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Healthy Heart Reports

Heart Disease Drop In Women

Although breast cancer gets more media attention, heart disease is the number one killer of women (as well as men) in the U.S. One study that has followed a large group of women is the Nurses' Health Study. In this analysis, 86,000 women were studied between 1980 and 1994 and the study showed a significant drop in heart attacks in women and a spectacular change in their habits. During the study, there was a 40 percent drop in smoking, great improvements in diet, and a large increase in the use of postmenopausal estrogen. All help to prevent heart attacks, but 38 percent more of the nurses became overweight. The authors estimated that smoking explained 13 percent of the drop, diet accounted for 16 percent and hormone use, 9 percent. The increase in weight explained an 8 percent increase in the incidence of heart disease.

What do you think is the major cause of this drop? It was the diaries that the women filled out. The women were repeatedly asked in direct and indirect ways about their habits. The questionnaire itself changed their habits. There was a spectacular improvement in diet because of the questions asked repeatedly. For example, do you take in partially hydrogenated fats? And do you eat stick margarines? These are actually the same questions because stick margarines are a major source of the harmful partially hydrogenated fats. The women in the study who were all nurses got the message and changed their eating habits to decrease their intake of partially hydrogenated and saturated fats and to increase their intake of fiber and omega-3 fish oils. In a similar manner, they stopped smoking and took estrogen.

New England Journal of Medicine, August 24, 2000 .


Copyright 2000
Dr. Mirkin's opinions and the references cited are for information only, and are not intended to diagnose or prescribe. For your specific diagnosis and treatment, consult your doctor or health care provider.

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