Let’s Learn About A Stroke Prevention Guide for Women

When you’re living a heart-healthier lifestyle, you’re not only working to protect your ticker, but you’re also helping your brain ward off stroke. There are two types of these “brain attacks”: The most common is ischemic, in which a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked; the second type is hemorrhagic, in which a blood vessel ruptures and bleeds into the brain. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. (behind heart disease and cancer), and women are more likely to die from it than men. In fact, this year, more than 100,000 women under 65 will suffer one, according to the American Stroke Association. Serious side effects can result, including vision problems, paralysis, memory loss, and speech and language problems, and sometimes even death.

While many of the risk factors for stroke and heart disease are similar (high-blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, lack of exercise and a diet high in fat and salt), some are unique—especially for women. Here’s the lowdown:

• Migraines Women who suffer from migraines with aura (visual disturbances like flashing lights) are more likely to have an ischemic stroke compared to those who don’t, according to two recent studies. Researchers found that the risk increases even more if a migraine sufferer smokes, uses birth control pills and is under age 45, according to a study published last year in British Medical Journal. If you experience migraines with aura, experts advise quitting smoking and avoiding birth control pills. And, of course, speak with your doctor first.

• Birth-control pills Taking a low-dose birth control pill on its own—without any other risk factors—may significantly up your risk of suffering a stroke, according to new and emerging research published last year in MedLink Neurology. The Pill may increase your chance of developing blood clots and high-blood pressure, both of which can contribute to a stroke.

• Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) In a review of 28 studies published in the British Medical Journal, women who took HRT had a significantly greater chance of suffering an ischemic stroke than those who did not—and their recovery tended to be worse. Researchers aren’t sure why HRT increases the risk of stroke, but the hormone estrogen may play a role.

• Autoimmune diseases Women are three times more likely than men to suffer from one of these illnesses, which cause the body’s immune system to attack various organs and systems. Several autoimmune diseases raise your risk of stroke. Women with antiphospholipid syndrome, a disorder in which immune cells attack the lining of blood vessels, are prone to developing blood clots, making them more susceptible to stroke. Taking low-dose aspirin or other medications, such as warfarin, help thin the blood, reducing the risk. Another common autoimmune disease that can lead to stroke is lupus. It can cause blood clots and create inflammation inside blood vessels, blocking blood flow. Treatment includes steroid medications to reduce inflammation and aspirin.

Know More About The Truth Of Emotional Stress and Your Heart

Good news first: “Stress is not a direct cause of heart attack or the buildup of plaque inside your blood vessels,” says cardiologist Stephano Sdringola, M.D., principal investigator for the heart disease research project known as the Century Health Study. However, stress can lead to high blood pressure, which can indeed hurt you. And unchecked stress can also play a big role in heart disease by leading to unhealthy choices. “You may smoke, eat poorly, not exercise and gain weight to cope.” After all, who hasn’t engaged in some stress-eating? And when we do, chances are we’re not grabbing a bag of baby carrots.

What’s more, stress also sets off the release of the hormones known as adrenaline and cortisol. Imagine what you feel like when you almost get into a car crash. When you have a close call, you can’t breathe, you can’t focus, because these stress hormones are circulating in your body. When you’re stressed all the time, those hormones remain chronically high, which may keep blood pressure elevated. Granted, it’s the rare occasion where you can simply make the stressful situation stop. What you can do, however, is change the way you react to it. See below for a few good-for-you stressbusters:
– Take regular breaks. When you start to feel tired, instead of having coffee, go for a walk. The opportunity to be active will trigger the release of endorphins and help your body and mind relax.
– Schedule quiet and relaxation time—put it in your calendar. Meditation, prayer or simply reading can help you cope, according to the American Heart Association. Try yoga or relaxation breathing classes at a gym or studio near you.
– Seek help. Need some more help on changing your ways? Check out stress-reduction programs, books and CDs created by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., Deepak Chopra, M.D., or Alice Domar, Ph.D.

Some Indulgent Ways to Help Protect Your Heart

Taking care of your heart is not just about exercise and losing weight. While additional studies are needed, new and emerging research suggests that each of the following may be pleasurable ways to help boost heart health. (Moderation is key, though, with every one!) Protect your ticker with these heart-right moves.

Drink coffee
Coffee has long been linked to a reduced risk for diabetes, a disease marked by high levels of blood sugar that threaten the heart. And now experts understand more about coffee’s potential protective effects. A new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that women who regularly drank decaf or regular coffee at lunchtime had a reduced risk of type-2 diabetes compared to those who didn’t drink java. What does coffee have to do with diabetes? The study’s researchers believe that the beverage’s nutrients may help slow digestion and help support healthy blood sugar levels. Other new and emerging research suggests that coffee consumption helps support the cardiovascular system by fending off chronic inflammation and promoting the production of HDL “good” cholesterol. You can drink to that!

Sleep more
Recent research from Wake Forest University linked sleep deprivation to belly fat, which plays a big role in inflammation. So go ahead and ditch the guilt: Hit the snooze button and aim to clock at least six to eight hours each night.

Nibble on dark chocolate Several studies have shown that chocolate may benefit more than just your taste buds. Most recently, a German study that tracked subjects for 10 years found that chocolate eaters had healthier hearts. More specifically, compared to those who ate less chocolate, people who ate about 1 ounce of chocolate per day had lower blood pressure and a lower risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Flavanoids, the nutrients found in cocoa, support healthy blood vessels and overall heart health. To get the most benefit with the fewest calories enjoy about an ounce of dark chocolate per day.

Seek stress relief
Taking a time out for self-care such as a getting a pedicure, doing some journaling or taking a walk in nature can help you stay clear-headed, supports healthy blood pressure levels and reduces your reaction to stress, all of which helps your heart.

Eat popcorn
A recent study from the University of Scranton found that many whole-grain foods like popcorn are as rich as fruits and vegetables in polyphenols, a type of heart-healthy antioxidant. Opt for air-popped popcorn sprinkled with a little olive oil or a tablespoon of melted Smart Balance® Light Original Buttery Spread with Flax, or try a low-fat microwave pop, such as Smart Balance® Smart ‘n Healthy™ Popcorn.

Spend time with friends Carve out a couple of hours to get together with friends regularly and your body and mind will thank you. People with many social ties tend to have lower blood pressure, they’re less likely to smoke and they’re more likely to be physically active.

A tip from us: Although consuming pastries and cookies is not going to help boost your heart health, if you are a baker or enjoy baked goods every now and then, swap out regular butter with Smart Balance® 50/50 Butter Butter Blend Original. Half butter, half buttery spread, Smart Balance® Butter Blend products are designed for cooking and baking. This butter substitute delivers 28 percent less saturated fat (5g per serving) and half the cholesterol (15 mg per serving) of pure butter (7g and 30 mg, respectively). Just make an even swap, 1 cup of your favorite Smart Balance® Butter Blend for 1 cup of regular butter when baking your favorite muffins, chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, cornbread and other comfort foods. Click here for recipes and consult our Food Plan for other great tips.

How Heart Disease Affects Men and Women Differently

Heart disease may be the number one worldwide killer of both men and women, but that doesn’t mean it affects us in the same way. In fact, there are some key differences in how the condition manifests—and knowing what they are is one of the first steps in warding it off. Neica Goldberg, M.D., author of Total Heart Care highlights a few of the unique factors in men and women, along with a few tips that can benefit us all:

Women and Heart Disease
– One third of women have some form of cardiovascular disease.
– Women tend to develop heart disease 10 years later than men. Scientists believe the estrogen produced prior to menopause helps regulate cholesterol, decreasing heart attack risk, according to the American Heart Association.
– However, when heart attacks strike early—before age 50—they’re twice as likely as men’s to be fatal.
– Heart attack symptoms in women tend to be different, and often more subtle, than those in men. According to the Women’s Heart Foundation, early heart attack signs in women can mimic the flu: extreme weakness, unusual fatigue, headaches, nausea and stomach upset. Chest pain may not be present. Other commonly reported symptoms are sleep disturbance, jaw pain, and shortness of breath.

Men and Heart Disease
– The average age for men to have their first heart attack is 66.
– Men are at greater risk for heart attacks, even after women experience menopause according to the AHA. One possible reason why: Much lower levels of estrogen.
– Arterial plaque in men tends to form in clumps, which makes it easier to find, according to WHF. Women’s tend to develop more evenly throughout blood vessel walls, and thus, more difficult to spot.
– Typical male symptoms of heart attack include chest discomfort or pain, upper body pain, stomach pain, shortness of breath, anxiety, lightheadedness and sweating.

What everyone needs to know:
If you experience any of the heart attack symptoms described above—regardless of your sex—call 911. Early, rapid treatment offers the best odds for treatment. If it turns out to be a false alarm, so be it. You can rest easier knowing that you put your health, and yourself, first.

Learn More About Outsmarting Your Family History

If your family tree is full of broken hearts, you may worry that there’s a space for you on the next rickety branch. After all, one to five percent of people younger than 65 who have a heart attack are more likely to have inherited a susceptibility to heart disease. In fact, researchers believe at least two dozen gene regions are involved in cardiovascular disease, says Sekar Kathiresan, M.D., author of several recent studies on the genetics of heart disease and director of the Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. At least 13 of those regions predispose you to high levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, which is proven to cause heart disease. The goal is to identify people at high risk for developing heart disease and treat them early with lifestyle changes and, often, medications that target these genes.

In the meantime, it pays to figure out your risk for having a heart attack, because you can use that information to protect yourself. Dr. Kathiresan recommends using the Framingham Risk Score, which calculates your chance of developing heart disease in the next 10 years. The test uses your age, gender, total cholesterol level, “good” HDL cholesterol level, blood pressure and whether you smoke to determine your score. If your score is less than 5 percent you’re considered low risk; if it’s 5 to 20 percent you have an intermediate risk; and if it’s more than 20 percent you have a high risk.

Regardless of your risk level, there are simple ways to reduce your chances of having a heart attack. “Your lifestyle is key regardless of whether you have a genetic susceptibility to heart disease,” says Dr. Kathiresan.
– Get regular exercise—even if it’s just going for a walk—at least 30 minutes a day, five days per week.
– Maintain a healthy weight. Your body mass index should be 25 or less. Use this calculator to determine whether you’re in the ballpark:
– at foods low in saturated fat (less than 30 percent of total calories).
– Don’t smoke.

There are a number of medications that have been shown to reduce your risk of a heart attack: these include cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins; aspirin; and blood pressure-lowering drugs, says Dr. Kathiresan. Although many of these medications have only been studied in older adults (women over 60 and men over 50), they may be beneficial if you’re younger and have a strong family history of heart disease. If you’re at particularly high risk, talk to your doctor about which, if any, may be beneficial for you.