After a small study found that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) supplementation had different effects on blood pressure in male and female patients with hypertension, The Clinical Advisor asked Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, director of Women’s Heart Health at Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City, and cofounder of the Global Nutrition and Health Alliance, the following question:

What do NPs and PAs working in primary care need to know about the different path that heart disease takes in men and women?

Heart disease is a different process in men and women, not only in its presentation, but also in how it is diagnosed and often how it is treated. The warning signs of heart disease in women include shortness of breath, fatigue, flu-like symptoms, back pain, and jaw pain; in men, key indicators are typically chest pain or discomfort, numbness in extremities, and shortness of breath.

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Regarding prevention and treatment between the sexes, there are variations as well. When it comes to optimal nutrition, there are similarities and differences in dietary guidelines for men and women. In the realm of heart health, high blood pressure is heavily influenced by lifestyle changes and dietary modifications, and, when necessary, prescription medications or over-the-counter supplements may be indicated. Certain medications and supplements may be helpful, but it is important to understand those subtleties between men and women to ensure proper management.

Certain dietary interventions such as reduced salt intake and moderation of alcohol consumption in habitual alcohol consumers, as well as lifestyle modifications such as body weight optimization and well-planned regular exercise, have been shown to traditionally help manage blood pressure independent of weight or sex. In addition, consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods such as salmon, nuts and grains, or supplements, is also known to assist with regulating blood pressure levels.

However, a study in the Indian Heart Journal (2014;66[4]:408-414) found that not all patients are created equal, particularly when it comes to gender. The study, which concluded that omega-3 supplements can help fight high blood pressure in nondiabetic patients, found that patients taking omega-3 supplements along with medication had a statistically significant reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure and the effect was greater in male patients compared with female patients. This study also further supports current dietary recommendations for daily omega-3 intake being distinct in men (1.6 g) and women (1.1 g).