new_health (2006-07)

Take Heart

And, take its health seriously

by Wendy C. Smith

February is the month for hearts—heart-shaped valentines, cookies and chocolates. February also has the honor of being National Heart Month. Our hearts deserve their own month. They are incredible organs. A heart beats about 100,000 times a day and circulates our six-ish quarts of blood through our bodies three times every minute. An adult heart is approximately the size of two fists and is central not only to our well-being and quality of life, but to our life itself. Without a heartbeat, we’re dead. The importance of heart health can not be understated, and, as important as the heart is, it is prone to a multitude of ailments such as angina, hypertension and heart attacks. Cardiovascular disease is the grouping of diseases that affect the heart system (heart and blood vessels) and the number one killer of adults in this country, topping cancer. Therefore, heart health should be of a serious concern for everyone.

Lifestyle choices go a long way in preventing or controlling cardiovascular disease. The following suggestions are probably familiar, but deserve mentioning. Avoid cigarette smoke. Both first and second hand smoke are damaging and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Eat right. Increase consumption of whole foods (fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains) and avoid processed food, particularly those high in hydrogenated oils and sugars. Take a heart healthy vitamin such as “Whole Heart Vitamin,” which can be taken by anyone (even those on cumadin) and contains many of the vitamins and minerals discussed in the rest of this article. Exercise regularly. A walk a day will help maintain weight and cardiovascular health. Be aware. Get tested for high blood pressure and elevated levels of cholesterol, triglycerides and homocysteine, especially if heart disease runs on the family.

There are some natural products and supplements that can help offset specific risk indicators. Let’s start with high cholesterol levels. High LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels have been linked in multiple studies as a risk factor in heart disease. Although diet will help lower cholesterol levels, several nutrients can be useful as well. Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) are known to lower LDL cholesterol levels. Since this nutrient is also an anti-inflammatory and provides so many other benefits, it’s a no-brainer whether or not high LDL levels are a problem. Red Yeast Rice Extract, a traditional Chinese food and herbal remedy, has shown a promise for lowering cholesterol levels and triglycerides levels as well. This nutrient inhibits HMG-CoA, the enzyme responsible for making cholesterol, and its chemical composition is similar to the “statin” drugs that are prescribed to treat high cholesterol. Policonsonol, a non-sugar sugar cane derivative, is another nutrient with cholesterol lowering properties. And let’s not forget the vitamins. Niacin is a B vitamin and the first vitamin to be recognized as having cholesterol lowering properties. It’s advisable to take a non-flush niacin as regular niacin can produce uncomfortable facial and body flushing. Vitamin E is another vitamin associated with heart health. It is generally thought that vitamin E helps prevent LDL cholesterol from being damaged which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. A food that has been shown to lower cholesterol is soy protein, especially from fermented sources like tempeh and miso.

Another specific indicator of increased risk of heart disease (and strokes) is high blood pressure or hypertension. The causes of high blood pressure are not really known, but there are some natural substances that can help control this condition. Fish oils can have a blood pressure lowering effect. Magnesium, calcium and potassium are minerals that are necessary for cellular and heart health. It has been shown that many people with high blood pressure also have a magnesium deficiency. Both potassium and calcium are recognized for their blood pressure lowering qualities, but potassium supplements should not be taken if one is taking potassium sparing diuretics. CoQ10 (coenzyme Q10) is an enzyme produced naturally by the body. It is a powerful anti-oxidant and free radical scavenger and the body’s production of this enzyme slowly decreases with age. Several studies have found that CoQ10 significantly reduces hypertension. Good old vitamin C with bioflavonoids has been connected to lowering blood pressure and strengthening arterial walls. Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling contended that high doses of vitamin C and lysine could prevent the buildup of plaque in the arteries. Garlic improves heart and blood vessel health and has a mild blood pressure and cholesterol lowering effect.

Space only allows the discussion of the preceding two heart risk indicators although there are many more and natural ways to treat them as well, but this is a two column subject so the next New Health will address more of these. In the meantime, take the time to evaluate and decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. Your heart is your life. Treat your it well. Your life does depend on it.