People are living much longer worldwide than they were two decades ago, as death rates from infectious diseases and cardiovascular disease have fallen. Collaborating researchers from more than 100 nations involved in the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) assessment report that global life expectancy for both sexes increased from 65.3 years in 1990 to 71.5 years in 2013. Women made slightly greater gains than men, as female life expectancy at birth increased by 6.6 years.
Maintaining these longevity gains requires deliberate attention, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nearly 14% of US women aged 18 years and over rate their health as fair or poor. Fewer than half (45.7%) of all American women meet the 2008 federal physical activity guidelines for aerobic activity through leisure-time aerobic activity. Among women aged 20 years and up, 36.4% are obese and 32.8% have hypertension.
In this column, we review recent studies that suggest simple and effective ways to enhance women's health – with particular focus on potential natural interventions for heart disease, cancer, and stroke, the leading causes of death among women today.
GBD 2013 Mortality and Causes of Death Collaborators. Global, regional, and national age–sex specific all-cause and cause-specific mortality for 240 causes of death, 1990–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. Lancet. December 17, 2014.
Women's health [Web page]. CDC FastStats. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/womens-health.htm. Accessed 5 Jan. 2015.
Healthful Diet for Healthy Aging
A large-scale study of women nurses reveals that eating a healthful diet reduces the odds of aging-related chronic diseases, physical impairment, and mental and cognitive issues. Cecilia Samieri and colleagues from INSERM (France) studied data involving 10,670 women, median age 59 years at the study's start, who were enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study. The researchers followed the study subjects for more than 15 years, tracking dietary habits and how well each subject aged – healthy aging was defined as having no major chronic diseases, physical impairment, or mental or cognitive issues. Using that definition, the team found that 11% of the women were healthy agers, with the rest aging normally. Healthy agers were found to consume a diet following the Mediterranean (abundant in fruits and vegetables) or DASH (low-salt) guidelines. The study authors conclude: "Better diet quality at midlife seems to be strongly linked to greater health and well-being in persons surviving to older ages."
Samieri C, Sun Q, Townsend MK, et al. The association between dietary patterns at midlife and health in aging: an observational study. Ann Intern Med. 2013 Nov 5;159(9):584–591.
Fruits and Veggies Boost Women's Cardiovascular Health
Women who eat a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables as young adults may be far less likely to have plaque buildup in their arteries 20 years later. Michael D. Miedema and colleagues from the Minneapolis Heart Institute (Minnesota, US) studied the relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption during young adulthood and heart disease later in life. The study included 2508 participants from the ongoing Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, which is evaluating how heart disease develops throughout adulthood. Among these subjects, the team assessed the association between dietary intake of fruits and vegetables and the presence of coronary artery calcification (CAC) 20 years later. CAC scores, obtained using a CT scan, provide a direct estimate of the amount of plaque in the coronary arteries. The data revealed that women who reported consuming the most fruits and vegetables (8 to 9 servings a day for a 2000-calorie diet) in their 20s were 40% less likely to have calcified plaque in their arteries in their 40s, as compared with those who ate the least amount (3 to 4 servings a day) during the same time period. This association persisted even after researchers accounted for other lifestyle behaviors, as well as for their current-day diets, further demonstrating the role that dietary patterns at younger ages may play. The lead author submits: "These findings confirm the concept that plaque development is a lifelong process, and that process can be slowed down with a healthful diet at a young age. This is often when dietary habits are established, so there is value in knowing how the choices we make in early life have lifelong benefits."
Miedema M. The association of fruit and vegetable consumption during early adulthood with the prevalence of coronary artery calcium after 20 years of follow-up: the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. Presentation at: American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Session. March 29, 2014.
Potassium-rich foods, such as bananas, may reduce stroke risk among older women. Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller and colleagues from Albert Einstein College of Medicine (New York) studied 90,137 postmenopausal women, aged 50 to 79 years, who did not have a history of stroke at the study's start, for an average 11 years. With participants' having an average dietary potassium intake of 2611 mg/day, the researchers tracked potassium consumption and the incidence of strokes (ischemic and hemorrhagic) or deaths during the study period. Data analysis revealed that women who ate the most potassium were 12% less likely to suffer stroke in general and 16% less likely to suffer an ischemic stroke, as compared with those women who ate the least. Women who ate the most potassium were 10% less likely to die, as compared with those who ate the least. Among women who did not have hypertension, those who ate the most potassium had a 27% lower ischemic stroke risk and 21% reduced risk for all stroke types, compared with women who ate the least potassium in their daily diets. The study authors conclude: "High potassium intake is associated with a lower risk of all stroke and ischemic stroke, as well as all-cause mortality in older women, particularly those who are not hypertensive."
Seth A, Mossavar-Rahmani Y, Kamensky V, et al. Potassium intake and risk of stroke in women with hypertension and nonhypertension in the Women's Health Initiative. Stroke. September 4, 2014.
Omega-3s May Lower Breast Cancer Risk
Increased intakes of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids may cut a woman's risk of developing breast cancer by up to 14%. Duo Li and colleagues from Zhejiang University (China) completed a meta-analysis of 26 studies involving data on nearly 21,000 study subjects, finding that women with the highest intakes of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids from marine sources had a 14% reduction in the risk of breast cancer, as compared with women who had the lowest intake. Further analysis indicated that for each 0.1 g per day or 0.1% energy per day increment of intake, the risk fell by 5%. Observing, "Higher consumption of dietary [omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids] is associated with a lower risk of breast cancer," the study authors submit: "These findings could have public health implications with regard to prevention of breast cancer through dietary and lifestyle interventions."
Zheng J-S, Hu X-J, Zhao Y-M, Yang J, Li D. Intake of fish and marine n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and risk of breast cancer: meta-analysis of data from 21 independent prospective cohort studies. BMJ. 27 June 2013;346.
Nature's Cancer Fighters
Abundant in flavonols and flavanones, tea and citrus fruits and juices associate with a lower risk of developing ovarian cancer. Aedin Cassidy and colleagues from the University of East Anglia (UK) analyzed data collected on 171,940 study subjects enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study and Nurses' Health Study II, examining associations between intakes of total flavonoids and their subclasses (flavanones, flavonols, anthocyanins, flavan-3-ols, flavones, and polymeric flavonoids) and risk of ovarian cancer. Food surveys were collected from subjects every 4 years. During 16 to 22 years of follow-up, 723 cases of ovarian cancer were confirmed through medical records. Data analysis revealed that participants who consumed food and drinks high in flavonols (found in tea, red wine, apples, and grapes) and flavanones (found in citrus fruit and juices) were less likely to develop the disease. In particular, just a couple of cups of black tea every day was associated with a 31% reduction in risk. The study authors conclude: "Higher intakes of flavonols and flavanones as well as black tea consumption may be associated with lower risk of ovarian cancer."
Cassidy A, Huang T, Rice MS, Rimm EB, Tworoger SS. Intake of dietary flavonoids and risk of epithelial ovarian cancer. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Nov;100(5):1344–1351.
To stay updated on the latest breakthroughs in natural approaches for women's health, visit the World Health Network (www.worldhealth.net), the official educational website of the A4M and your one-stop resource for authoritative anti-aging information. Be sure to sign up for the free Longevity Magazine e-Journal, the A4M's award-winning weekly health newsletter featuring wellness, prevention, and biotech advancements in longevity.