fibrinogen are related to heart disease and stroke since it makes it more likely for blood clots to form, narrowing the arteries and reducing blood flow to the heart.

Keep in mind that there are other factors associated with women suffering heart disease more than men. Many women are now working, rather then staying home raising the children. In addition to work, the women’s responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and helping the kids with the homework still exist after she is done at work. With the responsibilities of work and home, this leaves women tired and not getting the rest they need.

On the other end of the spectrum, imagine being a single mother, raising the children, working one or more jobs, cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry and being the ‘head of the household.’

Furthermore, add in being over 40, with hormone changes occurring, leads to the onset of heart disease more quickly, than for a man.

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Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are no more fattening than any other food.  In fact, ounce for ounce, they provide half the calories of fat.  But any food can be “fattening” if you eat too much.

Carbohydrates are an excellent source of energy and provide valuable vitamins, minerals and fiber.  Keep in mind there are three types of carbohydrates —simple, medium and complex.

Simple Carbohydrates or “sugars” are found in some fruits such as grapes and various melons. All types of candy are made of simple carbohydrates, as well as some cereals.  Some simple carbohydrates, including candies and pastries are refined.  Most of the nutritional value is lost but calories are retained when a carbohydrate is refined. Refined sugars should be limited due to their low nutritional value and high calories.

Medium Carbohydrates are not talked about very often. Carbohydrates included in this group are fruits and vegetables such as green apples, pears, tomatoes and most of the green vegetables.  I suggest that these are the carbohydrates that should be eaten most often especially by women.  They have a high nutritional value and are low in calories.

Complex Carbohydrates, or starches, are found in a wide variety of foods and for that reason are usually the major sources of carbohydrates in your health plan.  Complex carbohydrates include foods such as pasta, beans, bread, bananas, and some vegetables.  However, I feel that complex carbohydrates should be limited in your health plan, as it takes your body too long to burn the calories, unless you are involved in an exercise program. I suggest that women, especially, limit their intake of complex carbohydrates due to the enzymes in their bodies.