Women’s Cardiovascular Health: Not all in the Heart

When I look at the females on both my parents side, I should feel doomed for cardiovascular disease and death. My great grandmother had congestive heart failure, my grandmother has heart disease and had a heart attack in her 60’s. At least five of my aunts have had cardiovascular disease or symptoms prior to the age of 50 years old. Yikes! Let’s not even get into the males on both sides. When people tell me, “oh heart disease is in my genes, I can’t do anything about it”, I typically respond with my favorite quote, “genes load the gun, environment pulls the trigger”.

Cardiovascular disease statistics in women is far under reported as opposed to our male counterparts. It is also treated based on male guidelines because ugh, research can be sexist and only 24% of cardiovascular research patients are women. Cardiovascular risk for premenopausal women is approx. 1 out of 7 and postmenopausal risk is 1 out of every 3 women. I say these statistics because our (female) hormones change and do have significant differences than males throughout our lifespan.

Truth about cholesterol 

Since cholesterol has gotten a bad rap over the years (by questionable studies), I would like to educate that cholesterol is actually a GOOD thing to have in our body. It’s a vital piece in protecting our cell walls, it’s used by nerves as insulation, it is used by the liver to produce bile which helps break down fats in the body, it’s converted to vitamin D which is a very important part of our health, and the list goes on and on! More recent studies that have been reported are changing the tune of cholesterol and saturated fats in the diet. 

Lab tests that help determine cardiovascular risk

I order inflammatory markers on all of my patients to have a baseline. CRP, ESR, Fibrinogen are common. With cholesterol levels, the total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL, and HDL have been around for a long time and new research is showing better indicators for cardiovascular disease. Newer labs such as the LDL particle number, HDL particle number and lipoprotein(a) which each measure different things but can show how many particles are in the blood stream (increasing risk for damaging our blood vessels) and lipoprotein(a) which

Inflammation in cardiovascular disease

Inflammation in the body increases our risk for all disease. Anytime we have chronic inflammation, our body is attempting to “put out the flame of a burning building”. At some point the building will burn and diseases will be out of control. Decreasing inflammation is like hosing the fire and decreasing the risk for multiple problems commonly diagnosed for women (obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, autoimmune disorders, thyroid problems, insomnia, mental changes and more).

Since my approach to health is different then the traditional approach, I step back and ask “what else is going on to cause the dysregulation in the body”? Whether it be cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes or other health concerns I always rule out these causes:

  1. Gut dysbiosis “leaky gut”
  2. Chronic infections such as H. Pylori/EBV/etc.
  3. Metabolic dysfunction
  4. Poor thyroid function (done by a full thyroid panel, not just a typical TSH)
  5. Environmental toxins (chemical exposures, molds, heavy metals, etc.)
  6. Genetic predisposition (which is more rare to find)

How to help yourself? 

  1. Get specific labs done to address the root cause of cardiovascular disease
  2. Eat a modified ketogenic diet (high fats, moderate proteins, low carbs): Has been shown in many studies, especially newer studies coming out, that low carb diets show improvement in several heart disease risk factors, including decreases in triglycerides, fasting glucose, blood pressure, body mass index, abdominal circumference, plasma insulin and c-reactive protein, as well as an increase in HDL “good” cholesterol
  3. Detox: Use Epsom salt baths, lemon water, saunas (new places popping up in Dubuque), coffee enemas (now sold at Balance Integrative Health & Wellness), and more!
  4. Exercise: Yoga or strength training are the best options
  5. Supplement: There are different supplements depending on what your underlying health risks are, so this is important to work with someone trained in the area to diagnose what is going on and then find supplements that will work for you

Symptoms to look for with acute cardiovascular emergencies

Women do not present with classical heart disease symptoms. A month before a heart attack, a women can see changes in mood (anxiety), increased fatigue, shortness of breath, indigestion, insomnia and heavy extremities (Circulation, 2003, Vol. 108, p.2621). Chest pain is not on the top of the list for women, this is important to know!

To all the women out there looking for a healthier 2018, find the root cause of your problems, do the above lifestyle changes and live enjoy life, no more living in fear. Knowledge is power my sisters.

Much Love!

Stephanie Grutz, ARNP, FNP-C

Owner Balance Integrative Health & Wellness




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