Health Tips: Ladies, speak up to primary care doctors for your heart health

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In a 2018 opinion piece in USA Today, singer Barbra Streisand, founder of the Women’s Heart Alliance and the Cedars-Sinai Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center, wrote, “Today in America, women are being sent to early graves because our country has failed to combat a disease that kills more of us annually than all forms of cancer combined.” 

Neglect of women’s heart health happens repeatedly in primary care physicians’ offices. Researchers looked at more than 43 international studies with 2.2 million patients and found that primary care doctors write fewer prescriptions for aspirin, statins and ACE-inhibitors (high blood pressure meds) for women who are at high risk for a heart attack or with established cardiovascular disease than for similarly endangered men. In fact, women receive 19% fewer aspirin prescriptions; 10% fewer statin prescriptions and 15% fewer ACE-inhibitors than men. 

That means women need to be vigilant guardians of their heart health by making sure primary care docs regularly check inflammation markers, LDL cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and discuss the potential repercussions of the results. If you have elevated blood pressure, lousy LDL cholesterol or a chronically increased level of inflammation and are not prescribed medication to combat it, ask, “Why are you not recommending a statin?” “Would high blood pressure medicine help protect my heart and brain?” And “What can I do to reduce the inflammation?” 

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women. If you’re a woman with preexisting conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity or if you smoke cigarettes or are over age 60, then you have a higher risk for developing heart disease. At annual checkups, your primary care physician should evaluate your heart health. You can empower yourself by tracking your blood pressure, cholesterol level, blood sugar, body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference. 

Also, be aware that signs of heart attack can be different in women. These include pain in the neck, jaw, shoulders, upper back and abdomen, shortness of breath, sweating, lightheadedness, dizziness and nausea. Finally, if you feel your primary care physician isn’t giving you the care you need, consider making an appointment with a cardiologist, who can conduct a full workup and make decisions on which medications to prescribe. 

These spices are so cool, they take down inflammation

Chili peppers, cinnamon and red pepper are the three best-selling spices in the U.S., and oregano, parsley and basil are the most favored herbs, according to researchers from the University of Illinois. But many other herbs and spices are gaining favor lately. Around 40% of folks now say they like ginger and rosemary a lot. And 33% are wild for dill and cumin.

That’s a great trend -- for the culinary arts and for your health. A study in the Journal of Nutrition by researchers from Penn State found that adding just 6 grams of a blend of basil, bay leaf, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, ginger, oregano, parsley, red pepper, rosemary, thyme and turmeric to a high-fat and processed-

carbohydrate meal lowers levels of bodywide inflammation hours later. 

Now this doesn’t give you permission to eat heart-stopping, cancer-triggering, high saturated fat and processed-carb foods. But it is great news, since chronic inflammation, associated with elevated blood glucose, lousy LDL cholesterol levels and obesity is epidemic in America.

Defeating inflammation, which is implicated in the development of some cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia and a lousy sex life, is essential for restoring your health. So next time you’re in the kitchen, cook up some rice and beans for taco night or grill or poach salmon or sea trout. Season generously with your homemade blend of this spice and herb mixture. You’ll be rewarded with great flavors as you cool down the inflammation that’s threatening your healthy future. 

  Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.

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