Busting Food Myths with Nicole Senior

Myth: Heart attack is a men’s problem

Nicole Senior

Fact: Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women (in the US, Australia & the UK)
I always prick up my ears when a high-profile person dies from a heart attack. The list is very long, and not really surprising when you consider heart disease is the developed world’s biggest killer: singer Robert Palmer (1949 – 2003), McDonalds CEO Jim Cantalupo (1944 – 2004), US NBC political journalist Tim Russert (1950 – 2008), major league baseball pitcher Darryl Kile (1968 – 2002) and disc jockey Wolfman Jack ( 1939-1995 ). In Australia: mobile phone mogul ‘Crazy John’ Ilhan (1965-2007) and rock legend Billy Thorpe (1946-2007). Then there are those who’ve gone under the knife: former US president Bill Clinton, and TV personalities Larry King and David Letterman. Dick Cheney’s had four heart attacks. But hang on, these are all men. The only famous woman I could find online was Phyllis Diller who had a heart attack in 1999. This list would seem to suggest heart disease is something only men need worry about, but is this true?


In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death in women (US, Australia & UK). While breast cancer is the oft-quoted baddie, four times as many women die of heart disease than breast cancer. Experts estimate that one in two women will die of heart disease or stroke, compared with one in 25 women who will die of breast cancer. Sixty percent more women in the US die of cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke) than all cancers combined. While both men and women have heart attacks, women are more likely to die from it: no second chance, no opportunity to change, no chance to say goodbye – just gone.

A recent survey revealed 70% of Australian women were unaware that heart disease is the main cause of death among females. “It is a common misconception that heart disease is a ‘male problem’, with women tending to dismiss their symptoms and not seek help until the condition becomes serious”, said Heart Foundation (Australia) CEO Dr Lyn Roberts. “But heart disease should not be underestimated. It is a real issue for all women and younger women should heed our warning and take action now to reduce their risk. Most women recognise that smoking and obesity are major heart disease risk factors along with saturated fat, lack of exercise and family history. Worryingly however new research suggests that there is a poor understanding of the dangers posed by high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.”

Heart disease tends to strike women at an older age because female hormones are protective until menopause. But afterwards this protection disappears. Menopause signals a biological change, but requires behavioural change to best maintain health and wellbeing. For many women, this involves looking after number one for a change, instead of always putting the needs of others first. A heart-healthy diet and regular exercise are more important than ever and the best known anti-ageing therapy as well.

In Australia, May 3-9 is Heart Week and marks the beginning of the Go Red for Women awareness campaign. Coincidentally, it’s also Mother’s Day around the same time (US and Australasia). If you’d like to spoil yourself (or your mum) with a healthy gift that keeps on giving, check out Nicole’s books at www.eattobeatcholesterol.com.au