By Dr. Anju Sodhi (Bams, ND)
February is American Heart Month. Cardiovascular awareness is on everyone’s mind as we celebrate the organ of love. Yet, research on the matter in regards to women is scarce. Women’s health is an important topic, but it seems like fully discussing the ins and outs of cardiovascular health specifically for women needs improvement. As cardiovascular events are still the leading cause of death in women over 65, it is important to evolve the need for awareness for cardiovascular diseases in women.
There is a vast amount of research in cardiovascular health, but most of it uses male participants. Why? Men tend to have more candid cardiovascular events seven to 10 years before women and due to this, more deaths occur in that population. For many years, it was also thought that women were protected from cardiovascular issues because of estrogen production. There is an obvious increase in cardiovascular issues in women after menopause, yet it was more attributed to lifestyle and diet issues after retirement. Furthermore, women who had cardiovascular events or issues were assumed to have hormonal imbalances, tremendous amounts of stress, or participated in lifestyle risk factors that increased cardiovascular issues. Therefore, they were thought of as outliers in research. However, though women still will have less testosterone than men after menopause, the body will convert that testosterone to estrogens, increasing the risk of cardiovascular issues. Furthermore, women will utilize cortisol differently in men, changing adipose deposition in the body to the center of the body, stressing the cardiovascular system. Though men experience similar changes to adipose deposition earlier in life, lifestyle changes can mitigate problems easier than for women.
The research that does exist specifically for females shows that the reason women develop cardiovascular issues ‘later in life” is because symptoms of cardiovascular issues present differently and because estrogen balance doesn’t change until after 55 years of age, on average. Women tend to have more referred pain to the back, have unexplained nausea, present anxiety differently, or may have hot flashes. For many women, these symptoms are tied to menopause and many healthcare professionals do not think to test for cardiovascular health. This could be due to the fact the men have pain directly associated with the chest and shortness of breath. Hypertension is generally not diagnosed in terms of a significant health issue for women because the abnormal ranges for women are less significant than men. However, the normal blood pressure ranges are based on algorisms created by male experiments. Socially, in the past, women were not evaluated for stress and the effects of stress were less likely to be studied in women. Fortunately, in the present, stress and its effects on physiology are well studied in both sexes.
Due to the fact that women tend to get evaluated and treated only after significant changes to cardiovascular health, treatment is more difficult because the damage has already occurred. Cardiovascular disease is a silent killer of women, though it does scream to the healthcare practitioner if they are listening. Here are ways to recognize cardiovascular cues to get checked as well as a way to prevent cardiovascular issues from now until we age.
Common risk factors for cardiovascular issues stem from diet and lifestyle. Women at risk have smoked cigarettes, consumed significant amounts of alcohol, eat improper fats often, have a meat-based diet (therefore having high low-density cholesterol), and do not partake in habitual exercise. Furthermore, people who have fluid imbalances during pregnancy or change in altitude tend to have issues with cardiovascular health later in life. Much of this is due to renal dysregulation.
During the necessary and important yearly exam, discuss doing hormonally testing to ensure the body is communicating well. These are generally done using blood and spit tests, though urine tests do exist. Ask to participate in stress tests as well as other maintenance cardiovascular tests. These tend not to be part of normal preventative procedures. Be sure to mention if there is a cardiovascular issue such as hypertension, heart attack, arterio/atherosclerosis, stroke, blood clots, liver diseases, and structural abnormalities. Also, mention if you are someone who smokes or has smoked cigarettes. Discuss if you experience or had experienced any of the mentioned risk factors. Make your doctor part of your healthcare journey.
Things to start improving cardiovascular health at home are easy and enjoyable. Start with taking walks when you wake up and before dinner. This simple act of walking 10-30 minutes stimulates the heart to work harder, but gently, allowing it to clear toxins and residue in the blood vessels. Because of the movement, the blood flow to the gut can be improved, improving the digestion and clearing toxins that otherwise would be allowed to float in the bloodstream. Participate in physical activity three to five times a week. This can include yoga, walking, weight-lifting, or simply chasing your kids or grandkids. Many people think that exercise is a strenuous or intense activity. It can be simple and as long as you increase your breathing comfortably, you are doing great work for the heart.
If yoga is chosen as a large part of exercise, choose poses that stretch the chest and force you to flow with breath. Hatha yoga is excellent in this department. Incorporate triangle poses, warrior poses, and inversions (if able). Yoga is an amazing exercise that brings child-like fun to your day. This point means to remind us all that enjoying being healthy and finding joy is still an important part of cardiovascular health. Meditation allows you to soak up the nutrients of life calming the mind. This form of stress reduction has been shown time and time again to reduce cardiovascular issues in both men and women, though more female only studies would be appreciated.
Breath is the one vital sign we can control. As it is connected to every other vital sign, we can use it as a tool to improve hour overall physiological and mental health. Breathing practices are amazing for the heart to respond to breathing. It must calm to match the pace that set.
It is important to use foods as medicine. Reducing the amount of red meat to just a couple of times a week can make great strides in improving cardiovascular health. For some, this means replacing red meat meals with poultry. For others, this could mean having plant-based meals several times a week. Of course, a combination of both practices will ensure that food is enjoyed as well as being the first line of treatment. Avoid deep fried foods and over-consumption of starches. A well balanced and delicious meal should consist of half vegetables, a quarter of protein, and a quarter of grain. Sticking to this ratio helps ensure the body gets vital nutrients properly. Cooking or topping meals with avocado oil, flax oil or ghee will not only make the flavors of food more vibrant, but it also provides an extra dose of omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are an important part of cardiovascular and neuronal health. They are changed to several different products such as anti-inflammatory signals, parts of the cellular membrane, and other cellular metabolism markers. Omega-3 fatty acids also nurture the nervous system by insulating axons and being used as repair molecules for cellular bodies. To improve the intake of omega-3 fatty acids using diet, increase the number of days one consumes fish such as salmon, cod, and tilapia. If someone is a red meat enthusiast, replace multiple meals a week with fish. Nuts and seeds are excellent vegetarian sources of these amazing fats. A small handful as a snack every day greatly improves the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. Flax is another source and can be added to everyday smoothies, salads, and oatmeal. Furthermore, flax oil can be used on top of meals or part of salad dressings.
Herbs can also support the cardivoascular system. Arjuna, or Terminalia arjuna, has tremendous effects on the heart and blood vessels. Studies have also shown that arjuna interacts with heart muscle tissue, supporting elasticity and sensitivity to conductivity in myocytes.This herb not only supports the heart, but can help nourish blood vessels and venous system. Studies exhibited arjuna’s ability to support kidney function, helping to create fluid balance in the cardiovascular and lymph system. This reduction of stress on the heart showed to improve the health care endothelial cells and myocytes.
CoenzymeQ10 is necessary for proper energy production for the nervous system and heart. By supplementing CoQ10, mitochondria are less stressed in providing ATP, resulting in a calm nervous system. More specifically, this also relaxes myocytes and the endothelial cells of blood vessels for two reasons: having energy created with little effort means energy can be spent detoxing the blood and more effectively pumping blood throughout the body. Inula racemosa acts is also is a natural anti-oxidant in blood vessels, allowing for waste products to removed more efficiently and eliminated thoroughly.
Though these tips can help either gender mitigate health issues, it is important that women take the initiative to find health in their heart health. As more and more women become healthcare practitioners, more women will be acknowledged sooner for heart issues sooner, reducing the number of women deaths from complications of heart health.
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Dr. Anju Sodhi was born in Haryana, India. The eldest daughter of a chemist/pharmacist, she developed an early interest in medicine which led her to study at India Chakarovarty College for her Pre-Med Undergraduate Degree and go on to receive a B.A.M.S. (Bachelor in Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery) degree, from Khanpur Women’s University, in Haryana, India. She immigrated to the United States in 1990 where she enrolled at Bastyr University to pursue a degree in Naturopathic Medicine. She graduated in 1993 with her husband Dr. Shailinder Sodhi.
Since then, she’s been an active naturopathic and Ayurvedic physician at the Ayurvedic and Naturopathic Clinic. Seeing a need for skincare services, Dr. Anju Sodhi added an esthetician degree to her educational expertise in 2005. This led her to open Abha Skincare and Medical Spa, operating in conjunction with the Ayurvedic and Naturopathic Clinic.
Dr. Anju lectures and teaches about Ayurveda and skin care and in addition to that and a busy practice, she is a mother of three beautiful children: Khushbu, Mahak and Ayush. She loves to cook and enjoys traveling and outdoor activities.