May 20, 2019

Helping Your Heart

Despite the progress we’ve made against heart disease—death rates have declined, as we saw in Wellness Watch—it remains the primary killer in the US, taking the lives of about 600,000 people every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. (Stroke, another consequence of diseased blood vessels, is number four on the list, killing almost 130,000 Americans annually.) That makes maintaining good cardiovascular health a crucial goal.

Heart Healthy Balloons


The good news is that the risk factors for heart disease and stroke—among them smoking, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, diabetes, excessive weight and alcohol use, poor diet and lack of exercise—are amenable to control through changes in lifestyle, especially changes in eating patterns. Fresh produce, whole grains and lean protein provide many of the nutrients and other cardiovascular aids listed on the next page, which are also available supplementally.

 Name What It Is What It Does
Carnitine A derivative of the amino acid lysine found primarily in meat and dairy products Helps cells burn fatty acids for energy; concentrated in heart muscle tissue; has improved outcomes in heart failure when used with standard therapy; may improve glucose metabolism
CoQ10 A fat-based nutrient found primarily in meat, fish, nuts and some produce Promotes energy production and fights free radicals; helps inhibit oxidation of LDL cholesterol to maintain blood vessel health; may improve cardiac function in cases of heart failure
Vitamin B12
Folate, also a B vitamin, is mainly found in green vegetables and beans; B12 occurs in animal-based foods Reduces homocysteine, a metabolic byproduct linked to increased cardiovascular risk (folate reduces the risk of birth defects while vitamin B12 deficiency has been linked to depression)
Garlic Allium sativum, used in cooking and traditional medicine for centuries Helps lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides (fats in the blood) as well as blood pressure;
protects blood vessels from inflammatory damage
Magnesium A mineral found in leafy greens, whole grains, nuts and other foods Required for hundreds of enzymatic reactions throughout the body; higher intakes have been linked with reductions in risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes
Olive Hydroxytyrosol A phytonutrient found in olives and olive oil Has shown anti-inflammatory and antioxidant abilities; may help blood vessels dilate properly while reducing the risk of abnormal clotting; may reduce diabetes risk
Fatty Acids
EPA and DHA, the long-chain varieties, are found in fish and oils taken from fish and krill Make cell membranes more flexible and fight inflammation; may help protect against irregular heartbeat and abnormal blood clotting; may reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels
Plant Sterols Cholesterol-like compounds found in wheat germ and bran, various oils and other sources Lower total and LDL cholesterol by hampering cholesterol absorption within the digestive tract; have also shown anti-inflammatory and glucose-controlling properties
Potassium A mineral found in produce including bananas,
potatoes, oranges and tomatoes
Needed for proper electrolyte function—crucial for maintaining a steady heartbeat—and for healthy blood pressure (to learn more, see page 48)
Resveratrol A phytonutrient found in red wine, red grapes and peanuts as well as the herb Polygonum cuspidatum Inhibits inflammation and abnormal clotting while promoting healthy blood flow; may help activate adiponectin, a fat-controlling hormone
Taurine An amino acid found in fish and other animal-based foods Helps control cholesterol levels and protect heart cells from damage caused by calcium imbalances; may reduce cardiac risk associated with high cholesterol levels
Vitamin E A family of eight related compounds found in oils, nuts and other foods Helps fight oxidation in the fatty parts of cells; increased intake has been associated with reductions in heart attack incidence and heart disease mortality


NOTE: Always consult with your healthcare practitioner for help in designing a supplementation program, especially if you have a pre-existing condition.


 Name What It Is What It Does
Cayenne A hot pepper often used in ground form as a spice Helps improve blood flow by dilating blood vessels and speed metabolism, which is conducive to weight loss (a key cardio-protective action)
Grape Seed Flavonoid-rich extracts taken from grape seeds Appears to help lower both systolic blood pressure and heart rate; has also shown possible anti-cancer and bone-strengthening effects
Hawthorn An herb long used among traditional medicine practitioners as a cardiac remedy Helps quench free radicals and fight inflammation; inhibits abnormal blood clotting and supports enhanced blood flow; may help retard atherosclerosis protection
Niacin A member of the B-complex (vitamin B3); found in meat, fish, beans and fortified grain products Helps lower levels of triglycerides and total cholesterol while raising levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol; helps shift small, dense LDL particles, which are likely to become lodged in blood vessel walls, to large, buoyant ones
Vitamin C Also known as ascorbic acid; found in citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, red peppers and other vegetables Fights free radicals in the watery parts of cells; helps regenerate oxidized vitamin E; studies have found anti-hypertensive and artery-protective effects; higher C levels linked to lower stroke risk; supplementation linked to reductions in LDL cholesterol