Women: Take heart!

September 2, 2018

You’ve all heard the alarming statistics concerning women’s heart health and gender differences in treatment and survival: Ninety percent of women in the U.S. have one or more risk factors for heart disease or stroke and are more likely to die from a first heart attack than men. To top it off, when women do survive a heart attack or stroke, they have more complications.

As Dr. Holly Anderson, director of education and outreach for the Perelman Heart Institute, pointed out on “The Dr. Oz Show”: “Heart disease remains the No. 1 cause of death for women — more than all cancers combined — and it is on the rise, especially in young women, ages 29 to 45.”

Women need to become aware not only of specific cardiovascular conditions that they face but also what to do when interacting with the doctor who provides their primary care and how to handle it if they land in the emergency department.

Why are younger women having more heart woes? The obesity and Type 2 diabetes epidemics are hitting premenopausal women hard, and they deliver a one-two punch for cardiovascular diseases. In the U.S., obesity rates are the highest among middle-age adults (41 percent for 40- to 59-year-olds), while Type 2 diabetes affects around 11 million adult women under the age of 65.

Know this: Starting at age 20, women should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years and their LDL and HDL cholesterol, triglyceride and blood-sugar levels checked every four to six years. Women at higher risk due to age, weight, lifestyle habits and family history need to be checked more frequently.

Postmenopausal women should have an annual heart health checkup that includes levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, CRP (an inflammation marker) and blood pressure. If your doc doesn’t suggest it, insist.

The differences between men and women’s heart woes: Almost two-thirds of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease experience no previous symptoms. If they do have symptoms, they may show up at an older age and be distinctly different from men’s. Also, women wait longer to get medical help after the onset of a heart attack; are more apt to have other complicating health problems (in part because they’re older); respond differently to treatments; and are not given comparable treatments.

Clues you can use: A month before a heart attack, a woman may report being unusually fatigued (71 percent); experience sleep disturbances (48 percent), shortness of breath (42 percent), indigestion (39 percent), anxiety (36 percent) or a rapid heart rate (27 percent); and her arms may feel weak or heavy (25 percent). That’s why Dr. Jennifer Haythe, a specialist in women’s heart health at Columbia University in New York, says, “It is my hope that women would go to the hospital more often for symptoms that may be heart-related and demand from doctors that they not be overlooked or told they are hysterical.”

A recent study says that if a woman goes to the emergency room for a heart attack, her chances of survival are substantially better if a female doctor works on her. So the Harvard Business School researchers who did the study recommend women ask for a female doc in those circumstances. But you may not be able to ask or there may be no female cardiologist available, so clearly that’s not a good answer to the problem.

According to a Cleveland Clinic study, when doctors follow a four-step protocol for the most severe type of heart attack, it eliminates or reduces gender disparities in care and outcomes typically seen in this type of event. Women should talk with their primary care doctor and cardiologist (if under care of one) about their awareness of the gender discrepancies in diagnosis, treatment and outcomes, and find out which hospitals in your area are known to practice gender-neutral protocols in their emergency departments.

A brief word about boxers

If you’re a guy looking to start or expand your family, when it comes to your underwear, it’s briefs that are bruisers and boxers that help you dodge serious damage.

We told you a couple years ago that guys who wore boxers during the day and slept naked at night had 25 percent less DNA damage to their sperm than men who wore snug briefs around the clock. Well, we now know that boxers go a couple rounds further.

Researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health have found that not only are boxer-wearers’ sperm healthier, but those guys have a 25 percent higher concentration of the healthy sperm, a 17 percent higher total sperm count and 33 percent more swimming sperm than men who wear tight-fitting briefs.

The reason? Sperm is sensitive to temperatures above 92 degrees. Your body is normally 98 degrees, and briefs keep the testicles close to the body. Boxer shorts are looser and cooler, and get close to allowing for the au natural position of the testicles, which is down and away from the body. In short, it’s no contest: Wear boxers for better sperm.

Q: I am trying to take off a few pounds gradually, but in truth, it’s so slow that it’s adding up to nothing! I’ve been eating a wide variety of foods like the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines says to, so what’s wrong?

Abigail L., Springfield, Ill.

A: Losing weight gradually is the right way to shed it and keep it off. That said, we wonder about what you mean by “variety.” A milkshake and a carrot stick is not what’s meant by “variety” — but it’s what many folks seem to think they can get away with.

In fact, it’s gotten to be enough of a problem that the American Heart Association recently issued a position paper saying, “Greater dietary diversity is associated with suboptimal eating patterns, that is, higher intakes of processed foods, refined grains and sugar-sweetened beverages.”

So what is the variety that you should be aiming for? A variety of colors and types of veggies and fruits is a good place to start. You want to enjoy some legumes, some leafy greens, some cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower, some citrus and some fleshy fruits and berries daily. You can add lean proteins like skinless chicken and fish.

But if that variety doesn’t spice up your interest in healthy eating, just remember that while variety may be the spice of life, spices are the life of variety. Here are three of our favorites.

Turmeric: A main component of curry powder, turmeric delivers powerful flavor, and preliminary studies show it can reduce the number of heart attacks bypass patients have post-surgery and control knee pain from osteoarthritis as well as ibuprofen can. People from India, who use it frequently, have much lower rates of dementia. Animal studies confirm its brain benefits.

Cinnamon: Use this to flavor your coffee, zip up stews and make black beans sing with flavor. It’s also has anti-fungal properties and helps to control glucose levels.

Pepper: Black pepper can combat cancer-causing properties of grilled foods — just coat lean chicken or veggies with ground pepper (after marinating in just about anything) before cooking over a flame.

Q: I’ve tried to reduce the amount of plastics, their waste and hormone disruptors in my life, but it’s difficult. Do you have any tips or helpful guidelines for me and my family to follow?

Candice B., San Diego

A: With all the recent media attention focused on plastic waste in our oceans and the trend away from BPAs in plastics, there are steps you can take, and some things you cannot, or do not, have to change. And there’s a new generation of entrepreneurial plastic recyclers — more are emerging every day — that are making recycling a much more effective way to manage the huge quantities that we discard daily.

So, here are a few things you can do in your everyday life to reduce your plastic footprint and recycle every chance you get.

The ReThink Plastics pilot study wanted to see if some pretty simple behavior changes could reduce exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals in plastics and printed register receipts — and it did! Along the way it also succeeded in reducing plastic use and waste. The study participants were asked to take the following steps:

Use glass or stainless steel water bottles.

Store food in glass or ceramic containers.

Skip canned foods and beverages.

Reduce take-out food.

Do not handle receipts with bare hands. (If you do, wash with soap and water as soon as possible. Hand sanitizer won’t wash BPAs off your hands, so wash them before you touch your food.)

And we have a few more tips for you as well.

Opt out of using plastic bags at the store, and rely on reusable cloth bags to carry groceries and brown paper bags to hold produce. Use cloth bags for purchases in other stores as well.

Use non-plastic containers to pack your lunch, and carry along reusable utensils — and no plastic straws.

Contact Drs. Oz and Roizen at sharecare.com.

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