Cupid's Guide to Heart Health

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: May 26, 2010

Hearts are abound this Valentine’s Day — and not just the candy kind. It’s American Heart Month this February, so ladies, we need to dig out that red hot dress from the closet and remind ourselves to be smart about our hearts.

Heart disease is the greatest health threat to women in the United States. The statistics are staggering. Women and men of all backgrounds and ethnicities are at risk and it is definitely not something you can outgrow with age. Quite the contrary! In fact, your risk of heart disease and stroke increases with age. By the time you reach the age of 50 (around the same time as natural menopause), your risk for heart disease greatly increases. Risk is also higher for women who have undergone early or surgical menopause, who do not take estrogen. Red Hot Mamas, this means you have to take your own actions to protect your heart’s health throughout menopause and later in life.

Spreading the Love to Your Heart… without butter!

You can actually prevent heart disease by making the right, healthy lifestyle decisions on a daily basis. The key to your heart health includes taking the following lifestyle measures to reduce heart disease risk:

We all know smoking is not good for us. When it comes to the heart, it’s really, really bad. Smokers have twice the risk of heart attack than nonsmokers. Women who smoke have an increased risk for ischemic stroke and subarachnoid hemorrhage. Women smokers on birth control pills have a higher risk of heart attack and stroke than nonsmokers. Quitting smoking is not easy but there are so many reasons to quit and a lot of tools out there to help you.

Maintaining a healthy weight at menopause can be a challenge, but your heart will thank you. Being overweight makes it more difficult for your heart to give your body the nutrients it needs. Hormonal changes (in particular lower estrogen levels) can trigger fat to shift to the center of the body and accumulate around the belly. The good news is, you can control the weight gain through proper eating habits* and daily exercise. Follow a diet low in saturated and trans fats, high in fiber, fruits, veggies, fish, folate-rich foods and soy. Control your portion sizes and exercise to burn more calories.

Know your numbers (and not just phone numbers). The top 3 numbers to know for heart health include:

  • Blood Pressure- One out of every three adults in the U.S. (approximately 73 million people) has high blood pressure or pre-hypertension. Normal blood pressure is below 120/80. Check yours often.
  • Cholesterol Levels- You take the good, you take the bad and there you have… your total cholesterol. Your lipid profile score is really what you’re after and it includes the combination of three different numbers: HDL, LDL and triglycerides. You want to aim for a total cholesterol of 200 mg/dL or lower.
  • Waist Size- A better indicator than both your BMI and your weight for heart disease risk is your waist size. Grab a non-elastic tape and measure around your belly button. If you’re measurement is over 35 inches (over 40 inches for men), you are at a greater risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic problems, high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol.

Boosting Heart Health

People have been using aspirin therapy since the 1970s to prevent and manage heart disease. It benefits the heart in a few ways. Aspirin can decrease pain and inflammation that is usually associated with heart disease by blocking certain enzymes from producing a substance that can trigger pain. Aspirin also inhibits blood clots that can cause arteries to clog and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Ask your doctor if you can benefit from taking aspirin therapy.

For a long time, many professionals believed that hormone therapy could possibly reduce the risk of heart disease in women. With new research, we are realizing this is not the case. The story has bounced back and forth over the past 20 years or so. Back in 2002, The Women’s Health Initiative (an important 15 year government funded study of postmenopausal women) showed a modest increase in the risk of heart disease in women taking a combination of a certain type of estrogen and progesterone**.

Later analyses showed that the increased risk may have been actually due to the advanced age of the participants and in fact not due to the hormone therapy itself. Later studies reported no overall difference in heart attack risk among women who took hormones with those who didn’t, although the timing of when you start therapy matters. So, the WHI data did offer reassurance that hormone therapy initiated close to menopause to treat menopause symptoms won’t increase a woman’s risk of heart attack. And, that estrogen use started at the time of surgical or natural menopause is safe for the heart and may even offer protection. We also know that waiting too long past menopause to take estrogen therapy can be risky business.

Taking hormone therapy may help ameliorate some symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and even may boast bone health. You should not take estrogen therapy, however, solely to reduce the risk of heart disease. Talk to your clinician about other methods of prevention. Discuss the benefits and risks of hormone therapy. Regardless of whether you take hormone therapy or not, it’s important to adapt a healthy lifestyle through exercise and healthy eating.

Have a Heart-Felt Conversation

You don’t have to be the romantic type to feel that love is in the air throughout the month of February. Keep your heart bumping, thumping and feeling the love throughout menopause and beyond. Take the time to love your heart. Talk more with your clinician about caring for your heart. In the long run, your heart will thank you.

*Here’s a heart healthy recipe from Red Hot Mamas Publishing’s latest cookbook Eat to Defeat Menopause. The cook book is now available on Amazon and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to help fight hunger in the United States. This recipe not only looks fantastic, it also tastes fantastic:

Swordfish with Orange-Lemon Sauce
4 swordfish steaks
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup finely chopped onion
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Handful of chopped Italian parsley
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place the swordfish steaks in a glass baking dish. Add the lemon and orange juices, onion, garlic, parsley, lemon and orange zests and salt and pepper to taste. Turn the swordfish steaks to ensure they are well coated and bake for 20 minutes. Serve with the sauce spooned over top of the fish.

Yields 4 servings.

**If a woman still has her uterus, she needs to add progestogen to protect against endometrial hyperplasia. See the Red Hot Mamas Approach to Hormone Therapy for more information.

Other Resources:

Go Red for Women

The Women’s Health Initiative

References

“Menopause Guide.” Menopause and Heart Disease. 2009. WebMD, Web. 10 Feb 2010. website.

“Women, Heart Disease and Stroke.” American Heart Association, Web. 10 Feb 2010. website.

“Frequently Asked Questions.” Heart Disease. The National Women’s Health Information Center, Web. 15 Feb 2010. website.

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