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Women's Cardiovascular Health: Getting To The Heart Of The Matter

Author: Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH
Excerpt from: Vitamin Retailer, July 2007

Heart disease is just as much of a women's health problem as it is a man's. In fact, tragically one out of every two women will develop, and die from, heart disease. This makes heart disease more of a threat to a women's health than breast cancer and all other forms of cancer combined.

"For too many years, the medical establishment was ignorant of women's unique needs and physiology and looked upon women as simply 'small men'; but women are not small men," writes Nieca Goldberg, MD, chief of the Women's Heart Program at Lenox Hill Hospital in her book Women are Not Small Men (Ballantine Books, 2002).

"Women's physiology is very different from that of men, especially when it comes to heart disease," added Goldberg. In addition, the symptoms of a heart attack tend to be different for a woman, often presenting as indigestion, backache, or a vague feeling of being unwell. And things get even more dangerous after menopause, when a woman's risk of heart disease rises sharply.

While there have been great advances in the treatment and survival of women with heart disease, it seems much preferable to prevent problems in the first place (or lesson the chance of recurrence) with the use of integrative therapies that strengthen the heart and blood vessels, as well as to utilize helpful nutrients and herbs after a heart problem develops. The following nutrients do just that.

The heart-healthy B-vitamin, chiefly vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folic acid, reduce homocysteine levels, an independent risk factor for heart disease and stroke that is increasingly viewed as more important that cholesterol.  

When there is too much homocysteine in the blood, it does not flow so well through the vessels. In addition, homocysteine can damage the coronary arteries (the ones feeding the heart itself) and increase the chances that a clot could form and trigger a heart attack.

Fish oils are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids (including EPA and DHA). Consuming fish or fish oil supplements is linked to a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. In addition, fish oil lowers triglycerides and blood pressure, and also decreases clotting tendency in the blood. Supplementing with a DHA-rich fish oil lowered triglycerides by 27 percent in one recent double-blind study, and enhanced the cholesterol-lowering effects of statin drugs.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) can benefit several different heart problems, including high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, cardiomyopathy, heart arrhythmia, and angina. It is important that anyone with cardiomyopathy taking this supplement not discontinue its use without the involvement of a physician, since the condition can quickly worsen. A popular family of cholesterol lowering drugs known as HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (which include lovastatin, pravastatin, and simvastatin) have the unfortunate side effect of blocking the biosynthesis of CoQ10. Supplementation with CoQ10 (100 mg daily) can counteract this drug effect, while benefiting the underlying heart problem, as well.

1. Braslow J L. n-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr 2006;83(6):1477S-82S.
2. Meyer B J, Harnmarvold T, Rustan A C, et al. Dose-dependent effects of docosahexsenoic acid supplementation on blood lipids in statin-treated hyperlipidaemic subjects. Lipids 2007;42(2):109-15.
3. Bhsgavan H N, Copra R K. Coenzyme Q10: absorption, tissue liptake, metabolism and pharmacokinetics. Free Red Res 2006;40(5):445-53.


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