Barbra Streisand

A Woman's Heart

Barbra Streisand. Healthy Living Magazine

Barbra Streisand. Healthy Living Magazine

One of the very few women in the world who needn’t have any kind of introduction is yet longing to be heard about a mission she has wholeheartedly been on for many years. The two-time Academy Award winner donated and raised over $20 million dollars for research at the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, and influenced many other Hollywood stars to contribute to the cause. The facts and numbers that Barbra speaks of in this interview in regards to women’s heart disease are staggering, and we set out to help her broadcast the importance of this awareness.

HealthyLivinG: What was the experience that led you to become a force of progress in women's heart disease?

Barbra Streisand: Gender equality has always been important to me, so I was shocked when I learned there was major gender disparity in heart disease research, funding and treatment. When I learned that for the past 50 years, women’s heart treatment has been largely based on medical research on men—even when a woman’s heart is different than a man’s—I knew I had to get involved and do something to change this. Heart disease is the number one killer of women, killing more women than men and more women than all cancers combined. Even knowing this, women’s hearts continue to be under-researched and misdiagnosed, and often go untreated. Even down to animal research, scientists use only male mice because female mice are too complex. Isn’t that precisely why we should be studying female mice?

Women are now more than 50% of the US population. It’s time we stopped treating them like second-class citizens.

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HealthyLivinG: How much have you raised to start the BSWHC at Cedars Sinai?

Barbra Streisand. Healthy Living Magazine

Barbra Streisand. Healthy Living Magazine

Barbra Streisand: I committed $10 million and raised an additional $12 million to support the critical research and education efforts by the brilliant Dr. Noel Bairey Merz and her team at the Women’s Heart Center Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. I’m thrilled to say that since my gift, other women have joined me and contributed eight figure gifts to continue the important work of the Center.

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HealthyLivinG: What did you say to Ralph Lauren, Sumner Redstone, Michael R. Bloomberg, Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg to get them to open their wallets to millions of dollars in support for the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center?

Barbra Streisand: I told them the staggering facts. They were shocked to hear, as I was, that one woman dies of heart disease EVERY MINUTE. And that this disease kills more women than men and more women than all cancers combined. These are very smart and successful people. But as I have learned, very few people know the grim statistics and even fewer are educated about the gender differences in how heart disease presents in men versus women, including (and most concerning) those in the medical community.

Barbra Streisand. Healthy Living Magazine

Barbra Streisand. Healthy Living Magazine

All of my Founding Partner donors have a woman in their life--mothers, wives, daughters, sisters--that they care deeply about and so it was important to them to support this cause.

HealthyLivinG:>Why did you decide to create the Women’s Heart Alliance?

Barbra Streisand: Cedars is a fantastic community hospital serving the Western United States. But we are facing an epidemic on a national scale that is only growing given the lack of awareness among the general population and lack of federal research funding. So in addition to the cutting-edge work being done at hospitals like Cedars-Sinai, we joined with Ronald Perelman and the Perelman Heart Institute at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Hospital to create the Women’s Heart Alliance, which in November 2014 launched the national awareness and advocacy campaign, Fight the Ladykiller.

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HealthyLiving: How will the Women’s Heart Alliance and the Fight the Ladykiller campaign be game changers?

Barbra Streisand: This campaign will bring a loud, bold and disruptive voice to this issue. It will transform the way our culture views women’s hearts (what women don’t know is that unlike most men, 50% percent of women don’t experience the classic Hollywood heart attack, but rather their symptoms are similar to nausea, indigestion and fatigue). It will also give women the information and tools they need in order to take control of their heart health.

If we can increase the number of women who are taking the critical step of getting heart checked and drive more Federal research dollars to focus on women’s heart disease, we will have succeeded.

Read: Andie MacDowell

HealthyLivinG: Is the federal government also providing funds?

Barbra Streisand. Healthy Living Magazine

Barbra Streisand. Healthy Living Magazine

Barbra Streisand: Research is so critical to saving women’s lives and more funding and research is needed to change the women’s heart disease story in this country. Congress has the power to allocate more research dollars to women’s heart disease. Right now, only a small fraction ($246 million) of the National Institutes of Health budget is spent studying women’s heart disease. In comparison, $959 million is spent on women’s cancer research.

We spent a day in Washington, DC on Capitol Hill this past June and met with the House and Senate women’s caucuses, as well as Congressional leadership. They shared our concern and outrage, which made me think we could really make a difference with this effort.

We also met with heads of the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration. While they also shared ourconcern, they were not willing to reprogram current funds to support women centered heart research. They were only open to allocating new money, but as we know, there is no new money. Health programs in the federal budget have experienced tremendous cuts. However, given that women’s heart disease is the number one killer of women, the federal government currently allocates an inappropriate percentage of its research dollars toward this disease. So, we have to either secure new money or convince the leadership of these health agencies to re-allocate current funds.

My hope is that through our continued work and collaboration with other organizations that have been fighting this fight, we will succeed in securing more federal funding desperately needed for women’s heart disease research.

Read: Mammograms Save Lives?

HealthyLivinG: How insufficient is funding to carry out your mission, given the expense of such studies?

Barbra Streisand: We are nearly 50 years behind on women-centered research in this area, so we have a long way to go and that will require significant investment, because research is expensive. And we are even further behind in education and awareness on this issue among women, the general public, and the medical community. So yes, we need to raise a lot more money in both federal funding and private contributions because we are not going to stop until we see these statistics shift dramatically.

Read: 5 Celebrities Who Survived Cancer

HealthyLivinG: How does women’s traditional role as caretakers impact the way they seek medical care and treatment for their cardiovascular health?

Barbra Streisand: Women are often the center of the family unit, and by nature put the needs of their family and loved ones ahead of their own needs. In a recent survey commissioned by the Women’s Heart Alliance, we found that women are taking a “wait and see” approach to their heart health. Of the 38% of women who reported having a moment when they thought there might be something wrong with their heart, 32% of those women did nothing. We also found that women were more likely to put off going to the doctor (63% likely) than put off doing their taxes (27%). Women are also not talking about heart disease with their friends and family. In fact, 76% of women say they rarely or never discuss heart health with friends and family. Women should be using their position in the center of families to raise awareness about the number one killer of women, not shy away from it.

HeathyLivinG: Do you think doctors themselves have played into gender inequality when it comes to diagnosis and treatment of heart disease?

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Barbra Streisand: Yes. In May 2013, the Women’s Heart Alliance surveyed primary care physicians (PCPs) and cardiologists who see female patients. We learned that fewer than half of surveyed PCPs (just 39%) are extremely concerned about heart disease as a top health concern for their female patients. And only 49% of PCPs and 52% of cardiologists agree with the statement, “A woman’s heart is different than a man’s.” That is concerning. The fact is, a woman’s arteries, heart size and valves are among the physical differences that lead to the unique and serious heart health consequences for women, including later detection of heart disease, misdiagnosis and more tragic outcomes. But the biggest and most alarming takeaway from the study was that discussing heart disease with a patient was nowhere near a top concern for physicians, despite it being the number one killer of women in our country and worldwide.

Barbra Streisand. Healthy Living Magazine

Barbra Streisand. Healthy Living Magazine

HealthyLivinG: How will the Fight the Ladykiller campaign’s efforts be practically used among minority women who might not be privy to a hospital like Cedars-Sinai or that level of medical care?

Barbra Streisand: Our call to action to all women is to #getHeartChecked. It involves a straightforward conversation with your healthcare provider along with a series of screenings and measures—among them checking your blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar levels—that will help your doctor determine your 10-year and lifetime risk for heart disease. We want women to take responsibility for their health and be informed since no one else is going to do that for them. And we make it simple. Go to our website www.fighttheladykiller.org to get more information on how you can assess your own personal risk for heart disease.

HealthyLivinG: What do you do in your own life to express your healthy living/heart values?

Barbra Streisand: I love food—coffee ice cream is one of my favorite treats—so I have to constantly balance what I’m eating. I make an effort to avoid red meat as much as possible and eat more fruits and vegetables instead. And I exercise regularly.

HealthyLivinG: Our traditional last question: your anti-aging secrets, health tips for HL readers?

Read: Elizabeth Hurley

Barbra Streisand: We are all a work in progress. It’s important to never stop learning and challenging yourself. I continue to discover new passions and hobbies all the time. In the last couple of years I have taken up painting and it has been so fulfilling.

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