Women are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. That’s why it’s even more important to prevent the leading causes of death among Canadian women: heart disease and stroke. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, heart disease is the number-one cause of death in Canada for women over the age of 55.
A woman's risk of heart disease and stroke increases during menopause because the ovaries slowly stop producing the hormone estrogen, which is heart-protective. These changes may lead to:
An increase in body fat above the waist and a change in the way the body handles sugar, a precursor condition to diabetes.
An increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels and a decrease in HDL (good) cholesterol A tendency towards higher blood pressure.
Below are some natural health tips to help prevent these changes and improve the health of your heart.
Manage weight and control blood sugar
Fill your diet with colourful fruits and vegetables to provide heart-healthy antioxidants and essential nutrients. Consume more low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and less high-calorie, high-sodium foods, like refined, processed or fast foods. Try following the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) as they provide guidelines for healthy eating for your heart, encouraging whole foods and fibre while limiting saturated and trans fats.
Most people lack fibre in their diets. The average person eats only 12g of fibre a day—while the goal should be 30g a day. Eat more fibre-rich foods like legumes, whole grains, seeds, fruits and vegetables. Some people may need some help with this and may look for a fibre supplement, but not all fibre supplements are the same. When you choose a fibre supplement, choose something that has a high viscosity, because it absorbs and holds plenty of water and slows the conversion of carbohydrates and other foods into sugar, resulting in a more gradual release of glucose into the bloodstream.
Manage cholesterol and triglyceride levels
Fibre is important for lowering cholesterol and triglycerides, but fats play an important role too. Good fats should make up 90% of your fat intake and should come from plant and fish sources. You should limit saturated fats to less than 10% of your calories (200 calories for a 2000 calorie diet) and limit trans fats to 1% of calories (two grams per day for a 2000 calorie diet).
Cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and halibut are great choices of healthy fats and should be consumed at least twice a week; these fats thin the blood and have numerous beneficial effects on cardiovascular health. For some, it is difficult to eat fish so using an omega-3 supplement is helpful. Omega-3 reduces inflammation, cholesterol levels, risk for heart rhythm disturbances and heart palpitations, atrial fibrillation and ventricular arrhythmia.
Manage high blood pressure
Consume garlic and onions liberally because they have sulfur-containing compounds, which have been known to lower blood pressure. Fruits and vegetables are also important as they contain nutrients such as fibre and potassium, which also lower blood pressure. Aim for seven to 10 daily servings of high-potassium, fibre-rich choices such as sweet potatoes, leafy greens (like chard and spinach), tomatoes, papayas, melons and bananas.
Good news for chocolate lovers! Chocolate contains flavanols, promoting the dilation of blood vessels, which can result in lower blood pressure. Choose dark chocolate with a high cocoa content—only a piece or two a day is required. Other nutrients such as omega-3, coenzyme Q10 and magnesium have also been shown to help decrease blood pressure.
Exercise promotes weight loss, healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels and stress reduction, which all have direct, positive effects on cardiac health. Stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, tai chi, yoga and deep breathing along with adequate sleep will further benefit your heart.
**Before beginning a new supplement regime, speak to a healthcare professional.
Dr. Johnson is a licensed naturopathic doctor who has authored five books and is a regular guest on TV outlets throughout the nation. She holds a certificate in adult education and specializes in educating the public and other health professionals about various health topics and natural health product issues including diet, supplementation and integration of pharmacological and natural therapies.