February is American Heart Month to bring awareness to heart disease, which is the number one killer of women in the U.S. And the older a women gets, the more likely she is to develop heart disease.
Worldwide, 8.6 million women die from heart disease each year, according to the Heart Foundation.
Author and cardiologist Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum sat down with Dr. Manny Alvarez, senior managing health editor of FoxNews.com, to discuss her new book, “Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book: Every Women’s Guide to a Heart-Healthy Life.”
Steinbaum, director of women and heart disease at Lennox Hill Hospital in New York City, said writing this book was personal for her, and every woman should have their own heart book.
“If you don’t understand exactly who you are, you don’t know exactly what you need to do for a heart-healthy life,” Steinbaum said. “That’s what it’s about; how you go about learning about yourself and learning about your own heart, and what you need to do for ultimate heart health.”
Steinbaum said her book addresses how women deal with stress, which she said is a big contributor to heart disease. According to her, women are “juggling everything” these days – kids, husbands, careers – and stress is on a different level than it’s ever been.
“The cortisol and epinephrine increases your heart rate and blood pressure; (you feel) chest pain and palpitations – everyone’s sitting there thinking, ‘I have that,’ and it’s from stress,” Steinbaum said.
Steinbaum said it’s important for women to acknowledge the stress and then do something about it. Whether it’s deep breathing or exercising, women need to do something during the day to work it out.
She added that prevention is also an important lifestyle factor when it comes to heart health. Her big no-no? Smoking.
“There’s just no such thing as smoking,” she said. “It just doesn’t exist. Soda, that’s another four-letter word; just get rid of it. You need a healthy diet. Stay away from the sugar and fats.”
Other key prevention factors?
“Sleeping is really important,” Steinbaum said. “And, sex – kind of important.”
Steinbaum’s book also discusses hormones, such as estrogen and oxytocin. She noted that as women go through menopause, so does their risk of heart disease, because the estrogen – a natural heart protector – decreases in their bodies. Menopausal women may find their LDL levels increase, and they may gain some weight – so it’s important to deal with that.
For some women, hormone replacement therapy could be beneficial. But, women should also not go against biology, she said.
“The way of dealing with stress is tending and befriending, which is due to oxytocin – the hormone that goes up in pregnancy and after delivery,” Steinbaum said. “But, we’re in the situation where we’re dealing with stress by the ‘fight or flight;’ the epinephrine response instead of the oxytocin response . . .we’re fighting against biology instead of how we’re wired to do these things, and that may contribute to heart disease.”