Being gay: A precursor to heart disease

by Mary Turner
HIV/AIDS Medical Columnist

Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States? It accounts for approximately 25 percent of all deaths.

A little more than half of the deaths from heart disease are in men.

Concerning gender identity and sexual orientation, men who have sex with other men (MSM) have a higher incidence of heart disease than their male counterparts who are not MSM.

An article published in 2013 titled, “Sexual orientation disparities in cardiovascular biomarkers among young adults” in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine discusses reasons why this may be so.

The study measured levels of certain biomarkers related to heart disease in adolescents and young adults. Based on self-identification, participants were grouped based on a male/female dichotomy and sexual orientation.

Lesbian and bisexual women (WSW) were found to have more risk factors for cardiovascular disease than did heterosexual women, yet they had lower levels of some of the biomarkers linked to heart disease. The same did not hold true for men.

Researchers classified three categories of biomarkers that contribute to heart disease. The first of these addresses lifestyle characteristics that are controllable by the individual: use of tobacco, especially smoking; alcohol use and being overweight or obese. The second examines personal experiences with stress and adversity, especially early in life.

The third examines personal experiences with racism. (Heart disease is the leading cause of death in blacks, whites and Hispanics. It is the second leading cause of death - following cancer - for Native Americans and Asians.)

MSM had higher incidences of tobacco use, heavy alcohol use, and in lesbian and bisexual women, a higher incidence of obesity. In general, these unhealthy habits began much earlier in life and became more chronic for both MSM and WSW.

MSM also reported more experiences with stress and adversity early in life. Prejudicial attitudes toward African American boys and men were experienced earlier in life as did prejudicial attitudes against sexual orientation within the African American community.

So, does this mean that MSM are destined to die of heart disease? No. Knowledge can be powerful, so it is important to look at your behaviors and experiences to identify what you can control and where you may need to seek help.

If you smoke and/or drink heavily, stop. I know that is easier said than done, but it can be done. Quitting involves an assessment of your behaviors surrounding your smoking/drinking behaviors so you can adjust them. For example, you may smoke after a meal, after sex or when you’re drinking with friends. To effectively change the smoking behavior, you must also adjust associated behaviors.

If you tend to be overweight and inactive, work on changing your level of activity and the foods you eat or how much you eat. Exercise doesn’t have to be a four-letter word. You don’t have to run marathons or power lift weights for hours every day. Walk. Garden. Dance. These are all great activities that can improve your health and make you feel better.

Also, find a support group or a therapist to help you work through your stress and the trauma you may have experienced early in life or are currently experiencing. Working with someone trained in trauma-informed therapy can be especially useful in teaching you effective coping strategies.

Practice positivity and mindfulness. It may sound kooky, but these are both effective at increasing a positive mood and relieving stress and anxiety.

Finally, become your own advocate and best friend. The people around you can’t always tell how you’re feeling or what is going on inside if you don’t tell them.

So, put down that cigarette and go dance! The heart you heal will be yours.

Copyright The Gayly – February 3, 2019 @ 7:05 a.m. CST.