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By REBECA KUROPATWA
While popular opinion may be that breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women, in fact, women are 10 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than any other.


Women are seven times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than breast cancer, with cardiovascular disease killing more women over the age of 65 than all other cancers combined.
Pharmacist Cheryl Metzler, recently gave a talk about “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Women’s Health and Dared to Ask”. She has a great deal of experience giving advice to adults and mature women about vitamins and minerals when it comes to improving one’s health.
The lecture was part of the Rady JCC Wellness Series, offered in conjunction with the National Council of Jewish Women. It took place at 2:30 pm on Wednesday, February 25.
“Most Canadian women have at least one risk factor and it’s important to know the signs and risk factors to prevent it from starting,” Metzler told the 15-plus attendees.
While some risk factors cannot be controlled, like age, gender, family history, and ethnicity, Metzler explained that risk factors that are under your control include smoking, high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and physical activity.
“Women are more likely than men to die of heart attack or stroke,” said Metzler.
Women tend to develop heart disease later than men and they tend to experience more silent heart attacks, often not even being aware they are having one. “Often, we spend more time thinking and taking care of others, and we don’t pay attention to signs and symptoms that could be protecting us,” said Metzler.

Some potential signs and symptoms of a stroke or heart attack are chest pain, nausea, sweating, pain in the neck, jaw, shoulder, arms, and back, shortness of breath, and light headedness.
Remembering the acronym “F.A.S.T.” is important, which breaks down as: Face (if it’s drooping), Arms (whether or not you lift both up), Speak (if it is slurred or jumbled), and Time (to call 9-1-1).
“The main differences between women and men are due to estrogen,” said Metzler. “It naturally occurs in our bodies. It provides a protective effect for cardiovascular disease. When we hit menopause, that’s when we lose that protection, but it can also change through the use of oral contraceptives.”
At menopause, ovaries stop producing estrogen and the decrease in hormones can affect blood pressure and make us more susceptible to diabetes and elevated cholesterol.
Metzler views hormone therapy as potentially being helpful for menopausal symptoms, but not as a singular way to give yourself cardiovascular protection. Hormone therapy has other effects as well, and if you have other risk factors it’s not usually recommended,” she said. “Hormone replacement therapy can increase the risk of endometrial or ovarian cancers.”
Metzler said there are very simple steps that can be taken on one’s own toward heart health, including regular physical activity, healthy food choices, knowing your numbers, taking good care of yourself, and taking your prescribed medications (i.e. for blood pressure, cholesterol, and/diabetes).
In general, Metzler said the use of low-dose Aspirin provides great cardio protection, but recommended checking with a pharmacist or doctor to ensure it is the right choice for you.
“As the heart is a muscle, exercising it helps it work more efficiently,” said Metzler. “A good measure of your physical fitness is your resting heart rate per minute. For a healthy individual, it’s anywhere from 60-to-75 beats per minute. For athletes, the resting heart rate is between 40-and-50 beats per minute. If your heart rate is 80 or higher, you should see a physician.”
A blood pressure of 120 over 80 is what Metzler said is considered “normal,” with the “systolic” level being the higher of the two and the “diastolic” level being the lower value when your heart is at rest.
“Maintaining an active lifestyle and a healthy body weight can delay and manage diabetes,” said Metzler. “Exercise seems to reduce the risk in some cancers, like breast cancer and colorectal cancer, as well as conditions like osteoporosis.
“For heart health, doing just 10 minutes walking where you work up a little bit of a sweat or feel a little warm, but you can still talk, is the level you need to be at for heart health. That’s a good place to start.”
Metzler advised always consulting with a physician before starting a program, then increasing it by 10 minutes every other day, eventually working your way up to 150 minutes a week.
“When you get into more aerobic activity, like gbrisk walking, swimming, and biking, you’re working more muscle groups and getting more benefits for total fitness,” said Metzler.

“Things we do now – no matter how fit you are or if you’ve never done any exercise – still provides you with benefits later on.”
When it comes to healthy eating, Metzler advised shooting for a diet lower in fat and sodium and higher in fibre. “Make healthier choices, including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy products, fish, peas, nuts, and lean meats,” she said.
“You want foods lower in saturated fats. Saturated fats are usually from animal sources, like butter, beef and pork fat, and stick margarine. Those you want to minimize. Same goes with trans fats. It’s always important to read nutrition labels.”
For dietary supplements, Metzler suggested Omega-3 fatty acids (a.k.a. “essential fatty acids”), as the body cannot produce them. Omega-3 fatty acids come from fish (especially salmon) and plant sources, such as flax seed, canola oil, and soybean oil.
“Taking care of yourself is really important for managing your stress and anxiety,” said Metzler. “It makes a huge difference if you can have that under control. Stress is awful. Try to stay active. Just go for a walk outside. It does make a difference. Good quality sleep is huge as well.”
Metzler said it is also important to be mindful about drug and food interactions. “Grapefruit has an enzyme in it which can affect the metabolism and increase the level, usually with blood pressure meds,” she said. “Even if you’re taking medication at night and you want a grapefruit in the morning, that enzyme stays in there and affects the metabolism, which can elevate your levels. If you’re told to avoid grapefruit juice, avoid it.”
A few antibiotics have dietary restrictions which can affect absorption. Your doctor can advise you about this and more.