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In Australia, heart disease kills three times as many women as breast cancer. Therefore, ensuring good cardiovascular health should be top of mind for Aussie women. Madeleine Jennings reports.

According to the Heart Foundation, cardiovascular disease (CVD) kills one Australian every 12 minutes. Traditionally, men were more likely to suffer heart attacks and strokes, but increased stress factors for women mean they, too, are now at risk. In fact, heart disease is the number one cause of death for women in Australia, killing more than three times as many women as breast cancer. And it’s not just older women either. Females aged 18 to 44 are becoming more susceptible.

Causes and Cures

The main risk factors for CVD are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being overweight and smoking. The first two have no symptoms but can be checked with simple tests, and preventative measures exist for all four factors.

High blood pressure

Also known as hypertension, this puts increased strain on the heart and studies have linked it to 70 per cent of heart attacks, strokes and chronic heart failure. For younger women, pregnancy and the contraceptive pill can significantly increase blood pressure, especially if they are overweight or smoke.

Prolonged stress raises blood pressure, so do something relaxing to relieve tension, deep-breathing exercises like yoga are recommended. A balanced diet also helps, and foods containing magnesium (wholegrains, nuts, seeds, green vegetables), nitrates (beetroot), potassium (dried apricots, bananas, potatoes, onions, garlic) and calcium (cheese, milk, yoghurt) can all help lower high blood pressure. Avoid excess salt and alcohol, which are linked to hypertension.

High cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in fats and oils. The body also produces it, since cholesterol is necessary for normal cell function. Too much, however, can cause a build-up of fatty deposits lining the walls of the arteries, which then harden and narrow. Known as atherosclerosis, this blocks efficient blood flow to and from the heart.

There are two types of cholesterol: ‘good’ high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and ‘bad’ low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Too much ‘bad’ LDL is associated with heart disease, so avoid contributing to the body’s manufacture of it by limiting your intake of foods containing saturated fats (butter, cream and animal fats), as well as trans fats (often in commercially made products like packaged pastries and fast food takeaways). Foods that reduce ‘bad’ LDL and increase the production of ‘good’ HDL contain polyunsaturated fats (sunflower and sesame oils, walnuts and Brazil nuts), monounsaturated fats (olive oil, macadamia nuts and hazelnuts) and omega-3 fatty acids (oily fish like mackerel, sardines and salmon), so include more of these in your diet.

Obesity and smoking

According to the Heart Foundation, the number of obese Australian women aged 18 to 44 has tripled since 1989. While overeating is an obvious cause, increasingly sedentary lifestyles mean we are just not moving as much as we used to. Make an effort to get at least 20 minutes of physical activity into your day, and visit a qualified nutritionist if you need help with healthy meal planning.

As for smoking, recent government initiatives have discouraged young women from taking up the habit, but 15 percent of those aged 18 to 44 still smoke, the majority of them daily. The Quit Line is recommended 13 78 48.

Latest research: Aged garlic extract may reverse buildup of fatty deposits in arteries

Garlic contains many phytochemicals including allicin, known to lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol linked to heart disease. Cooking garlic destroys its compounds, so it is definitely best eaten raw!! If that doesn’t appeal then ask your Go Vita health consultant for a suitable aged garlic supplement. Look for one made from organically grown garlic, that has been naturally aged in a 20-month process to prevent unstable degradation of its active properties. This also eliminates its unpleasant odour.

A recent Australian study, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that a daily dose of aged garlic extract is comparable to the effects of many commonly prescribed anti-hypertension medicines. As well as lowering blood pressure, another study published in the Journal of Nutrition revealed aged garlic supplements may stop – and potentially reverse – a build-up in the arteries, which can develop into atherosclerosis and cause heart attack and stroke.