From phone numbers and addresses to loved one’s birthdays, we are very good at keeping track of certain numbers. However, the American Heart Association recommends adding a few more to that list in order to keep track of your heart health!
Total and HDL Cholesterol
Cholesterols are fat-like molecules that are found throughout our body. They are used as building blocks for hormones and important structural components to our cells. They are transported through our blood stream by two types of proteins: high density lipoproteins (HLD) and low density lipoproteins (LDL). Build-up of LDL cholesterol or “bad” cholesterol contributes to atherosclerosis or plaque forming in the arteries, whereas HDL or “good” cholesterol carries cholesterol back to the liver where it is broken down and removed from the body. A blood test can determine your total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol numbers. You should discuss these numbers with your doctor to see how they impact your personal heart health.
To learn more about cholesterol, click here!
Blood pressure is a measurement which tells us how much force is being exerted on our blood vessels with every heartbeat. It is typically recorded as two numbers: The systolic and diastolic blood pressures. This accounts for the force when the heart is contracting (in systole) or relaxing (in diastole). Normal blood pressure for adults is defined as a systolic pressure of less than 120 mmHg and a diastolic pressure of less than 80 mmHg. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can be a significant risk factor for heart disease, so it’s important to know your blood pressure and discuss it with your doctor.
To learn more about blood pressure, click here!
Blood sugar refers to the amount of glucose, a type of sugar molecular, which is found in our blood. It is the major source of energy for our cells, so it is critical that our blood sugar remain within a certain range. Health problems can occur when blood sugar becomes too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia). Normal fasting blood sugar levels should be between 70 – 100 mg/dL. People with high blood sugar who are pre-diabetic or diabetic are at greater risk for developing heart disease compared to those with normal blood sugar levels. Fasting blood sugar levels can be determined by a simple blood test taken at your doctor’s office.
To learn more about blood sugar, click here!
Body Mass Index
Being overweight or obese can also increase the risk of developing heart disease. Body mass index (BMI) is a measurement of body fat which can be used to help you and your healthcare providers determine if you need to achieve or maintain a healthy weight. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has a BMI calculator tool you can use along with additional resources for weight management.
Here at the Women’s Health Research Institute, we strive for sex-inclusive research in hopes of adding more women and female cells to all scientific equations. In order to improve women’s health, we must focus and raise awareness of sex differences in all facets of basic science, clinical and translational research. While we want to add more women to the forefront of scientific research, we know that in order for all of us to succeed we must focus on health for both women and men!
When we think of breast cancer, we often think of female cells or women being diagnosed and treated. There is often a disconnect in terms of males being diagnosed with breast cancer. This disconnect or confusion about males developing breast cancer could be due to the fact that less than 1% of all breast cancer is observed in males. Women and men both have breast cells and tissue but only females develop milk-producing breasts. The likelihood of a man’s breast tissue developing cancer is one in a thousand! Due to this rare occurrence, we do not often hear the narratives of men, like this one, who have undergone breast cancer diagnoses and treatment.
Breast cancer is not the only disease that is higher in women compared to men. Autoimmune diseases in general, disproportionately impact woman compared to men specifically diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. That said, men who do have autoimmune disease often have more acute symptoms.
Since there are these big differences in the development of diseases in biologically born males and females, it’s extremely important to think about all sides of the equation when researching or treating a disease!
Sex-inclusive science and medicine is the best way to improve the health of all of us!!
Check out these sources:
One key aspect to maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle is being aware of your individual cardiovascular risk factors. We know that men and women who are overweight, have high blood pressure, smoke, are diabetic, or have increased cholesterol are more likely to develop heart disease. However, there are several cardiovascular risk factors which apply only to women. Below, we take a closer look at several female-specific risk factors:
Hypertensive Disorders of Pregnancy
The authors suggest that women who experience hypertensive disorders of pregnancy be counseled on how to recognize and reduce other modifiable risk factors.
Gestational diabetes is a condition which occurs during pregnancy and hinders the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. While it normally resolves after pregnancy, it may leave women with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. A study which examined over 8,000 women found that those who experienced gestational diabetes during pregnancy were more likely to have low HDL or “good” cholesterol and higher levels to triglycerides – both factors which can contribute to heart disease . This provides yet another example of how pregnancy-related conditions may impact heart health later in life.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder which affects women of reproductive age. In addition to causing reproductive issues such as irregular periods or infertility, women with PCOS may experience other health issues such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, or metabolic syndrome. Together, these conditions can increase a woman’s risk of developing heart disease.
Menopause marks the end of a woman’s reproductive life cycle which is characterized by the loss of menstrual cycles and a decrease in estrogen levels. Post-menopausal women face a greater risk of heart disease compared to pre-menopausal women due to age and the loss of estrogen. This increased risk also extends to young women who experience premature menopause or have had their ovaries removed for surgical reasons. Even though estrogen is considered “heart-protective,” the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does not recommend that patients use hormone replacement therapy to prevent cardiovascular disease .
For a review on sex-specific cardiovascular risk factors, we recommend:
“Sex differences in cardiovascular risk factors and disease prevention.”
Appelman et al., Atherosclerosis. 2015; 241 (1): 211-218.
1. Tooher et al., Hypertension. 2017; 70: 798-803.
2. Shostrom et al., Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2017; 8: 144.
3. ACOG Committee on Gynecologic Practice, 2013. No. 565.
The Women's Health Research Institute would like to highlight the work of Poonam Muttreja and her organization, Population Foundation of India (PFI). PFI is a national non-governmental organization (NGO) that centers its work on policy, advocacy and research on population, health and development issues throughout India. PFI’s work has empowered women, men and their families through numerous projects that contributes to health and well-being for all, while their work also leads to numerous positive outcomes for women. PFI uses a multipronged advocacy and communication strategy, including entertainment-based mass media programmes, online digital campaigns, and outreach amongst communities.
PFI’s position is unique as they work with the Indian government at both the national and state levels, with other NGOs and throughout urban and rural communities where they deploy successful programs leading to beneficial social and behavior change.
Poonam Muttreja is the Executive Director of PFI and has over 35 years of experience in promoting women’s rights, rural livelihoods, public advocacy, communications and behavior change. She conceived and promoted the popular Indian television serial, Mai Kuch bhi kar sakti hoon-I, a woman, can do anything. Poonam has been a member of the Family Planning 2020 Reference Group, which is a global movement that supports the rights of women and girls around the globe to empower them to decide for themselves whether, when and how many children they may want to have. She is currently a civil society representative from India for the FP 2020 country engagement group. Before joining PFI, Poonam worked with the McArthur Foundation as India Country director where she was responsible for the Foundation’s grants in India that focused on population and development issues. Early on in her career, she founded organizations in the area of social justice (SRUTI), craft (DASTKAR) and programing on leadership (Founder Director of the Ashoka Foundation in India) specifically focusing in the field of women’s health. She serves on the board of several non-governmental organizations. In addition to Poonam’s numerous and impressive efforts in social justice outreach and development, she has a Master’s in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA.
Connecting through global NGOs enabling women to do better and be healthier is an important part of our mission here at the Women's Health Research Institute.
We invite you to read the latest MP Post from the Academy of Women's Health-an interview with Patricia M. Hayes, PhD, on "Improving the Health of Women Veterans."
We are very excited to announce the recipients of this year’s Shaw Family Pioneer Awards- Jelena Radulovic, MD, PhD and Aline Martin, PhD.
The Shaw Family Pioneer Awards, provide funding for investigators conducting sex-based and sex-inclusive research. Funding enables early career investigators to conduct pilot studies that may enhance their ability to compete for federal grants. All proposals were evaluated based on the impact, innovation, approach and relevance to sex-based research.
Dr. Radulovic is a Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Pharmacology and Physiology at Northwestern University. Dr. Radulovic’s research focuses on the molecular and cellular mechanisms by which memories of stressful events can contribute to anxiety and depression like behaviors. Dr. Radulovic plans to use funds from the Shaw Family Pioneer Award to develop a new method for studying the role of oxytocin receptors in generating patterns of neuronal activity in response to stress in both female and male mice. This project includes some of the latest technology which will allow for visualization of the activity of individual neurons in freely moving mice as they perform behavioral tasks to assess anxiety, memory and social behaviors. The findings will help with constructing new frameworks for sex specific behavioral regulation that can then be translated into human research.
Dr. Martin is an Assistant Professor of Medicine (Nephrology and Hypertension). Dr. Martin plans to focus on chronic kidney disease (CKD) and cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in patients that have CKD. CKD is higher in women but men progress CKD more rapidly. Dr. Martin will investigate the onset of CKD and elevations of fibroblast growth factor 23 (FGF23), which is responsible for regulating phosphorous and vitamin D metabolism, in both male and female mice. This work is relevant to sex-based discoveries because it will focus on cardiovascular disease mortality and the gender-disparities in CKD. This research is innovative in many ways, including that it will be the first study to identify specific gender based molecular mechanisms of cardiac injury. Funding from this award will support Dr. Martin’s goal in producing additional preliminary data that will establish the foundation for an NIH R01 grant application. This grant application will focus on mechanisms of cardiac injury and gender disparities in chronic kidney disease.
Stay tuned for updates in the coming months from the awardees!