Heart Disease: The Number One Cause of Death for All Genders
Heart disease is the number one killer for all genders, across every race and ethnicity.
Yet, breast cancer is one of the most feared diagnoses for women.
So, why is that only a little more than half of women (56%) are aware of their high risk for this condition?
This is especially concerning when women have a greater chance of dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD) than all other cancers combined.
Furthermore, older women who are cancer survivors are much more likely to die from cardiovascular issues than a cancer reoccurrence.
In my previous article and video on heart disease, I discussed:
– More statistics on women and cardiovascular disease
– Why heart disease is so overlooked in women in favor of breast cancer
– Traditional risk factors for CVD
– The cholesterol and statin controversies
– Specific risk factors for women’s heart health
– The missing links in holistic cardiovascular care
You can read more about these subjects here.
Holistic Heart Health for Females, Males, and All Genders
In this post and video, I continue to inform you on the importance of holistically caring for heart health in all genders.
Topics covered include:
– A review of factors that impact heart health
– Overlooked symptoms of heart disease in women
– How hormonal and digestive issues can influence CVD in females
– The underrecongized cardiovascular risk factors for all genders: socioeconomics, emotions, and relationships
– Naturopathic and functional medicine considerations for supporting better heart health for females and males
This article and video will help you to understand what you need to consider when caring for your cardiovascular system. It is meant to empower you in which choices you make on your wellness journey, regardless of your gender. *
Let’s get started.
*This post refers to gender based on biology versus identity; therefore, “women” and “men” and “females” and “males” are meant to refer to biological women and men.
Heart Disease Symptoms in Women and Men
One of the reasons breast cancer gets more attention than CVD is that specific symptoms and risk factors for heart problems can be different in women and are not well-known.
John Hopkins states: (*mine)
Traditional [CVD] risk factors common to both women and men:
- Obesity (* this is associative and confounders exist)
- High blood pressure
- Family history
- Metabolic syndrome – the co-existence of high blood pressure, obesity, and high glucose and triglyceride levels
- High levels of C-reactive protein – a sign of inflammatory disease that can occur along with other cardiovascular risk factors
Some risk factors that relate specifically to women or that can affect women disproportionately include:
- Relatively high testosterone levels prior to menopause
- Increasing hypertension during menopause
- Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis – more common in women than in men
- Stress and depression – also more common among women
- Low risk factor awareness – Lack of recognition of many of the above conditions as risk factors for heart disease is a risk factor in itself
According to Mayo Clinic, other more subtle warning signs can also commonly be overlooked in women and attributed to other conditions besides the heart:
The most common heart attack symptom in women is the same as in men — some type of chest pain, pressure or discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes or comes and goes.
But chest pain is not always severe or even the most noticeable symptom, particularly in women.
Women often describe heart attack pain as pressure or tightness. And it’s possible to have a heart attack without chest pain.
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)
Symptoms can be vague because women tend to have blockages not only in their main arteries but also in the smaller ones that supply blood to the heart. Females are also more likely to have heart attacks with no severe blockages in an artery (nonobstructive coronary artery disease.)
Furthermore, women tend to have aggravations more often when resting, or even when asleep; whereas men tend to be more active when they exhibit signs.
Hot Flashes and “Heart Burn” Can Be Hard on the Heart
Hormones and Heart Health
Hormonal symptoms can be risk factors for heart disease in females but are often not considered as such, because many physicians aren’t aware of the link.
Hormones have a wide-acting, powerful, and intricate influence on physiology, including on the heart. Fluctuations in them can lead to stress on the vascular system because they impact blood lipids, blood pressure, and even heartbeat regulation.
According to an article in Harvard (bold emphasis mine):
Researchers have begun to pay more attention to cardiovascular risk factors that are unique to women, such as early menopause (before age 40) and certain pregnancy complications. Recently they turned their attention to a common menopausal symptom that affects up to 85% of women: hot flashes.
Study results presented in September 2019 to the North American Menopause Society from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) found that women who experience frequent or persistent hot flashes may be more likely than women who don’t to experience a heart attack or stroke or other serious cardiovascular problems. (Researchers defined “frequent” hot flashes as having them six or more days in the previous two-week period. Women with “persistent” hot flashes reported those frequent hot flashes at 25% or more of study visits.)
Hot flashes are often linked to hormones, but that is not always the case. They can also be triggered by blood sugar issues and a rise in stress hormones. Both of these are also risk factors for CVD.
Digestion, Hormones, and the Heart
The microbiome has been found to impact cardiovascular risk, so when digestive systems pop up, addressing them can have an effect on the gut bugs and resulting heart function. This is compounded for women, as digestion is also influenced by hormones. Sex hormones can impact the gastrointestinal (GI) tract’s motor, sensory, and immune function through their interaction with neurotransmitters via the gut-brain axis.
As a result, the fluctuations in hormonal levels during the monthly cycle or perimenopause can contribute to alterations in pain sensitivity, motility, gut permeability, local and systemic inflammation, and immune imbalances.
Linking digestion and microbiota health to hormonal symptoms and then back to the heart can only be done with a truly holistic viewpoint on an individual.
This is why a full, naturopathic, functional medicine, and integrative approach is essential for truly addressing the health of the heart. The body and its symptoms can’t be viewed in isolation.
The “Other” Overlooked Factors
Socioeconomics, emotional components, relationships, environmental exposures, and healthcare access have also been found to influence heart disease outcomes for all genders, but especially for women.
As I noted in my previous post, these heart-brain links are often downplayed, even though they are extremely influential.
In fact, perceived loneliness is one of the major risk factors for cardiovascular mortality, yet it is not even mentioned in most conventional articles! Furthermore, healthy relationships buffer the negative impacts of a heart attack.
I’ll go more into this overlooked topic in another article.
Covering all the Factors that Affect Heart Health in Women and Men
To fully support heart health, regardless of gender, each of the above risk factors should be evaluated from an integrative, naturopathic, and functional medicine perspective. Additionally, all the following aspects that influence CVD risk should be considered:
- endothelial (blood vessel) health
- one’s microbiome
- lipid particle size and proteins
- blood sugar and insulin levels
- dental health (oral microbiome)
- infections (lipids can bind microbial toxins and neutralize viruses, so this should be explored with high cholestrol)
- environmental toxins
- thyroid health, along with other hormonal symptoms (thyroid hormone is specifically needed for cholesterol utilization)
- cholesterol absorption, excretion, and liver production
- liver and digestive health
- dietary cholesterol, like cholesterol itself, another subject of debate
Summary: Considerations for Heart Health in Women and Men
This post was meant to bring more awareness on the importance of holistically caring for heart health in females and males.
Unfortunately, specific symptoms in women often get overlooked as risk factors for heart disease and are dismissed. These include hormonal, digestive, and mood imbalances, as well as other socioeconomic and relationship aspects.
Understanding the differences in risk factors for CVD in individuals can help to establish an integrative and personalized wellness protocol for cardiovascular health.
Most importantly, paying attention to relationships, socioeconomics, and emotions are vital for truly healing the heart.
Remember, your body wants to return and be restored to wholeness, we just need to allow it to flourish with the right tools and medicine.
Fear does not help us heal. Love does.
Do you agree?
In an upcoming post, I’ll discuss more on the heart-brain link.
Naturopathic Medicine and Holistic Resources for Hormonal, Mood, and Digestive Support
- Free resources and more education on essential oils and mind-body wellness are available to you here.
- An Integrative Mental Health and Stress Resource Guide.
- Tools for coping with isolation and separation.
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Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.
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