Illustration of a doctor taking care of a heart

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) includes all the diseases of the heart and circulation, including coronary heart disease (CHD), angina, heart attack, congenital heart disease, and stroke.

In the U.S., cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in both men and women. Statistics from the American Heart Association show that one woman every minute dies from heart disease in the U.S. Women are also more likely to die or have a second heart attack within the first six months of a cardiac event. And yet, today two-thirds of the heart disease research still focuses on men.


It is very important to recognize the warning signs of heart attack to ensure prompt medical attention. While chest pain, nausea or indigestion, heartburn, feeling light headed, pain radiating down both arms, jaw pain, sweating, and fatigue are easily the most common symptoms, women’s symptoms may be different. Many women have heart attacks without chest pain. If other symptoms are present but chest pain is missing, do not assume it is not a heart attack.

A number of causes and risk factors are associated with CVD, including increased age, smoking, poor diet, untreated thyroid disorders, inflammation, stress, hypertension, metabolic disorders, abnormal lipid levels, and LACK of exercise. Many of these causes lead to, or are associated with, inflammation, which is now considered the main underlying cause of CVD. It is interesting to note that 25% of people with premature heart attacks have no traditional risk factors at all and 50% of the people with heart attacks have normal cholesterol levels.

In general, most people are aware of some of the common risk factors for CVD, but there are several less recognized contributors for heart risk in both men and women, including:

1. Emotional Stress and Inflammation

The Mayo Clinic reports that the most substantial risk factor for future cardiac events among individuals with existing coronary artery disease (CAD) is psychological – stressful emotions such as anger, anxiety, and worry can dramatically increase risk. Emotional stress causes increased production of stress hormones, which can lead to chronic inflammation, also characterized by high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). One study showed that people prone to anger have 2–3 times higher CRP levels than their calmer counterparts.

2. Inflammation and Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is an inflammatory condition of the wall or inner lining of the mid- and larger-size blood vessels. Abnormal lipid levels (dyslipidemia) paired with inflammation cause a vicious circle in the development of atherosclerosis.

These atherosclerotic lesions can remain asymptomatic for years, or progress into disease stages where clinical manifestations such as angina, heart attack, or stroke occur.

3. Gut Microbiome and Atherosclerosis

The gut microbiome has been implicated in a variety of potential disease mechanisms, including inflammation, which can predispose people to heart disease. The level of diversity of the “good bacteria” in our digestive systems has been found to be linked to a feature of CVD – hardening of the arteries. Researchers found that women with atherosclerosis have lower gut microbial diversity, while women with healthier arteries have more diversity.

The research indicates that cardiovascular risk not explained by the usual risk factors could, in the future, be enhanced by analyzing the health of the gut microbiome.

Heart disease is often called the “silent killer” because all tests may be in the normal range. Silent inflammation is inflammation that falls below the threshold of perceived pain and is one of the main underlying causes of CVD.

The most common tests performed to assess for CVD include history, lifestyle review, physical exam, CRP to measure inflammation, blood pressure, lipid panel, fasting blood sugars, HBA1c, and lifestyle review. Discuss with your health professional.

4. Prevention of Cvd With Diet and Supplements for Men and Women

The Mediterranean diet is based primarily on the following foods: olive oil, high vegetable and fruit intakes, moderate fish intake, whole grains, moderate dairy intake, limited red meat, and saturated fats. Strong evidence shows that following the traditional MedDiet is associated with better cardiovascular health outcomes, including reductions in rates of CHD, ischemic stroke, and total cardiovascular disease.

Exercise and Nutritional Products

A more recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that increased relaxation time and physical activity decreased heart disease by 50%. Even walking 30 minutes three times per week decreased risk of heart attack by 30%.

Look for nutritional products that contain hawthorn, berberine, beet root, grapeseed, boswellia, and reishi mushroom to support heart health, as well as healthy blood pressure and blood sugar levels already within the normal range.

Magnesium deficiency can be subject to imbalances in sodium and potassium, which can through different mechanisms, lead to arrhythmias, arterial vasospasm, and increased blood thickening.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) deficiency has been identified in 50–75% of heart tissue biopsies in patients with various heart conditions.

Many studies show its effectiveness in the treatment of high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, angina, congestive heart failure, and cardiomyopathy. It seems to work better when taken with vitamin E.

For more information on cardiovascular disease, refer to Women’s Health Matters: The Influence of Gender on Disease by Dr. Karen Jensen.