By Dr. Leslie Vilensky
Ladies, it's time for a heart to heart about the #1 killer of women - heart disease. Did you know that only 1 in 5 American women believes heart disease is her greatest health threat? In fact, heart disease still kills more women than all cancers combined. Heart disease does not discriminate, however there are several risk factors that are known to be unique for women. Did you know:
- Women who experience high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy might be at higher risk for these conditions and heart attacks down the road, and children born to women with these complications during pregnancy may also be at risk as adults.
- Decreasing estrogen levels during menopause may pose a significant risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease.
- Smoking is a greater risk factor for women than it is for men.
Here’s another tough one: women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain, and studies have shown that when patients present with heart symptoms, women are often twice as likely as men to receive a mental health diagnosis instead of or in addition to a cardiac diagnosis. Therefore, it is recommended that any suspicious symptoms in women over age 30 be investigated for coronary artery disease.
So, what do women need to look for? Here is a list of potential warning signs to be aware of:
- light-headedness or dizziness
- neck and/or stomach pain
- shortness of breath
Does this seem a bit over-whelming? Seeking the care of a naturopathic doctor may be just the answer! Research shows that naturopathic care is highly effective in the prevention and the treatment of heart disease. According to a 2013 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, a group of high risk individuals who received care from licensed naturopathic doctors (in addition to conventional care) for one year had a lower risk of heart disease than those who only received conventional care from their medical doctors. This group also had better scores on another widely used method for measuring the risk of future heart attacks and strokes.
We have known for a long time that heart disease is preventable through healthy diet and lifestyle. But what does this look like? Let’s get down to some specifics you can begin right now:
10 Diet and Lifestyle Tips for a Healthy Heart
1. Nourish Your Heart. Eat a whole foods diet including a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Emphasizing these foods helps maintain a healthy body weight and composition and also contains plant nutrients and anti-oxidants that help quench compounds that can damage your heart and arteries. By doing so, this rainbow of foods can decrease inflammation in your body, one of the key underlying causes of heart disease.
2. It’s elementary, my dear. Magnesium is a mineral necessary for hundreds of enzymes that allow your body to perform many of its normal functions, including blood pressure regulation and a healthy heart rate. Foods that are high in magnesium include dark chocolate (yes, I said chocolate), nuts and seeds, and dark leafy greens like kale, spinach and collard greens. You might also consider taking a high quality magnesium supplement like magnesium glycinate or citrate for additional therapeutic benefits.
3. Eat healthy fats. Omega-3 fatty acids found in high quality supplements and foods like walnuts, flaxseeds, pastured eggs, and deep, cold-water fish like salmon, halibut, herring and sardines have anti-inflammatory effects in the body and can help support healthy cholesterol levels.
4. Oh, those berries. Hawthorne berry is well known in herbal medicine as wonderful heart tonic. It is used to support healthy blood pressure levels and decrease LDL cholesterol, which is often touted as the “bad” cholesterol and is thought to increase risk for heart disease at elevated levels.
5. Put out the fire. Pay attention to your stress levels. Activities like deep belly breathing and meditation can help support your parasympathetic nervous system - not only allowing for a deep sense of peace, but also promoting healthy blood pressure levels and decreasing inflammation in your body.
6. Move. Spend at least 20 minutes moving your body every day. Your heart is a muscle and needs to be exercised. Activities like walking, dancing, and swimming increase circulation and strengthen your heart.
7. Yoga. There is evidence that practicing yoga may lower cardiovascular risk factors such as high cholesterol, elevated blood sugar and stress hormones.
8. Follow your heart. Spend time and connect with the ones you love on a regular basis. A life full of love is good for your heart.
9. Heed the call. Listen to your heart’s deepest calling. Sankalpa, in yogic tradition, refers to a deep knowing of one’s own life intention or purpose. Explore and discover the areas in your life where you are called. Your heart will be happy for it.
10. Practice Gratitude. It is thought that giving thanks, even for the little things, can improve heart health directly by decreasing inflammation in your body. Living from a place of gratitude may also improve mood and promote positive health habits like fitness and good nutrition, both of which are foundational elements in improving heart health.
Dr. Leslie Vilensky is a doctor of naturopathic medicine who has practiced naturopathic medicine for over a decade in Minnesota. She received her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University (1998), a globally respected institution of natural health arts and sciences in Kenmore, Washington.
She enjoys getting to know her patients in order to provide individualized, wellness-oriented healthcare. Dr. Vilensky helps people with Lyme and other chronic fatigue issues to get their energy back through natural means that counterbalance the often negative effects of more conventional approaches so that they are able to live their lives more fully, experiencing vibrant health. Other areas of expertise include gastrointestinal health issues like inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome; PMS and other menstrual irregularities; as well as adjunctive cancer support.