Heart And Cardiovascular Health.

According to a World Health Report of 2010 coronary heart disease (CHD) is still one of the most common in the world with stubbornly high and ever increasing number of patients. It is proven that a healthy diet, exercise, right supplements and  stress management are vital for preventing heart disease and managing  existing heart problems. However, there are physiological factors such as inflammation, oxidation, high blood sugar and homocysteine levels, etc. which also contribute to a heart disease. A well-functioning cardiovascular system is vital to health, because it delivers oxygen and nutrients to tissues. When heart begin to fail, arteries clog, the blood coagulate and blood pressure rise it is disabling at best and fatal at worst. Below is a summary of most commonly advised and researched supplements – old and new, as well as nutritional and lifestyle suggestions to prevent cardiovascular problems.

Supplements for heart health.

There are many herbs and nutrients that may help maintaining good hearth health, but four in particular has been widely researched and recommended throughout the world: Co-enzyme Q10, L-carnitine, D-ribose and magnesium. I was writing about CoQ10 previously (here and here), but I would like to stress that nutritionists and cardiologists highly recommend it. So if there’s only one supplement you would choose to maintain your heart health it should be CoQ10. It improves energy production in the heart and increases the force of heart muscle contraction. CoQ10 is recommended in cases of cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, angina, arrhythmias, mitral valve prolapse and hypertension.

L-Carnitine or Acetyl-L-Carnitine is the second most powerful nutrient for heart health, that is also favoured by fitness enthusiast and athletes. Carnitine is most highly concentrated in the heart. An amino-acid derivative, synthesized from Lysine and Methionine,  it plays a role in fatty acid metabolism, lowers total cholesterol and balances the ratio between HDL (good) and LDL (bad) cholesterol. It is also plays a role in energy production in the heart and metabolic energy production. Glycine propionyl L-carnitine (gPLC) is a variety of carnitine which is recommended due to its high absorption.

D-Ribose is a simple sugar that is involved in the manufacture of energy molecule ATP (adenosine triphosphate). It is effective in promoting normal heart function and reducing fatigue after exercise. It is also improves the rate of oxygen uptake and supports the energy production within the heart. This makes it an excellent supplement not only for people with heart problems, but also for athletes. D-ribose enables the body to produce energy even in low oxygen situations be it a strenuous exercise or poor cardiovascular health.

Magnesium is critical for proper heart muscle function and it is also involved in the production of ATP. It is critical for proper contraction and relaxing of the heart muscle and magnesium deficiency is very common amongst people with cardiovascular issues. This mineral is also useful for stress management and plays a role in many other processes in our bodies. Magnesium Taurate is the best form of magnesium to take for cardiovascular support.

Other supplements to consider:

  • Grape seed extract and pine bark extract (Pycnogenol), contain Oligomeric Proanthocyanidins (OPCs) that strengthen capillaries. Pine bark also has vasorelaxant properties, enhances microcirculation and reduces vascular inflammation. Pycnogenol is suitable for those with chronic venous insufficiency and venocapillary disturbances. It has no side effects, which makes it useful for people with high blood pressure or those on medication.
  • Vitamins C and E has been shown to protect LDL cholesterol from oxidative damage. Vitamin E in particular is vital for retaining elasticity in the artery wall.
  • Vitamins B12, B6, B2, Folic Acid and TMG (trimethylglycine) in combination have been shown to reduce homocysteine levels. Homocysteine plays a role in myelin sheath degradation, disrupting endothelium of the arteries and raising clot factors in the blood.
  • Of herbal remedies Hawthorne (Crataegus) is particularly good. It doesn’t have any side effects, which makes it a good to use as a heart tonic. It opens the arteries, which brings blood to the heart and improves the blood flow.  Hawthorne slows the rate of contraction, but improves the force with which the heart contracts. This result in stronger, more regular heartbeat which is beneficial in both high and low blood pressure. This herb is good for someone with congestive heart disease, angina and chest pains.

Nutrition.

Oxidised cholesterol and oxidised trans-fats damage arterial walls, leading to CVD (cardiovascular disease) and arteriosclerosis. Antioxidants help to prevent thrombosis and maintain healthy arteries and veins. Anthocyanins are flavonoid compounds that are concentrated in the dark skin of berries and have a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Aronia berries, red and black grapes, bilberries and sour cherries are richest sources.

Lycopene can stimulate LDL degradation and can regulate cholesterol synthesis. So heat up your tomatoes or take a supplement. There’s also a pharmaceutical product called Aderonon, which is a proprietary lycopene product for reducing oxidised LDL cholesterol. So the power of lycopene is acknowledged by pharmaceutical industry.

Essential oils, such as omega 3/6/9  help to reduce inflammation, lower triglycerides levels and has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease. Fish oils in particular are good (see here), so eat at least 2 to 3 portions per week or supplement with a good quality fish oil.

Vegetables are rich in sterols – compounds that mimic our cholesterol and thus prompting liver to produce less of it. The result is lower cholesterol and triglycerides. Green leafy vegetables are particularly good. Garlic protects cardiovascular system by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides. It also thins the blood and does have antioxidant as well as antibacterial properties. Green tea (caffeine free), red vine and dark chocolate (in moderation) are good for heart too due to powerful phytochemicals they contain.

Polyunsaturated vegetable oils become denatured through heating above 150C (302F) or by hydrolyzing. This destroys the long chain structure of the fat and turns the oil into dangerous trans-fats that are poorly metabolised by the body. Such processed oils are best avoided, as well as frying food in general. If it is absolutely necessary to fry, grill or roast something, it is best to use cold pressed canola oil, hemp oil or coconut oil since they have higher smoking point and do not degrade easily. Cold pressed oils are also much healthier. Never use olive or flax seed oil for cooking at high temperatures.

Sugar acts as an oxidant, leading to arterial damage and oxidised cholesterol. Any unused sugar converts into triglycerides (fat) in our body which in turn leads to CVD among other problems. Excess sugar molecules also stick to haemoglobin molecules, preventing them from working well. Higher levels of blood glucose levels are associated with a 30% greater risk of heart failure in men. Insulin resistance is another problem of excessive sugar consumption. Constant bombarding of the cells with insulin causes insulin insensitivity. Excess insulin in turn, makes blood vessels contract, decreasing the blood flow and increasing the blood pressure.  Therefore all processed sugars and refined carbohydrates should be avoided and the amount of tropical fruits, dried fruits,  juices, alcohol and caffeine (yes, it contributes to insulin resistance) should be reduced to a minimum. Low glycemic index diet (low GL) is good for prevention and treatment of human disease in general, including CVD and heart disease.

Consumption of animal protein has also been linked to increased risk of heart disease. This is due to inflammatory markers in meat, high cholesterol and high iron levels.

Lifestyle And Stress Management.

Living in polluted environment, exposure to industrial chemicals (many of which are in our daily cleaning products), smoking and even sunburn are contributing factors to heart disease. Smoking in particular is proven to be a significant risk factor for heart and circulatory diseases. While some of the above factors can be hard to change, stress can be managed with the right nutrition and exercise.

  • Magnesium in combination with B6 relaxes the nervous system and often recommended to anyone who have stressful job or study.
  • An amino-acid Taurine can be added to this combination for better results.
  • Passion flower (Passiflora) herb may help to reduce stress and it also improves circulation to the heart by dilating the coronary arteries.
  • Exercise helps to alleviate stress and produces endorphins.

Everyone should start to exercise when they are young and continue throughout their life, but this would be too good to be true. In reality, many people forget about what exercise is as soon as they are out of school. Unfortunately, if a cardiovascular system is not stimulated and clogged it is guaranteed to result in heart problems in later life. Adipose tissue (fat found around the waist) is more metabolically active than fat elsewhere in the body. It is thought to increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer and diabetes. A recent finding is that adipose tissue can produce cortisol – a steroid hormone that affects endocrine hormones, such as insulin, sex hormones, adrenal and thyroid hormones. But it is never too late to be active and heart muscle, like any other muscle needs exercise. The important thing to remember for someone with existing heart problems is that whatever exercise you choose – it must be gentle. Walking and swimming are the best two options as these are low impact exercises. Stationary bike exercise on low setting is good too. For younger people, cycling, running and circuit training with light weights are perfect to ensure that heart stays in good health.

To conclude, I must stress again, that it is always a combination of things that makes a difference. Just as there’s no one magic pill (yet) there’s no one option in particular to choose  in order to stay in good health. To prevent and to treat cardiovascular problems, it is important to stick to the old methods of exercising and eating right as well as being aware of new research. This means taking supplements and keeping an eye on inflammation, oxidative stress, blood sugar levels and homocycteine levels.

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