Women: Eat, Drink, and Be Fit for Heart Health

Healthnotes Newswire (December 6, 2007)—A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine bears a hopeful message: “Most heart attacks in women may be preventable by consuming a healthy diet and moderate amounts of alcohol, being physically active, not smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight.”

Coronary heart disease is caused by a build up of fatty deposits called plaque in the arteries supplying the heart. Plaque forms as a result of arterial damage that can be caused by smoking, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and oxidation of fats in the blood. As these deposits become larger, they decrease the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle, causing angina or a heart attack.

Coronary heart disease is a leading cause of death and disability among adult women, so identifying prevention measures is highly desirable. The new study examined the combined effects of eating habits and lifestyle behaviors on the risk of coronary heart disease in 24,444 women between ages 48 and 83.

The study showed two protective eating patterns: The first of these included eating 4 servings of vegetables, 2 servings of fruits, and 3.4 servings of whole grains each day, and eating 2.5 servings of fish and 0.5 servings of beans, peas, and lentils (legumes) weekly. The other protective factor was moderate drinking of alcohol, which was found to have beneficial effects when the women drank 2.5 weekly servings of wine, beer, or liquor.

The researchers also identified three modifiable lifestyle factors that reduced the risk of coronary heart disease: a low waist-to-hip ratio, nonsmoking, and a high level of physical activity (40 minutes of daily walking or biking plus at least one hour of additional physical activity each week).

Women who ate the most fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fish, and who drank moderate amounts of alcohol were 57% less likely to develop coronary heart disease as were those women who ate the least of these foods and drank no alcohol. By combining the healthy eating pattern with moderate alcohol consumption and not smoking, being physically active, and maintaining a healthy weight, they had a 92% reduced risk.

Best bets for heart health

• Eat generous amounts of fruits (2 servings daily), vegetables (4 servings daily), whole grains (3.4 servings daily), legumes (.5 servings weekly), and fish (2.5 servings weekly)

• Drink moderate amounts of alcohol (2.5 drinks weekly)

• Maintain a healthy body weight

• Regular exercise (for best results, according to this study, 40 minutes of daily walking or biking plus one hour of additional physical activity each week; talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen)

• Don’t smoke

The authors concluded, “More than three of four coronary events could potentially be averted if all women would change their behavior to the low-risk profile.”

(Arch Intern Med 2007;167:2122–7)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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