You could argue that your heart is the most important organ in your body.
It never stops beating. It works day and night and, while you can hold your breath for a while and you can fast to give your digestive system a break, your heart just keeps thump-thump-thumping 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Too often, women think that they are immune to heart disease – that it’s a male problem.
But that’s simply not true. Heart disease is a primary killer of women, and incidence of heart disease climbs significantly after menopause. It kills more women than all forms of cancer, Alzheimer’s and respiratory diseases combined. Making matters worse, most people don’t understand that the signs of heart attack in women can look a lot different than those in men. Part of the reason for this is simple: research about heart disease in women trails behind that of men by 35 years or more.
The role that balancing your diet can play in heart health should not be discounted.
All too often, we consume food on the go. So-called “healthy” packaged foods can be riddled with ingredients you can’t pronounce, and are full of omega-6s from seed oils, partially or fully hydrogenated oils (which should be labeled as Trans Fats but often aren’t), and inorganic compounds like glyphosate (Round Up pesticide). Consuming processed and packaged foods while also being inactive and having poor blood sugar control can be a sure path to health collapse and cardiac failure – because they cause systemic inflammation.
Eating a whole-foods plant-rich diet while also getting more omega-3s in your diet through healthy food and supplementation is cardioprotective and helps quench the flames of out-of-control systemic inflammation. Thousands of studies have shown that consuming more omega-3s helps ensure long-term cardiovascular system health, even when your decisions aren’t perfect. This fact alone is the reason I dedicated my career to the omega-3 space, recently working to develop and launch Örlö Nutrition’s polar omega-3s. Polar omegas are up to 3X better absorbed than other sources so even those with poor dietary habits or who need extra support can get all the benefits in a smaller pill, without a fishy reflux.
While the ideal omega-6:omega-3 ratio for heart health is between 3:1 and 1:1, most Americans consume 20x more omega-6 than omega-3. Recent studies have even shown >75% of vegans are severely deficient in omega-3.
Learn from my personal experience… The story of my nanny’s heart attack.
I was a “geriatric mom,” giving birth to my first boy when I was 39 years old and my second at 41. I worked through both pregnancies and employed nannies when my boys were nursing. My first nanny was in her mid-fifties, was a type II diabetic, and didn’t have the healthiest eating habits. She would stop at Jack in the Box on the way to my house in the morning to get her breakfast and a diet soda each day.
Even though her health habits weren’t great, she was never sick. She came to work every day, without complaint. She laughed easily, and didn’t seem to be all that stressed… but she was heavy, and a type II diabetic. She didn’t like fish, so didn’t eat it, and didn’t supplement her diet with omega-3s either.
One day, she texted me while I was in a meeting. The message said simply. “Come upstairs now.” I excused myself from the meeting explaining my nanny needed me. I headed upstairs to find her sitting on a kitchen stool. She wavered slightly and said she was nauseous and dizzy. She wanted to call her husband to come and pick her up – and he worked 30 minutes away.
Had she been more of a complainer, and had I not known that the signs of heart attack were different in women, I might have let her wait for her husband. I chose a different path because I knew better. We were piling in the car and heading straight to the hospital. Traffic was light, and we’d likely get there before an ambulance could. Game on.
On the way to the hospital, she shared that she had been having minor headaches and experiencing tension and pain from her jaw down her neck for the past couple of weeks. She’d been taking Tylenol and Advil every day.
I was almost certain she was having a heart attack. As if on cue, she vomited in the bucket I had given her on the way out the door. Again, another indication.
I drove up to the emergency drop-off and briefed the intake team as best I could. They prepped a gurney, and she was rushed through the double doors of the ER and out of sight. It turned out that she had 95% occlusion in her arteries, severely hampering her blood flow, and required a triple bypass surgery. She had been having mini heart attacks for the last couple of weeks.
Symptoms of Heart Attack in Women, as summarized by The Mayo Clinic:
- Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or upper belly discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in one or both arms
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Unusual fatigue
- Heartburn (indigestion)
Knowledge is power.
Now that you understand that heart disease and heart attack symptoms in women can be different from those experienced by men, we can turn that knowledge into power. You can identify these symptoms as something serious in your own health journey and those around you. But it’s also never too late to start making changes to improve the health of your cardiovascular system. Simple changes in your lifestyle can reduce the likelihood of developing heart disease, and may even help reverse its progression.
To supercharge your heart is to supercharge your health.
Start by giving your body what it needs. You might start by following Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s nutritarian recommendations, consuming nutrient-dense foods that aren’t heavily processed. Couple a great diet with a daily exercise practice, while also making time to rest, reflect, and meditate each day. This supports your entire cardiovascular system while also reducing inflammatory assaults. Here are some tips to help keep your heart healthy and strong.
- Get moving. Studies show that taking a brisk walk every day improves cardiovascular health. If you can, go further and longer! Working up to 60 minutes while increasing your pace produces better results. Lifting weight can also support heart health. Just keep your sets tight without breaks longer than one minute. This turns that anaerobic exercise into one that also serves as a cardio workout.
- Do breathing exercises at least once a day. This has been shown to reduce cortisol levels (stress markers) in your body and therefore reduce your body’s inflammation.
- Get more sleep! Getting a solid 8 hours of sleep a night is optimal for most. Focus on developing a healthy bedtime routine. Many experts advise to keep screens out of the bedroom – and also that the bedroom be reserved for the S’s – sex and sleep.
- Eat a plant-centered diet, rich in whole foods and whole grains. Consider stocking your refrigerator with vegetables and fruits that are seasonally fresh. Aim to eat one large salad each day. This provides critical micronutrients along with prebiotics and fiber to maintain a healthy digestive system – but watch out for that salad dressing! It can contain high levels of omega-6s from seed oils, and saturated fat.
- Balance your fats. Aim to get your omega-6:omega-3 ratio down from the average 15:1 to 3:1 or even 1:1. This provides cardioprotective benefits, reducing your vLDL cholesterol (think BAD cholesterol) while also improving your HDL levels (healthy cholesterol). A diet that is considerably higher in omega-6 than omega-3 is considered inflamed. Moving closer to that 1:1 ratio helps your body’s inflammatory system return to normal.
For more on balancing your fats, check out this article: 10 Steps to Balance Your Omega-6 to Omega-3 Ratio.
Why are the omega-3s EPA and DHA so powerful in support of heart health?
Together, EPA and DHA stimulate resolvins which help to resolve inflammation and protectins which protect your DNA from damage. While research has focused on EPA for its cardioprotective abilities and DHA for brain and nervous system health, both of these fats work together synergistically in the body. Synergistic in this context means that the sum of their actions is greater than either one on its own.
Medical professionals resoundingly agree that by adopting a healthy, plant-rich, whole-foods diet while moving our bodies and managing our stress levels, we reset our bodies’ inflammatory systems, and we can even restore health. Most also agree that even the healthiest routine isn’t enough when it comes to omega-3s. If you aren’t eating SMASH fish at least twice a week, you should consume 250 mg – 1000 mg of EPA and DHA each day to safeguard your health.
You don’t even need to go to fish anymore to get your EPA and DHA. Highly bioactive, vegan and sustainable options are now available from algae.
If polar lipids are better absorbed, do I still need to consume an additional 250 mg – 1000 mg per day?
Polar lipids are more quickly utilized by the body because they are in the same form your cells use. This means they get straight to work supercharging your health – without that fishy burp. Polar lipids are found in the membranes of every cell in your body. This is the form that your tissues need. They are up to 3x more bioavailable than fish oil. Since healthcare practitioner recommendations are based on fish oils, and since consuming 250 mg of Örlö’s Polar Omega-3s per day is equivalent to consuming 750 mg of a competing fish oil, you’re essentially getting more impact in a smaller soft gel.
- Symptoms of heart disease in women can differ from those traditionally experienced by men.
- Get moving, breathe, and nourish your body to supercharge your heart.
- Balancing your omega-6:omega-3 ratio is critical for a healthy cardiovascular system.
- The omega-3s EPA + DHA are cardioprotective and help regulate inflammation.
- You can get EPA and DHA from the original source – ALGAE. (Fish get theirs from algae too!)
- Get your omega-3s in the polar lipid form, which is better integrated into your cells and which can be as much as 3x more bioavailable than triglyceride or ethyl ester fish oils and algae oils.
- Örlö Nutrition’s algae-based omega-3 products provide EPA + DHA in the polar lipid form for optimal results in a smaller, vegan, and responsibly sourced pill.
- Supplement with 250 – 350 mg of the omega-3s EPA + DHA in the polar lipid form each day to safeguard your cardiovascular health.