Ten Years of Caring For Women’s Hearts

Volgman_AnnabelleBy Annabelle Volgman, MD

In 1984, there were more women who died of cardiovascular disease than men. Cardiovascular disease has been the number one killer of American women, more than all cancers put together. Women were being treated differently than men, including hormone replacement therapy for high cholesterol instead of the more effective cholesterol-lowering medications called statins. This resulted in thousands more women dying from cardiovascular disease.

In 2001, the American Heart Association started a campaign to increase awareness about heart disease in women. This campaign was named the Go Red for Women campaign in 2003. Lynne Braun PhD, ANP, and I were involved with the inception of the awareness campaign, and we both continue to be involved with Go Red for Women.

In 2003, the Rush Heart Center for Women opened its doors to prevent and treat heart disease in women. In addition to our services, we also offered complimentary nutrition counseling, which we were able to offer through funding from grateful donors. We wanted to give comprehensive evaluation and compassionate care to prevent devastating cardiac events.

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Tips for Maintaining a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle

Cassie Vanderwall, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian at Rush and a certified personal trainer. Here are some of her suggestions for maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Why is a heart-healthy lifestyle good for everyone?

Good nutrition and exercise significantly reduces your risk — by 50 percent — of heart disease and stroke, which remains the No. 1 killer of Americans. The Diet and Lifestyle Goals for Cardiovascular Disease Risk Reduction, published by the American Heart Association, are proven lifestyle changes to promote heart health, which leads to lower total and LDL cholesterol levels, decreased triglycerides, reduced blood pressure and blood glucose control.

What does a heart-healthy meal plan include?

Heart-healthy eating includes everything, in moderation. This style of eating focuses on foods that are lower in sodium, healthier fats and proper portion sizes.

What types of fat should I consume on a daily basis?

Heart-healthy fats are those that are fluid at room temperature, such as olive oil, fish oil, and the oils from nuts and seeds. Fats that are solid at room temperature are called saturated fats, and they are known to increase LDL cholesterol and promote cardiovascular disease. If saturated fat is bad, then trans fat is worse. Trans fats have been found to both increase “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and decrease “good” (HDL) cholesterol.

What are omega 3 fatty acids?

Omega 3 fatty acids are unsaturated fats that are found in fish oil, flaxseed oil, walnut oil and many other nuts and seeds. This type of fat has been shown to decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure, decrease the risk of arrhythmias and decrease the growth of arterial plaque. Eating fatty fish — such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon — two times per week will meet this recommendation. Continue reading