Heart Disease

Heart Smart Living
Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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Heart Disease Prevention Myths

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Over the past several weeks, I’ve brought you up to date on the latest American Heart Association guidelines for the prevention of heart disease in women. The guidelines were written by an expert panel of physicians and medical researchers from across the country, and are endorsed by 22 national professional organizations. They are identified as “effectiveness-based,” meaning that they are based not only upon the most compelling research available, but also draw on the judgment and experience of some of the top medical professionals in the country.

As expected, the guidelines include principles of a heart-healthy diet, recommendations for optimal exercise, and updates on what constitutes a heart smart lifestyle. They also offer doctors strategies for preventive medicine and treatment of a wide range of heart conditions. Perhaps just as important is a list of commonly used medications and supplements that have been shown to be ineffective at preventing heart disease, and perhaps even dangerous.

Menopausal Hormone Therapy

Menopausal hormone therapy is the first in the list of fruitless treatments. Years ago, many cardiologists strongly believed that hormone therapy held promise for heart disease prevention. Those hopes have been dashed in the past ten years, as research studies involving thousands of women have suggested that in many cases, hormones may hurt, rather than help, heart health.  This issue remains a hot and controversial topic, and the last word is yet to be written. There are still questions about the relative effects of different forms of hormone therapies (for example hormone patches vs. pills), and the impact of a woman’s age and duration of treatment, but for now, hormone therapy cannot be recommended specifically for heart disease prevention.

Antioxidant Supplements

Antioxidant supplements, such as vitamin E, vitamin C, and beta carotene, are also discouraged. High doses of these supplements have been shown to be of no benefit and, in the case of vitamin E and beta carotene, may even cause harm.

Folic Acid

Similarly, high doses of folic acid are not recommended for heart disease prevention, since this supplement has not been proven to be helpful, and may even increase the risk for cancer. The authors do make an exception for women of childbearing years, since folic acid during pregnancy can help protect the developing fetus’s nervous system.

Aspirin

Finally, aspirin in healthy women under the age of 65 is not advised, since studies have shown that it is more likely to cause serious bleeding and ulcers than it is to prevent heart attacks. On the other hand, a woman who has, or is at high risk for, heart disease should usually take aspirin regardless of age, as long as its use is approved by her physician.

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Tags: Supplements , Vitamins and Heart Health , Weight and Heart Health

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About the Author


MD, FACC

Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.

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