Posted on May. 21, 2014 (
There are many well known facts about women’s health. Annual pelvic exams screen for cancer and health risks. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women. Daily use of sunscreen protects skin from sun damage. Eating a balanced diet supports overall health.
Even so, women’s health is complex and there are things we don’t know about. We asked Dr. Valerie Sutherland to share the most common misconceptions about women’s health. From nutrition to cholesterol medication and cancer, here are the four things most women don’t know.
Healthy weight and body composition are different things
A healthy weight and a healthy body composition are two very different things. You can lose weight and increase your health risks or gain weight and reduce your health risks.
"Instead of a goal weight, set your goal to have a normal body fat percentage," Sutherland said. "It is important to have enough muscle mass in addition to avoiding excess fat. Lean body mass helps prevent osteoporosis and insulin resistance."
Calcium supplements have risks
Studies show increased cardiovascular deaths with supplement doses over 1000 mg a day. Calcium intake from food is best.
"Food sources of calcium include dairy, dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, and foods fortified with calcium including tofu,” Sutherland said. “You need to eat a large volume of the vegetables to get sufficient calcium, but it is a healthy habit to make half of each meal vegetables.”
You may not need to take a “statin” for high cholesterol
In women with no other risk factors for heart disease, a statin may have very little benefit and does have small, but finite risks. There are new guidelines on who should take a statin and who should not. Talk to your doctor.
"Ask your doctor to estimate your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. That way, he or she is treating your clinical risk and not your cholesterol number, which are two different things," Sutherland said. "If your risk is intermediate, ask about additional tests to better predict your risk, such as a â€˜calcium score’ obtained by performing a CT scan of the arteries of the heart."
Some people need more than a mammogram
If you are high risk for breast cancer, you may need more than a mammogram and breast exam for breast cancer screening. Your doctor can calculate your breast cancer risk and determine if breast MRI or medication to prevent breast cancer is indicated.
"If your lifetime risk of breast cancer is over 20 percent, an annual breast MRI can detect smaller cancers than mammogram and ultrasound because the contrast used in the MRI can â€˜light up’ the new blood vessels that feed the growing cancer," Sutherland said. "Medications such as tamoxifen block the effect of estrogen which stimulates breast tissue. This reduces the risk of developing breast cancer. Ask your doctor to calculate your individual risk of developing breast cancer."
Do you have questions about your health? Check out Women’s CareConnect
to find local experts, reliable information and convenient online tools focused on women’s health care.