Myth: Heart Disease Is More Dangerous For Men
One of the most wide spread health myths is that heart disease affects men more than it affects women. In fact, one in four women will die of heart disease. Are you at risk?
There is very little awareness around the fact that heart disease kills more women than all female cancers put together.
Cardiologist Dr. Riaz Motara explains to Longevity how heart disease and stroke affects women.
He says it is very dangerous for women to buy into the myth that heart disease is less likely to affect them, or will affect them less severely, than men:
“A shocking statistic is that while one in 40 women will die from breast cancer, one in four will die from heart disease. Further to that, most women are diagnosed at a later, more severe stage. This is because both the doctors and the patient assume that they are less likely to have heart disease.”
In a nutshell:
Heart disease comes in many different forms, the main types are; hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure and heart attacks. A stroke is when an artery ruptures in the brain.
“Over time, plaque (fatty deposits) line the walls of the arteries that supply the brain or heart with blood. If this plaque becomes unstable, and ruptures, a clot begins to form inside the artery. As the clot increases in size, the blood flow is reduced and the blood or brain tissue dependent on the artery can die. If the clot completely blocks the artery, or breaks off, a heart attack or stroke can occur,” Dr Riaz explains.
“40% of South Africans over the age of 25 will have hypertension. 78% of over the age of 50 will have hypertension,” Dr Motara shares.
What are the risk factors?
- The contraceptive pill.
- High insulin levels.
“The risk factors for heart disease are the same as the risk factors for chronic low grade inflammation. This is because chronic low grade inflammation in the arteries causes a build-up of plaque as the body tries to heal itself. As a result, we do not treat the plaque, which is a symptom, but rather the underlying cause which is the inflammation,” Dr Motara explains.
The risk factors you can’t control
“Almost all risk factors can be managed but there may be a genetic risk or family history of premature heart disease. If this exists, it is important to get assessed earlier in life,” Dr Motara shares.
PCOS & Heart Disease
“Polycystic Ovary Syndrome has become increasingly common in young women today due to poor diet and lifestyle choices, such as eating a diet rich in; omega six fats which are pro-inflammatory, processed sugar and starch and a lack of fruits and vegetables. PCOS causes weight gain and obesity which can lead to heart disease,” Dr Motara explains.
Women Present Atypically
“Men present in the center of the chest, whereas women are more likely to present with shoulder pain, nausea, fatigue and anxiety,” explains Dr Riaz.
The Age Factor:
“The age of a woman greatly impacts on heart disease. Younger women are more prone to develop hypertension during pregnancy, and this is dangerous to both the mom and the baby,” says Dr Motara. “Older women are more prone to heart attacks, however they do also present with hypertension and strokes.”
“After menopause; cholesterol levels rise, a woman is more likely to gain weight and she is more prone to developing arrhythmias or an abnormal heartbeat,” he explains.
The Methods of Prevention
Dr Motara shares the following methods of prevention.
- As many omega six rich foods as possible.
- Grain fed protein.
- Seed oil; such as sunflower and canola oil.
- Processed fats.
- Highly refined sugars and starches.
- Flour based pasta.
- White potatoes.
- Fizzy drinks.
- Calorie dense fast foods.
- Eat omega three rich fats (these are anti-inflammatory).
- Chia seeds.
- Cold pressed flaxseed oil.
- Oily fish.
- Ostrich/game meat.
“Only eat grass-fed animal protein,” advises Dr Motara.
“Partake in regular, high frequency low intensity exercise, such as walking, jogging, cycling, Pilates and stretching,” Dr Motara shares.
Know You Numbers
Over the age of 40 you should regularly (every two years) check:
- Your hormone levels.
- Your cholesterol levels. The total should be less than 5 and the HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) should be more than 1.2.
- Your fasting insulin.
- Your markers of inflammation. Your CRP level should be less than 1.
“The treatment for heart disease depends on the type of heart disease. Lifestyle interventions are critical to achieving the correct outcome, therefore practicing the correct diet and exercise habits is critical,” Dr Motara explains. “We do have good medication to treat heart disease, and this must be used in combination with lifestyle changes and supplementation.”
He adds: “Doctors have traditionally focused on treating the affects without understanding the causes. We need to focus on converting acutely inflamed plaque into chronic stable plaque that is less likely to rupture and cause a heart attack.”
The Final Word
“Most, if not all, heart disease is preventable. Lifestyle intervention should start at an early age, one should not wait for a chronic heart event to occur,” says Dr Motara.