When you picture someone having a heart attack, you probably picture a man clutching his chest in pain.
That’s because, in large part, it’s been seen as a man’s disease — by doctors and by researchers. In fact, most relevant clinical trials have included relatively few women.
An analysis in 2020 found that in a decade’s worth of cardiovascular studies, only about 38.2 percent of subjects were women.
No wonder current guidelines on how best to lower cardiovascular disease risk still don’t give advice targeted specifically for women.
Frustrated by this fact, a group of researchers set out to remedy the situation.
And settled on a diet that can lower women’s risk of coronary heart disease by nearly 25 percent…
The diet that lowers women’s heart disease risk
To say that the Mediterranean diet has been well-researched would be an understatement. It’s probably the healthiest style of eating with the most powerful effect on diseases linked to inflammation, including diabetes and heart disease.
Olive oil, the heart of the Mediterranean diet, contains oleic acid, an anti-inflammatory substance. Fatty fish, also a mainstay of the diet, contain omega-3 fatty acids that beat back inflammation as well.
The diet also features whole grains. Eating whole grains raises the levels of 5-aminovaleric acid betaine, or 5-AVAB, which is shown to be heart-protective. 5-AVAB builds up in your heart tissue which delivers a protective effect for your heart.
Knowing these proven benefits, researchers at The University of Sydney set out to determine the effects of the Mediterranean diet specifically on women’s heart health.
They began by searching databases for relevant studies. Out of a whopping 190, they were able to settle on 16 relevant to women, published between 2003 and 2021.
Their analysis of these studies found that sticking closely to a Mediterranean diet was not only associated with a 24 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease for women but a 23 percent lower risk of death.
Women’s unique risk factors and symptoms
According to the Mayo Clinic, the following risk factors for heart disease are ones that women should pay particular attention to:
- Diabetes. Women with diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease than men with diabetes. Also, because diabetes can change the way women feel pain, there’s an increased risk of having a silent heart attack — one without symptoms.
- Emotional stress and depression. Stress and depression affect women’s hearts more than men’s. Takotsubo syndrome, or “broken heart syndrome,” resulting from extreme stress or grief, is notorious for silent heart attacks in women.
- Smoking. Smoking is a greater risk factor for heart disease in women than it is in men.
- Family history of early heart disease. This appears to be a greater risk factor in women than in men.
Also, lower estrogen levels, which occur when women begin to enter menopause, increase a woman’s risk of developing heart problems.
As far as heart attack symptoms, it’s fairly well known, but always worth repeating, that women’s symptoms differ from men’s. Women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain, such as:
- Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or upper belly (abdomen) discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in one or both arms
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Unusual fatigue
- Heartburn (indigestion)
Women should never ignore these signs. If you have any of these symptoms and they’re new, or can’t be explained by other things, go to an emergency room. Better to be safe than sorry.
Mediterranean diet cuts women’s cardiovascular disease and death risk by nearly 25% — Eureka Alert
Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease in women with a Mediterranean diet: systematic review and meta-analysis — Heart
Anti-Inflammatory Mediterranean Diet Plan — Eating Well
Heart disease in women: Understand symptoms and risk factors — Mayo Clinic
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