A new study presented at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) finds that when it comes to heart disease, men and women have very different risk factors. Specifically, women with high amounts of coronary plaque are at greater risk of major cardiac events (i.e. heart attack and stroke) than men with the same amount of plaque build-up.
What your gender says about your heart attack risk
Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina reviewed the results of a coronary CT angiography (CTA) — a noninvasive test assessing coronary arteries for blockages — of 480 patients with severe chest pain. A CTA determines the number of vessel segments containing plaque; the severity of blockages; as well as plaque composition. Comparing CTA results over a 12.8-month follow-up period, the research team measured plaque buildup (extent, severity, and type — calcified, noncalcified, or mixed) against instances of cardiac events like heart attack or bypass surgery.
The findings revealed that women with extensive plaque build-up of any kind are at greater cardiovascular risk than men. However, cardiovascular risk is greater in men overall, particularly in instances where they show signs of non-calcified plaque. In other words, there’s a lot we still don’t know about the progression of heart disease, and that the hardening of one’s arteries, aka atherosclerosis, doesn’t always equate to heart attack risk, depending on your gender and other factors.
Why is this study important?
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. — for both men and women — which is why it’s important than ever to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle. The problem is, experts don’t necessarily agree on what constitutes a heart-healthy diet anymore.
For instance, the American Heart Association (AHA) recently released their latest dietary guidelines telling Americans to eat processed vegetable oils instead of stable, natural oils like coconut oil and grass-fed butter. While this may seem like sound advice, new research suggests that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats, like those found in safflower and corn oils, increase the risk of heart attack and death. Another landmark study from 2017 found that saturated fat does not clog your arteries, as previously thought. The study’s authors went on to say that the treatment of heart disease requires “an urgent paradigm shift,” and “despite popular belief among doctors and the public, the conceptual model of dietary saturated fat clogging a pipe is just plain wrong.”
Meanwhile, a report last week found that more than 40 years ago, the sugar industry covered up evidence proving that sugar is linked to heart disease. This shifted the heart disease blame to fats and led to the low-fat craze that was supposedly heart-healthier. Unfortunately, replacing fats with sugar pushed obesity and heart disease rates even higher. Yet, still, the AHA recommends low-fat, high-sugar snacks like yogurt and cereal.
What you can do to minimize your heart disease risk
- A happy heart begins with a diet that’s high in quality, stable fats, moderate in protein, and low in carbohydrates and sugar. Here’s how to incorporate healthy fats into your diet.
- Learn why coconut oil is better than vegetable oil here.
- And if you’d like to try out the Bulletproof Diet, here’s how you can get started.