One person dies every 37 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease (which refers to disease of the heart or blood vessels). And, in the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds. Heart disease is the number one cause of death for women. Heart attack symptoms are most often thought if as those that men frequently experience. Left arm pain. Sudden, crushing pain in the chest. Sweating. Shortness of breath. For women, these symptoms are often not the typical signs of severe heart trouble and are often overlooked, and cardiovascular diseases, undiagnosed. New information shares that following a Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVDs) in women.
Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels. They can also be associated with damage to arteries in organs such as the brain, heart, kidneys and eyes. They include:
- coronary heart disease (angina, heart attacks, heart failure) – a disease of the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle
- cerebrovascular disease – a disease of the blood vessels supplying the brain
- peripheral arterial disease – a disease of blood vessels supplying the arms and legs
- rheumatic heart disease – damage to the heart muscle and heart valves from rheumatic fever,caused by streptococcal bacteria
- congenital heart disease – birth defects that affect the normal development and functioning of the heart caused by malformations of the heart structure from birth
- deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism – blood clots in the leg veins, which can dislodge and move to the heart and lungs
A study, published in the journal, Heart, shows that women who follow the Mediterranean-style diet were 24% less likely to develop cardiovascular diseases and 23 percent less likely to die prematurely from any cause. The study included data from more than 720,000 female participants in 16 published studies regarding heart disease and diet.
How Mediterranean Diet Helps Reduce CVD
Often promoted as a way to eat “heart healthy”, the Mediterranean diet includes foods that are anti-inflammatory, help reduce blood pressure, are rich in monounsaturated fats and Omega-3 fatty acids. These components help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, reduce blood clotting, lower total cholesterol, and promote a healthy weight.
The diet, named for the traditional menu of people living in the Mediterranean, is largely plant-based and includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and healthy fats. Dairy, red meat, and processed foods are limited.
It isn’t just what you eat, but how much. Consuming too many calories of any foods will ultimately put you in a caloric surplus, leading to weight gain and increasing your risk of a variety of diseases, including heart disease.
Studies support that eating in a healthy pattern is not as restrictive as some may assume. In one recent study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, their data shows there is more than one way to eat well and derive the attendant health benefits.
This opens the door for people to finetune the foods they consume to their personal preferences- but still adhere to a diet mostly comprised of the healthy staples. This same study showed that if people adjusted their diet by only 20%, to include more healthy foods (like those in the Mediterranean diet), their risk of death from cardiovascular disease reduced by 6-13%. Even if changes were made gradually, or later in life, people saw an improvement to their cardiovascular health and decrease in mortality risk.
Symptoms of a heart attack in women
While not the only cardiac event that women can experience, when it comes to a heart attack, symptoms in women are often misinterpreted or overlooked. Although men and women can experience chest pressure that feels like an elephant sitting across the chest, women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure,” said Nieca Goldberg, M.D., medical director for the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU’s Langone Medical Center. “Instead, they may experience shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure or extreme fatigue.”
Many women often experience symptoms like heart burn, fatigue, and even shortness of breath and chalk it up to typical discomforts, not a big deal, and put off getting medical attention. Why? Many women that ultimately sought medical attention due to persistent symptoms or a heart attack reported feeling overwhelmed by the thought that something may be wrong with them, and their commitments were put first, as one woman said, “I don’t have time to have a heart attack,” a sentiment many women and men can probably relate to. It is crucial that anybody that experiences these symptoms, or any symptom that persists, is evaluated to determine what may be the cause. Make time, your life depends on it.
The Mediterranean diet is one great set of guidelines that can help further reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, along with incorporating other heart-healthy lifestyle choices. Exercise more. Don’t smoke. Drink less alcohol. Consistently get 7-9 hours of sleep. Work on decreasing stress. When in conjunction with each other, these steps are powerful preventative measures that protect your cardiovascular health.