A multi-ethnic study across the United States investigated whether the associations between ideal cardiovascular health and the risk of developing cardiovascular disease differ between men and women.
Atherosclerosis is a disease where the arteries become clogged with fatty substances called plaques. When plaques build up, the arteries begin to narrow and harden. This restricts blood and oxygen flow to vital organs and can block the blood flow to the heart or brain. If left untreated, atherosclerosis can lead to serious cardiovascular disease such as a heart attack or stroke. However, basic treatment and changes to lifestyle can make this condition largely preventable. Although cardiovascular disease accounts for one third of deaths worldwide, the prevalence in high income countries has significantly decreased over recent years. This is largely due to improved knowledge about how to prevent cardiovascular disease.
The American Heart Association provides a lifestyle tool called ‘Life’s Simple 7’ to identify risk factors and help people make lifestyle changes to improve their cardiovascular health. The seven factors identified in the tool are; manage blood pressure, control cholesterol, reduce blood sugar, get active, eat better, lose weight, and stop smoking. Alongside tools such as ‘Life’s Simple 7’, researchers have identified biomarkers that can predict the development of cardiovascular disease.
In previous research the relationship between specific biomarkers and the occurrence of cardiovascular disease has been investigated. A large, multi-ethnic study recently published in the BMJ Open took this research further. The study investigated the association between gender, ideal cardiovascular health, and cardiovascular disease-related biomarkers. This observational study looked at over 5000 women and men, from a range of ethnic backgrounds, aged between 45-84 years. All participants were free of cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular health was assessed by scoring each of the ‘Life’s Simple 7’ factors as poor, intermediate, or ideal. The higher the score the better the cardiovascular health. Questionnaires, physical examinations, and blood samples were scrutinised throughout the study. Biomarkers were examined in blood samples drawn from each patient.
Except for one specific biomarker, higher cardiovascular health scores were associated with lower concentrations of biomarkers that predict cardiovascular disease in both men and women.
Previously, women have been found to have higher levels of certain cardiovascular biomarkers, which is why it is important to understand how gender can affect cardiovascular disease. For example, studies have shown that estrogen can increase the levels of particular biomarkers, suggesting that women may be more susceptible to developing heart disease. Understanding sex-specific differences can help clinicians to tailor treatments specifically to the needs of men or women. This study shows that promoting ideal cardiovascular health is equally important to both genders.
The results from this study may not be applicable to younger or older age groups due to the specific age range of the participants involved. The research also suggests that attaining an ideal body mass index (weight to height ratio) may lead to greater reductions in biomarkers. However, longer-term studies over a greater age range are required to understand the clinical implications of these findings.
Importantly this research has similar results to previous studies in this area. By improving cardiovascular health, both men and women can help prevent the development of serious cardiovascular disease. Simple changes to diet and lifestyle can make a big difference to heart health.
Written by Helen Massy, BSc.
Roth, G., Johnson, C., Abajobir, A., Abd-Allah, F., Abera, S., Abyu, G., Ahmed, M., Aksut, B., Alam, T., Alam, K., Alla, F., Alvis-Guzman, et.al. (2017). Global, Regional, and National Burden of Cardiovascular Diseases for 10 Causes, 1990 to 2015. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 70(1), pp.1-25.
Osibogun, O., Ogunmoroti, O., Tibuakuu, M., Benson, E. and Michos, E. (2019). Sex differences in the association between ideal cardiovascular health and biomarkers of cardiovascular disease among adults in the United States: a cross-sectional analysis from the multiethnic study of atherosclerosis. BMJ Open, 9(11), p.e031414.
www.heart.org. (2019). My Life Check | Life’s Simple 7. [online] Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/my-life-check–lifes-simple-7 [Accessed 26 Nov. 2019].
Image by Mabel Amber, still incognito… from Pixabay