Barbra Streisand takes women’s cardiovascular health to heart.
“Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women,” says the legendary singer and actress, who started the Women’s Heart Alliance with businessman Ron Perelman in 2014.
“Fifteen years ago I read a story in The New York Times about gender differences in heart health,” says Streisand, 79. “I was shocked to learn that more women are dying from cardiovascular disease than from all cancers combined and aren’t receiving the same attention in diagnosis and treatment as men.”
Her commitment to advancing research for women’s heart health is also why her name appears on the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles. “It just never made sense to me that women and men weren’t treated equally,” she says.
And the more she learned about the gender inequalities in preventing heart disease, the more she wanted to empower and educate women to take charge of their health. “Doctors are often dismissive when women complain of what could be symptoms of heart problems,” she says. “For so many years, heart disease was thought of as a man’s disease, and women with similar or more unique symptoms were often misdiagnosed as having digestive problems or being emotionally stressed.”
This month, Streisand’s Women’s Heart Alliance, whose mission is to promote gender equity in research, prevention, awareness and treatment, is launching a new PSA targeted at younger women and women of color, two particularly vulnerable groups.
“It is very important that young women are aware that they are experiencing heart disease at increasing rates,” says Streisand. “It is my hope that the PSA will sound the alarm and bring attention to the importance that women must understand this crisis and get their hearts checked.”
She says confusion stems from women being unaware of their gender’s heart attack symptoms.
“Our first signs of a heart attack often include nausea, backache, fatigue, jaw pain and shortness of breath, rather than the Hollywood version common in men of crushing chest and arm pain,” Streisand says.
Knowing that heart disease is largely preventable, she has been working out with the same trainer for more than 30 years and tries to follow a heart healthy diet. “I include vegetables, greens, and fruit in most meals,” she says. “I like fish and chicken and sometimes I substitute plant-based protein as a meat alternative.”
But, she’s human: “I love food and it does not take a lot to distract me from my good intentions,” she says jokingly.
Ultimately, she is grateful to be able to spread awareness. She says the WHA and its allies have secured more research funding for women with cardiovascular disease as well as additional funds for community heart screenings for women in underserved, rural and low-income communities.
“I hope every woman will take her heart health into her own hands,” she says. “I know I do.”