There are times when modern technologies like the Internet make women wish the good old days of medicine were back. In previous days, medical information wasn't a part of newspapers or magazines. The exception was the advertisement of potions promised to heal everything.
Today, medical information and research is more available to us than ever before, but so are the diseases and illnesses about which they're written. We're able to research various healing methods for almost any ailment. We can research physical therapy exercises for lower back pain. We can even research healing methods for migraines.
One bit of information that has eluded women is their propensity for contracting heart disease in numbers that leave men at the starting gate. Whether the basis of the heart disease is diabetes, early onset of menopause, stress, obesity, or Vitamin D deficiency, men and women present differently. Why are women different in heart disease?
Why Illness Looks Different In Women
Let's begin with the endocrine system and its hormones. In both sexes, the endocrine system regulates almost everything in the body from the salt content of the body to the body temperature, from bone and muscle health to raising and lowering blood sugar levels, from heart health to thyroid health and much more.
The difference between the two sexes is a hormone called estrogen. Produced in several places within the endocrine system, this hormone benefits the heart as well as other organs like the brain. Estrogen supplies good or HDL cholesterol to the heart and decreases bad or LDL cholesterol. It benefits blood clotting and washes out free radicals.
The most important thing, though, is that estrogen keeps the heart's arteries supple, relaxed, and dilated. Blood flows through the arteries smoothly which promotes healthy heart action.
When the estrogen slows down in menopause, it no longer benefits heart health but detracts from it. Bad cholesterol builds up. The artery walls become stiff and unyielding. Blood doesn't bounce off artery walls the way it did when the walls were healthy. Sluggish blood flow is one characteristic of a heart attack. Men's bodies are the same, but their estrogen levels don't drop off. What are other risk factors?
Risk Factors For Women
Obesity is a risk factor affecting the heart. It manufactures inflammatory substances that affect the blood vessels in the heart. It increases bad or LDL cholesterol. It's a risk for diabetes and high cholesterol or hypertension.
Stress and anxiety are part of our modern lives whether we like it or not. We're all familiar with a rapidly beating heart. What we don't see is the increased pressure of the blood hitting the artery walls. Combined with the rapid beating and variable heart rate, a heart attack seems likely.
With diabetes, glucose in the blood builds up until it's out of control. It then aims for the blood vessels and heart. Damage then happens to the nerves controlling the blood vessels and heart. It's imperative for diabetics to keep their blood sugar under control so they won't have a heart attack or stroke.
We've discussed how menopause affects the heart. Now we'll see how pregnancy affects it. Some women are susceptible to the high blood pressure or preeclampsia and gestational diabetes of pregnancy. Medical researchers are of the opinion that pregnancy simply highlights pre-existing conditions.
Alternatively, researchers say, the damage to the heart might not show up until years after the pregnancies with preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, even if the mother doesn't become diabetic.
When we think of Vitamin D, we think of sunshine, fortified milk, and fortified cereals. We don't think of heart disease, but we should. Vitamin D does more than help the body absorb calcium which is necessary for strong bones and teeth.
On the flip side, Vitamin D acts as a hormone regulating the blood pressure inside the kidneys, regulating the blood sugar levels inside the pancreas, and preventing abnormal cells from growing inside the breast and colon.
Vitamin D deficiency affects women for various reasons. Women remain indoors more than men. They wear hats and sunscreen when they are outside which lessens the ability of the body to absorb sunlight in order to make the vitamin. Obesity encourages fat cells to store the vitamin instead of releasing it into the body which aids in heart disease.
Age is a large consideration in Vitamin D and heart disease. As we age, the body produces less of the vitamin. We stay inside more, so our skin doesn't absorb it. The diet produces less of the vitamin, because aging people eat less. This is a large reason some women 60 and over get heart attacks.
What Women Can Do
First of all, all women need to be aware that heart disease and heart attack can happen to them. No woman is immune. Secondly, get to a doctor on a regular basis for wellness testing. Other things women can do include:
Drink moderately, because alcohol fosters high blood pressure
Exercise 30 minutes per day for five days
Maintain an ideal or moderate weight
Keep blood sugar levels under tight control
Avoid stress, or if you can't, practice mindfulness or meditation to control it
Get a Vitamin D supplement and take it every day
Talk to your doctor about aging and the effects it has on the heart. Decide between you how to handle it
Eat healthy. A low fat, low carb diet filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats like chicken and fowl, and oily fishes like wild-caught salmon and tuna give women the best chance to fight the disease
You can't change being a woman. You can't stop stress or aging. On the other hand, being aware of your body and how parts of it affect other parts will at least give you a chance to keep it healthy. You can temper all of it with the right wellness practices like tests and checkups, the right health habits such as exercise, good food such as organic meats, fresh fruits, and veggies, and enough restful sleep.