What if eggs weren’t actually “bad” for you? What if working on your emotional health was equally, if not more, important than the other accepted factors that lead to heart disease? What if women experience heart disease so differently than men that one pioneer in the field wants to rename women’s heart disease? And, what if you knew even the FDA suggests phasing out a major ingredient in snack foods due to its danger on your body?
In celebration of Valentine’s Day (and because we ❤ you), let’s take a closer look at four things you need to know about your heart. We’ll address two today.
Sources: American Heart Association and Summa Health System
1) Women can experience heart attacks very differently than men.
“Although men and women can experience chest pressure that feels like and elephant sitting across the chest, women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure.” said Nieca Goldberg, M.D., medical director for the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center and an American Heart Association volunteer. “Instead they may experience shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure, or extreme fatigue.”
In fact, recent research at the Cedars-Sinai suggests that all heart diseases in men and women are different. They are so different that Dr. Noel Bairey Merz, the director of the Women’s Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, wants to rename women’s heart disease “ischemic heart disease,” to differentiate it from men’s.
Ischemia describes a symptom that indicated a lack of blood flow and oxygen to the heart, which results in symptoms such as chest discomfort, shortness of breath, and nausea. Bairey Merz observes that women with ischemic heart disease generally have major arteries that are clear of plaque but the smaller coronary blood vessels cease to constrict and dilate well, creating the lack of blood flow and oxygen to the heart.
“We are just at the beginning of understanding the differences between the sexes when it comes to heart disease,” says Bairey Merz. “The more we find out the more it becomes clear that men and women can experience different diseases and the medical names for those diseases should reflect the differences. There is enough research to conclude that women and men can experience different types of heart disease.”
The type of heart ailment that generally affects men should continue to be called coronary heart disease (CHD) or coronary artery disease (CAD), Bairey Merz says, because men tend to suffer more from plaque buildup in the large arteries around the heart.
2) Depression is as great a risk factor for heart disease as the top five more familiar factors.
German researchers studied health information from 3,428 European men, ages 45-74, who were followed for 10 years. They found that dying from cardiovascular disease during the study was as strongly associated with depression as it was with several of the classic five risk factors: obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, and smoking.
Of those top five, only two risk factors accounted for more cardiovascular deaths than depression: smoking (17-20 percent) and high blood pressure (30-34 percent).
Dr. Heidi May, PhD, a cardiovascular researcher at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, says that depression likely affects the heart in a variety of direct and indirect ways. “There are some physiological changes that take place in the body with depression, and there are also behavioral changes.” Depressed people are more likely to smoke, exercise less, and skip their prescription medication.” [Look forward to an article on just this subject soon.]
In fact, being around other people who are stressed can lead to more stress for you.
The same German study found that depression is independently linked to heart disease, not just a contributor to unhealthy behaviors. Additional research has shown that the association is likely a double-edged sword — just as depression can lead to heart disease, suffering from a serious heart condition can then lead to depression. Depression can then lead to slower recovery from heart conditions.
Guess what the experts say those who suffer from mild depression should do before trying a medication? Exercise!
Exercise can relieve depression by changing the mood-regulating brain chemicals norepinephrine and serotonin. Exercise can reduce levels of the body’s stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol. It also can stimulate production of endorphins, the chemicals in the brain that ware the body’s natural painkillers.
Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, M.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, in Durham, N.C., suggests exercising three to five times a week for 20 to 30 minutes. Aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking on a treadmill, is best, but “any degree of exercise is better than none,” he says.
We at Fitness on the Run believe good sleep, stress management, eating whole foods and exercising are all important factors to maintaining a healthy heart. Whether you strength train, or play tennis, take Pilates, practice yoga, and the list goes on and on, your mind, body and that muscle we call a heart will love you for keeping it strong.
According to Harvard Health Publications, because the root cause of stress is emotional, it is best controlled by gaining insight, reducing life problems that trigger stress, and modifying that behavior. Stress control can and should involve the body.
Other than exercise, auto-regulation exercises and breathing techniques can remedy your stress levels which can cause damage to your health. And, finally, new advances in progressive muscle relaxation have been found highly successful.
Focusing on you and your health this year will make this Valentine’s Day a very happy heart day.