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Preventing Female Heart Disease

by Penny Crowther(more info)

listed in heart, originally published in issue 271 - June 2021

Preventing Female Heart Disease

by Penny Crowther DN Med BANT CNHC


In the thick of the covid pandemic, there has been a lot of attention on supporting the immune system.  Whilst this is a good idea, it’s only part of the picture. In this article, I am going to focus on an organ that should be a top priority for women, the heart.

Prioritize your Heart Health!

Heart disease in women is a major issue. Double the number of women die from heart disease in the UK, compared to breast cancer.   Heart disease is the single biggest killer of women worldwide. Yes, you heard that right. Yet it is often men who are the target of government heart health campaigns. If you have a heart condition, in addition to the risks of a heart attack or stroke, you are likely to have more severe complications of Covid-19.

Women and Heart Disease

So why are women so vulnerable to heart disease? Oestrogen has a protective effect on the heart and blood vessels and helps maintain balanced cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Declining levels of oestrogen during the peri menopause and menopause, put women more at risk of heart disease. Women who go through an early menopause from age 45 or younger are at considerably increased risk.

Some recent, interesting research has indicated that having hot flushes is associated with increased risk for heart problems.  However, it is not the case that all women who have hot flushes go on to develop heart disease.

From a physiological point of view, the heart is a remarkable organ. In adult humans it is only the size of a clenched fist but has the capacity to pump 36,000 litres of blood around the blood vessels in a 24 hour period.

Start looking after it! There is plenty you can do with your diet and lifestyle.[1]


Crowther 271 Preventing Female Heart Disease


Heart Lifters

A Mediterranean style diet rich in antioxidants is associated with reduced risk of heart disease. We need a constant supply of antioxidants from our food, to help protect our heart and blood vessels from damage.

To get the widest range of plant antioxidants choose as many coloured fruit and veg as possible. Here are some seasonal suggestions for the summer in the UK:

  • White: Apples, pears, white cabbage, cauliflower, garlic, yellow onion, fennel, potatoes
  • Red & Purple: Red onion, rhubarb, beetroot, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackcurrants
  • Green: Cucumber, lettuce, rocket, parsley, courgette, celery, Runner and French beans, peas
  • Orange & Yellow: carrots

It’s thought that the benefits of the Mediterranean diet don’t come just from the food itself. It’s also how the food is eaten. For example, sharing the food in company along with the pleasure and enjoyment that brings.  Not so easy during a pandemic but with restrictions easing in the UK, it is becoming more possible.

Here are some other heart supporting foods, drinks and nutrients to bring into your diet:

  • Green Tea is rich in substances called catechins which are powerful antioxidants.
  • Magnesium is super important for the proper functioning of the heart and blood vessels. It is also a mineral that women especially don’t get enough of. Good food sources are green, leafy vegetables especially kale, nuts such as almonds & cashew nuts, tinned fish including the bones, dried fruit, seeds, olives, lentils, peas and beans.
  • Garlic has been shown in quite a lot of research to have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health. To get the potency used in the studies, garlic extract is needed but fresh garlic adds great flavour to food and will have some benefit.
  • Cayenne is excellent for circulatory stimulation.
  • Turmeric is best known as the main ingredient of curries, providing the characteristic deep orange/yellow colour. More and more studies are revealing its potential health benefits which come from the active ingredient curcumin, a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. Turmeric has a positive effect on cholesterol levels and may help keep the blood thin and avoid clotting.
    Add turmeric separately rather than using ready blended curry powders which won’t contain as much. You can also add it to live natural yoghurt (with a dash of lime juice) to make a great marinade for fish or chicken or eggs or you can add a few spoons to mayonnaise.
  • Blueberries
  • These berries are high in plant nutrients called flavonoids. Recent research found that women who eat 3 or more servings of blueberries or strawberries per week may reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Hearty Fats
  • Omega 3 fatty acids from fish, seeds, nuts and cold pressed oils such as flax, are vital for protecting the heart and circulation. Fats such as these draw oxygen into the cells. They help keep the body fats fluid thereby preventing fatty deposits from obstructing the arteries. In addition, essential fatty acids generate electrical currents that keep the heart beat regular. If your skin feels very dry, that is often a good indication that you are lacking in essential fats.
  • Laughter, fun & hobbies! A healthy heart is both physically and emotionally balanced. The heart is not just a physical organ. It is thought of as being our emotional centre and is traditionally associated with giving and receiving love.

Heart Drainers

  • Stress – When we are stressed and the adrenaline is pumping, blood pressure and heart beat increase. The stress response is designed to put us in a state of emergency so we can cope with the perceived threat.
    If instead of being a short lived response, you are frequently in the stress response and your body is being run by the sympathetic nervous system, it works the heart very hard.
    The body needs to be in the relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system), in order for the natural healing and repair mechanisms to work.
    Ongoing stress also causes inflammation which is linked with raised blood pressure, blood sugars and cholesterol. These factors make heart disease more likely.
    Even minor stress affects the heart by constricting blood and oxygen flow to the heart muscle.
    And, long-term stress can affect how the blood clots. This makes the blood stickier and increases the risk of stroke.
  • Bottled up feelings especially of anger or grief. Try journaling as an inexpensive form of therapy!
  • Ending on a nutritional note, refined sugars, processed fats, carbonated drinks, salt, alcohol and excess caffeine can all unbalance the heart.


  1. World Cancer Research Fund seasonal list of vegetables


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About Penny Crowther

Penny Crowther BANT CNHC qualified as a nutritional therapist in 1997 and has been in clinical practice ever since. She has seen several thousand clients over the years, at her practice in London and online. Penny now specializes in nutrition for women in their 40s and beyond, particularly around peri and post menopause. Mid Life for women can be a time when fluctuating hormones play havoc with your wellbeing. In the midst of all the publicity around HRT, it's easy to forget just how powerful diet and lifestyle changes can be when it comes to navigating the menopausal years.

Penny will guide and support you through specific changes to your diet, targeted to you specifically, in midlife. She provides practical, easy to follow menu plans with easy and delicious recipes. The food you eat affects every cell and system in your body. It optimizes how you look and feel, both mentally and physically.

To book an appointment view consultation options here >>

As well as being a regular columnist for Positive Health, Penny has written for Holland and Barrett, and contributed to articles for the Daily TelegraphThe Times Literary supplement, Pregnancy & Birth and Marie Claire. She has been featured in the Daily Express, Daily Mirror and on local radio.

Penny is a registered nutritional therapist with standards of training endorsed by BANT (British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy) and CNHC. This includes completing 30 hours of continuing professional development, annually.

Penny’s approach to health is holistic, and takes into account emotional, mental and environmental factors as well as nutrition. She has trained in coaching and studied many complementary therapies before qualifying as a nutritionist, which provides a broad foundation of knowledge in her nutrition practice. Penny may be contacted on Tel: 07761 768 754;

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