How to Prevent Heart Attacks in Women

Researchers studied 24,444 Swedish women over the course of 6.2 years, analyzing dietary patterns, healthy lifestyle choices, and body weight.  Information on the women was obtained mostly by surveys at the start and end of the study.  The women were aged 48 to 83 at the start of the study and were free of diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and coronary artery disease.

Heart attacks in the study cohort were identified in the Swedish Hospital Discharge Registry and the Cause of Death Registry.  Over the course of six years there were 308 heart attacks.

The study authors noted a greatly reduced incidence of heart attacks in women with the following characteristics:

  1. high consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fish
  2. moderate consumption of alcohol
  3. avoidance of overweight, especially abdominal fat (waist-hip ratio < 0.85)
  4. physically active (at least 40 minutes daily of walking or bicycling and 1 hour weekly of leisure-time exercise
  5. non-smokers

Women meeting these criteria had a 92% lower risk of having a heart attack!  Such women were only 5% of the cohort, however.  I suspect the physical activity criterion knocked a lot of women out of the super heart-healthy subset.

The authors conclude that “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.”

I see little reason to doubt that these findings apply to the typical woman in the U.S. or Europe, and not just to Swedes.  The traditional Mediterranean diet of the mid-20th century fulfills the dietary prescription for a healthy heart.  The Advanced Mediterranean Diet incorporates these healthy diet and lifestyle choices while simultaneously working to control weight.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference:  Akesson, Agneta, et al.  Combined Effect of Low-Risk Dietary and Lifestyle Behaviors in Primary Prevention of Myocardial Infarction in Women.  Archives of Internal Medicine, 167 (2007): 2,122-2,127.

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