Heart Smart: Natural Solutions for a Healthy Heart–Part III

Thanks for joining us for Part III of our series on heart health! In Part I of our series we talked about the real causes of cardiovascular disease, more detailed testing your doctor may want to perform, and foundational nutrition for heart health. Our top 3 foundational supplements for heart health are fish oil, magnesium, and fiber. In Part II we covered other important heart nutrients including potassium, Vitamin D, Vitamin K-2, CoQ10 and B vitamins. Here in Part III, we will cover how to quell inflammation, diet misconceptions, and how your heart medication can contribute to heart disease.

New research is finding that the real story for heart disease may lie in factors that previously were not given emphasis. Inflammation, oxidative stress, high blood sugar, immune system dysfunction, and toxicity are now considered paramount to the true risk of cardiovascular disease. Markers of inflammation such as CRP and high homocysteine are being found to be much more predictive of heart disease than diet and cholesterol. High homocysteine causes a 3-fold increase in the risk of heart attack. Dr. Paul Ricker of Harvard, an expert on CRP, has demonstrated that high CRP also increases the risk of heart attack 3-fold. When high CRP and high small particle LDL are both present, a 6-fold increase in risk occurs.

MPO, or myeloperoxidase is an inflammatory and oxidative stress marker. MPO has anti-infective properties but it also oxidizes HDL (the “good” cholesterol), rendering it ineffective, and oxidizes LDL (the “bad”), promoting plaque. Elevated levels of MPO can increase the risk of a cardiovascular event by 16-fold!

Pre-diabetes and diabetes are a huge and growing problem in the U.S. It is well-known that heart disease occurs frequently in diabetics, so it should be no surprise that less-than-optimal blood sugar increases heart disease risk. If you have a diet that is high in sugars or white carbs like white rice, cereal, bread, potatoes, or alcohol, you are increasing your risk of heart disease. High blood sugar is directly related to high triglycerides and is pro-inflammatory.

Immune system dysfunction has recently been connected with heart disease. Food sensitivities to things like gluten or dairy can cause the immune system to over-react, causing injury to the blood vessels. Undigested material gets through the intestinal wall, a condition known as “leaky gut” syndrome, and causes a reaction. Probiotics and proper diet can bolster the health of the gut thereby reducing this risk. One strain of probiotic called reuteri has been shown in studies to lower cholesterol. Vitamin D also plays a large role in immune system modulation, and was one of the nutrients suggested in Part II of our series.

Toxicity is a factor in heart disease, as well as cancer, joint problems, respiratory issues and myriad other diseases. There are 85,000 chemicals in use worldwide and only half of them have been tested for human safety. It has been found that those with low levels of glutathione, one of the body’s main detoxifying agents, are at greater risk for heart disease. This constant assault on our bodies creates a need for periodic detoxification. Three day to month-long detoxification options are available and are a highly recommended health habit. As an alternative to a full detox program, N-acetylcysteine, or NAC, is a nutrient that boosts glutathione levels and promotes overall detoxification. Doses of 500-1200 mg are usually recommended.

Herbs and other nutrient are especially helpful in quelling inflammation. Curcumin from turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory herb and a great antioxidant. It has been found in hundreds of studies to have a positive effect on inflammation. It also assists the liver in detoxification. Doses of 500-1000 mg are usually recommended. Resveratrol, found in red wine, grapes, and chocolate can also benefit those with heart disease risk accompanied by high inflammatory markers. It also reduces MPO. It activates a gene called SIRT1, known as the longevity gene. Recommended doses are in the range of 200-350 mg. Make sure you get trans-resveratrol, the only form that the body recognizes. If you are a healthy weight and have optimal blood sugar, drinking 2 glasses of wine per day is thought to be beneficial in the prevention of heart disease due to its resveratrol content.

There are many diet misconceptions related to heart disease. Fat has been demonized, along with foods high in cholesterol. In truth, only 30% of our cholesterol is taken in through the diet and newer studies suggest that changing cholesterol intake does not have a significant effect on overall levels. The fats that should be avoided are trans fats and hydrogenated fats, found only in processed foods. Saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats can all be part of a healthy diet. The key to healthy saturated fats is to get animal products that are organic and pasture-raised. This eliminates chemicals like steroids and antibiotics that can affect our own hormones and immune systems. Eggs are very well digested due to their lecithin content and need not be avoided. Just last week the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has decided to remove its longstanding warning against high cholesterol foods like eggs and shrimp, but recommended sharp new limits on sugar intake. Nuts, seeds, and olives are other great sources healthy fats and should be part of any heart-healthy diet.

Dairy products should also be from organic sources. While dairy can be difficult for some people to digest, using cultured dairy foods like yogurt and aged cheeses usually alleviates this. These foods contain the good bacteria that enhances their digestion. If you melt cheese, you are destroying the good bacteria that help you to digest it.

Sugar, as mentioned above, is your worst enemy in the prevention of heart disease. Eliminating packaged foods, sodas, and alcohol are three great ways to reduce sugar in the diet. Even some whole wheat breads have more sugar per serving than a Snickers bar! Pay close attention to nutrition facts on the label and look for servings with 5 grams or less of sugar.

Last but definitely not least, be aware of nutrient depletions caused by your heart medications. This is probably the last place we would think to be concerned about, but very important. The nutrient depletions are often directly related to side effects. Here are a few:

  • Diuretics decrease potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, sodium, chloride, zinc, iodide, CoQ10, folate, B12, B6, thiamine and selenium. Wow! Maybe dandelion root, hawthorn, or juniper berry would be better options for managing blood pressure.
  • Beta blockers deplete CoQ10, a nutrient that is vital to heart health (see Part II)
  • ACE inhibitors decrease zinc, very important to testosterone production and immune function
  • Angiotensin receptor blockers decrease zinc
  • Statins decrease CoQ10, selenium, omega-3s, Vitamins E, A, and D, carnitine and free thyroid hormone

The key to great heart health is getting the nutrients your body needs. We set out in Part I to arm you with information about foundational supplements for heart health. In Part II we talked about other crucial nutrients and how to get them through diet or supplementation. Here in Part III we talked about ways to quell inflammation, diet misconceptions, and ways that your prescription drugs can be contributing to heart disease. Your doctor can do more advanced testing, as noted in Part I, to determine your true risk of heart disease. Then you can improve your diet and add supplementation to make sure you have the best outcomes. While the treatment of heart disease is best left to your doctor, there are steps you can take to minimize your risk. Remember, up to 80% of all heart disease can be prevented with proper nutrition, management of inflammation and oxidation, cessation of smoking, stress management and exercise!