Earlier this week, I received an email from a PR company. Nothing new, I receive many PR emails! However, the subject line of this particular email stop me dead in my tracks –

Heart disease the hidden killer contributing to 31,000 deaths of Australian women every year

I’m sorry, WHAT?! Since when was heart disease something I should be worrying about? Isn’t it mainly middle-age men that have heart attacks or strokes?

After reading through the press release and ‘Hidden Hearts’ report (1) that summarised the research from Mary Mackillop Institute for Health Research at ACU, I realised that this was a major health issue for women. Heart disease is responsible for 31,000 deaths of women and costing the health system $3 billion every year.

Naturally, I did what any curious Virgo does when she doesn’t know the answer to something – I asked my Facebook friends 😉

Turns out I wasn’t the only female that had never considered the risk of heart disease. Even worse, aside from my very knowledgable (smarty pants) naturopath; none of these ladies knew very much, if anything, about cardiovascular disease in women.

So keep reading and I’ll tell you how to reduce your risk of heart disease as a woman …

What health issues do women worry about then?

According to the 2016 Jean Hailes for Women’s Health Study (3), our 5 top health concerns are:

  1. Weight management (23%)
  2. Cancer (17%)
  3. Mental/emotional health (15%)
  4. Menopause (9%)
  5. Chronic pain (8%)

Heart disease does not rank. The good thing about this, is that weight management is a contributing factor to reducing our risk of heart disease … but it’s not enough alone.

reduce your risk of heart disease

How big a risk is heart disease?

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think this is really important for women to know. It’s a big deal.

To give you some perspective, cancer accounts for around 17% of deaths in women every year. Heart disease comes in at a massive 27%, plus it’s also strongly linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and kidney failure which are at 15% every year.

Now this is not to say that cancer is not a very serious and tragic disease, but it’s a good example to show the contrast of our perception and the reality of women’s health issues.

Why is the low awareness of it such a problem?

One of the major issues is that 40% of women experience no chest pain with heart disease, so it can go unnoticed or undiagnosed and lead to what may have been a preventable death. Find out the symptoms for women.

On top of that, the majority of research is based on males. There is poor representation of women in clinical trials of new therapies which presents a barrier to preventing and managing of cardiovascular disease in women.

reduce your risk of heart disease

Disclaimer: Nutella does NOT fix broken hearts It’s probably the best example of the worst food to eat for heart disease – fat and sugar combined 😛 #sorrynotsorry

What are the risk factors?

“Increased obesity rates mean that all forms of CVD are becoming increasingly common in younger women; and with nearly one in three Australian women aged 18 and over considered insufficiently active, and one in five reporting no exercise at all, the likelihood of these young women developing CVD in the longer-term is frighteningly high.”

Professor Simon Stewart, principal investigator behind the ‘Hidden Hearts’ report.

This is what increases your chances of cardivascular disease (3) – and this isn’t just for older women.

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes (type 2 in particular)

How to reduce your risk of heart disease as a woman?

I was very lucky to be able to spend some time chatting with Professor Maja-Lisa Lochen, one of the researchers from the ‘Hidden Hearts’ report. After reading the report, I was very curious about understanding more about prevention of cardiovascular disease in women and specifically, how nutrition plays a role (you guys know how much I love food!).

There is some good news to this! Professor Lochen explained that more than 60% of cardiovascular diseases are preventable – simply by reducing those risk factors that are related to lifestyle, with diet being the most important.

In Australia, we are experiencing the fastest growing obesity epidemic diet, due to an unhealthy diet and lack of physical. She said that we are eating too much fat and sugar, but it was also because our portion sizes have become far too large in comparison to our physical inactivity.

reduce your risk of heart disease

Eat more fruit and veggies, eat less fats and sugars

We need to be eating more fruits and vegetables (focus more on the veggies if you’re already overweight), and also reduce fats and processed sugars. I wasn’t at all surprised by any of this, having read clinical research studies on wholefood fruit and vegetable supplements and the positive benefits they have on heart health. We’re simply not eating enough, so it made me even more grateful for these supplements!

I was very curious about types of fats in relation to cardiovascular disease. Professor Lochen highlighted the need to reduce our intake saturated fats, especially from red meats which she said should really only be eaten once a week or for special occasions. Instead, we should be increasing those unsaturated fats, like olive oil and from fish and seafood.

For those steak lovers out there, unfortunately there isn’t any research showing that organic or biodynamic meat is any healthier, but it’s definitely a better option than processed meats and Maja-Lisa and I both agreed it tastes much better!

What’s the main message for women and heart disease?

I explained to Professor Lochen that heart disease has never really been something that worried me and the women I spoke about it were totally clueless too – so what’s the main thing that women need to understand about it?

“All women are at risk. The obesity epidemic in Australia, caused by unhealthy diet, is the major risk factor for Type 2 Diabetes, which is one of the most dangerous risk factors for heart disease – especially in women (compared to men).

It’s a life long awareness campaign, not just on an individual – it’s a society issue, a public health issue and an issue for our politicians to address. We must teach our children about it.”

Professor Maja-Lisa Lochen, researcher ‘Hidden Hearts’ report



  1. Mary Mackillop Institute for Health Research. Hidden Hearts report. Available from: http://mmihr.acu.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2016/09/Hidden-Hearts.pdf
  2. Jean Hailes for Women Health. Women’s Health Survey 2016. Understanding health informa on needs and health behaviours of women in Australia. September 2016. Available from: https://jeanhailes.org.au/news/womens-health-survey-2016-unique-insights-into-womens-health
  3. The Heart Foundation. Heart Attack Warning Signs. https://heartfoundation.org.au/your-heart/heart-attack-warning-signs