New Research On Women’s Cardiovascular Health Gets To The Heart Of The Matter

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When Ancel Keys first identified that heart disease wasn’t just a disease of aging, but something that people got because of lifestyle factors, it changed medicine forever. The whole reason everybody today is so obsessed with diet and exercise is because of those early pioneers doing research back in the 1950s.

It should be said that few people back then realized just how important lifestyle was for heart disease. Over the course of the twentieth century, rates of heart disease had been rising. It was a bit of mystery why, but people just assumed it was because everybody was living longer. Trips to places like Italy and Sardinia revealed, however, that it wasn’t just living longer that was to blame since in many of those communities people lived into old age without getting heart disease at all.

The real insight came when Keys noticed that there seemed to be a correlation between rates of heart disease and how much saturated fat people were eating. When he visited northern Italy, he saw that in place like Bologna, where rich, meaty food was typical, people died of heart disease more than in places like Naples, where most working people ate fat-free beans and whole wheat pasta.

From this research came decades of investigation which seemed to reveal that lifestyle factors played a big part in whether or not people got heart disease or strokes. The most recent science on the topic is among the most interesting. Here’s what scientists have found out women should do for prevention.

Eat Dark Chocolate Several Times A Week

Chocolate used to be the poster child for a bad diet. But it turns out that the problem isn’t the chocolate itself, it’s all the fat and sugar added afterward by manufacturers. The ancient Mayans worshiped chocolate because of its supposed healing properties, many believing it was an elixir of youth.

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It turns out, at least according to modern science, that the ancients might have been onto something. The chocolate bean is packed full of different phytonutrients, many of which have been shown in the lab to improve cardiovascular function. In fact, chocolate is one of the most complex food compounds nutritionists have ever investigated, containing more than 600 different chemical compounds which could be beneficial to health.

Dark chocolate – the chocolate with less sugar – could reduce the amount of bad cholesterol in your blood by binding to it and carrying it away.

Drink Beer

A study published in an agricultural journal found that beer was able to reduce the amount of fibrinogen – a compound that can contribute to clotting – in people’s blood. The story here is very similar to the story of red wine. For years, scientists have been claiming that red wine is what explains the French Paradox, the observation that the French have far lower cardiovascular mortality rates than other countries even though they eat a lot of animal fat and hard cheeses. Wine, it is hypothesized, contains certain plant chemicals which block the heavy French diet from causing damage to the body, helping them to live longer and healthier lives.

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It should be pointed out that for neither wine nor beer is it the alcohol content of the drinks that confers the benefit, but the underlying plant matter used to make them. In the case of red wine, it’s all the polyphenols in the grapes which are believed by many to be responsible for the beneficial effects of the drink. This has led some to suggest that it might be better to skip out the alcohol altogether and just eat the fruit.

Ride A Bike For 20 Minutes Every Day

Is riding a bike your sort of thing? Well, it should be. Recently German researchers got 100 people who were complaining of pain in the left side of the chest to exercise daily for 20 minutes on a stationary bike. They compared this to a bunch of people with similar characteristics who went through the regular medical procedure, called an angioplasty. What was amazing about the results was that the people who rode their bikes every day had a much lower chance of suffering what the researchers called a “cardiac event” than those who had the angioplasty procedure. According to the data, 21 percent of the people who went through the regular medical procedure had either a heart attack or a stroke, compared to just 6 percent of the people who rode their bikes.

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Take B-Complex Daily

Swiss researchers wanted to find out whether or not B-complex vitamins had any effect on recovery times after heart valve operations. They decided to split post-op patients into two groups. To one group they fed a B-complex tablet, containing B-vitamins, and to the other group, they gave a placebo. The scientists hypothesized that the level of a chemical called homocysteine would be lower in the blood of the people who took the B-complex and that this would mean that fewer of those women would have heart attacks.

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It turned out that they were right. The risk of heart disease relapse was 40 percent lower in those on the B-complex than it was in those who didn’t take it. In addition, their arteries were also open wider, suggesting that B-vitamins could be used to restore blood flow.

Go To Bed Early

The Harvard medical school has been at the center of heart disease research for decades. Recently, researchers at the institution have been investigating how important sleep is for preventing heart problems. Their most recent study was enormous, encompassing more than 70,000 women and running for nearly eight years.

What they found was interesting: missing out on just an hour of sleep a night put women at a much higher risk of a cardiac event. Women who didn’t sleep well had higher blood pressure, higher stress hormones, and higher blood sugar levels. Strangely, the researchers also found that women’s risk of cardiovascular disease went up if they slept more than 9 hours.

The study indicated that the ideal amount of sleep is somewhere between seven and nine hours, in line with many other studies on the subject.