It’s a topic that comes up in the media a lot; it’s something we here at About Health mention frequently too – but just what exactly are we referring to when we talk about heart health?
The first obvious thought is the heart, and that’s true, but actually ‘heart health’ is typically used as a cover-all statement when we’re talking about the cardiovascular system. The cardiovascular system includes the heart muscle itself, the prolific network of blood vessels (arteries, capillaries and veins) as well as our blood. And it’s an impressive system – your heart beats approximately 100,000 times in order to pump your blood through 97,000km of blood vessels every day…..for your entire life.
As you can imagine there are a number of factors that can influence the body’s ability to carry out this mammoth task in an efficient manner day in and day out – these are the things that we typically referring to as ‘heart health’ factors – such as:
• Healthy heart tissue – the heart is a muscle and must be able to contract rhythmically for maximum efficiency; it also needs a good supply of blood, oxygen and nutrients
• Blood pressure – this is a measurement of your blood against your blood vessels – if it’s too high it can damage your blood vessels and vital organs; if it’s too low the body may not get efficient delivery of blood, oxygen and nutrients – typically not dangerous but can cause light-headedness
• Cholesterol – often painted as the villain, having good levels of cholesterol is actually essential for the stable structure of every cell in the body, the synthesis of many hormones and the digestion of fats
A heart that beats too strongly can be just as risky to your heart health as one that doesn’t beat strongly enough – this is a simple concept called homeostasis which essentially is the body’s ability to remain within strictly controlled parameters for normal function – neither too high nor too low; too hot or too cold and so on and so forth. The body is very good at maintaining homeostatic balance of its many functions, but there are of course times when this doesn’t happen. Within the frame of heart health, the following factors can disrupt homeostasis and increase your risk of heart disease:
• High blood pressure
• High cholesterol (especially LDL cholesterol and triglycerides)
• High blood sugar levels
• Blood vessel inflammation (excess inflammation in general!)
• Sedentary lifestyle
• Poor diet – combination of damaging foods and lack of nutrients
• Family history, possibly genetic influence
Many of these factors are very easy to improve with a little discipline, such as eating well, exercising and not smoking. But there are times when we need a helping hand, even if we’re doing all of the right things, or when we just want to be extra sure we’re doing our best, such as if we have a family history of heart disease. Fortunately there are a number of key nutritional supplements that have good evidence around supporting heart health – they include:
1. Omega 3 essential fatty acids
2. Coenzyme Q10
5. Polyphenols – antioxidants in general
Omega 3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) – commonly sourced from fish oil which is one of the most popular dietary supplements in the world this powerful nutrient has over 26,000 published studies on it for all manner of health concerns. If we bring our focus to heart health, fish oil has been found to have a range of effects on our heart and our blood vessels – which if you recall we have about 97,000km of in the body. Dietary intake of fish, or fish oil helps to prevent cardiac arrhythmias , reduce cholesterol – especially triglycerides , lower blood pressure by a modest amount , it is also anti-inflammatory and improves blood flow by reducing platelet aggregation . Therapeutic doses range widely, but when looking at the numbers it’s important to look beyond the amount of fish oil and find the EPA and DHA (active omega 3 EFA) specific amounts – typically 500mg – 1,800mg per day of combined EPA and DHA offer therapeutic heart health benefits.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) – found in every cell in the body except for mature red blood cells, this nutrient is essential for the manufacture of energy in our cells, it is also a powerful antioxidant in our cell membranes, helping to preserve cellular function and integrity which is especially important in such an active organ as the heart. CoQ10 has a number of protective functions for heart health – it helps to decrease blood pressure, it’s been shown to reduce total cholesterol , it may help to improve heart rhythm and has even been reported to improve symptoms of congestive heart failure . Perhaps more commonly, CoQ10 supplementation is used clinically to counter the impact that cholesterol lowering medications (statins) have on the body. Common side effects of statin medications such as muscle pain and fatigue are thought to be due to the reduced ability to produce CoQ10. How much CoQ10 do you need to get these heart health benefits? Typically 100-150mg per day have been studied with favourable results
Magnesium – often thought of primarily for sleep, muscle cramps and stress, low levels of magnesium (which are all too common! ) are also associated with congestive heart failure, ischaemic heart disease, cardiac arrhythmias, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and other serious conditions . While blatant deficiency is rare, marginal deficiency is common and very much under-diagnosed. This is in part due to reduced dietary intake as well as general increase in stress levels, numerous prescription medications and poor absorption due to increased incidence of gastrointestinal disorders . Therapeutic doses for heart health range from 300-600mg per day , but it is important to remember that not all magnesium supplements are created equal – look for one that mentions improved bioavailability and avoid magnesium oxide and magnesium hydroxide (also marketed as marine magnesium) forms.
Resveratrol & Polyphenols – resveratrol which is itself a polyphenol, is often associated with red wine has been a hot subject for research into many age related diseases, including cardiovascular disease. Inflammation and oxidative damage tend to increase as we age, and of course with certain diet and lifestyle choices we make; these two factors can adversely affect the health of your blood vessels and heart tissue and increase your risk of heart disease. Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory activity and has been shown to exert a number of beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system – including inhibiting the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (the cause of fatty deposits in the blood vessels), reducing platelet aggregation and keeping blood vessel walls healthy. Resveratrol also activates an important protein called SIRT1 which mimics the benefits of calorie restriction and plays a fundamental role in healthy ageing, DNA repair, protecting blood vessel integrity and supporting cardiovascular health. Because nature doesn’t isolate chemicals, we have found that natural compounds actually have a greater effect than singular nutrients; resveratrol and other grape extracts (polyphenols) are just one example of this.
Found together in grapes and other foods, these compounds have been shown to further enhance cardiovascular healthy by reducing LDL oxidation, improving blood flow (by reducing platelet aggregation) and reducing inflammation. The therapeutic dose of resveratrol is not a straight forward question to answer. Higher doses have been found to kill certain cancer cells but have been thought to be detrimental to healthy cells and even reduce heart function, therefore not ideal for the average person wanting preventative health support. Other studies have found cardiovascular benefits at doses as low as 10mg per day but through reviewing the evidence a dose of 2.5mg/kg of body weight appears to offer greatest benefit with the least side effects – for a 70kg adult that equates to 175mg of resveratrol daily. Look for a resveratrol supplement that incorporates other plant extracts and polyphenols too.
There is a lot to consider when looking after your heart – or any other aspect of your health. The evidence tells us that it is not one singular activity or nutrient, but a combination of factors that will provide the best possible outcome so make sure you eat well, live well, enjoy life and take a few validated nutrients either in your diet or supplement form and your cardiovascular system will thank you for it.
We have written extensively about various heart health factors in the past, including a summary of the human evidence behind our own Lester’s Oil (which combines fish oil, CoQ10 and more).
Here are some quick links for further reading:
• Lester’s Oil Human Study Results – Triglycerides
• Lester’s Oil Human Study Results – HDL Cholesterol
• Lester’s Oil Human Study Results
• Cholesterol – New Thinking
• Statins – The Dangerous Side Effects of Cholesterol Lowering Medication
• Amazing Study on Co-Enzyme Q10