Feed Your Heart: Top Nutrients for This Vital Organ
As Valentine’s Day approaches, we remember to focus on our heart. What we want, what we can put out to make the world a better place, and taking care of the physical heart at our center. An article in the Lancet dating back to 2004 concluded that exercise, optimal nutrition, healthy body weight, moderate red wine consumption, and smoking cessation could reduce cardiovascular disease by a whopping 80%. Numerous papers and directives since that time have reiterated this, including those by the American Heart Association, the CDC, and others. Yet we still use medication as our primary means of managing heart issues; statin drugs for high cholesterol and blood pressure medications.
The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services just released its most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a publication that comes out every 5 years. Notably, it has removed cholesterol as a nutrient of concern and no longer suggests that Americans should avoid cholesterol as part of a healthy lifestyle. The reason is because “evidence shows no appreciable relationship between dietary and serum cholesterol”.
Cholesterol is made by the liver. It is important to the health of the cell membrane, is a constituent of bile, and forms the basis on which our hormones are made. Very high cholesterol should be addressed, but the over-emphasis on cholesterol as a risk of heart disease may not be warranted. What do we do in the gray area where cholesterol is trending up or moderately elevated? Some think statins are the only answer. Yet statins have serious side effects. They have long been known to cause muscle and liver issues. In the last several years the FDA has added warnings for increased blood sugar and dementia. Do we still think statins are worth the risk?
Blood pressure is another conundrum. The current medical model encourages us to monitor our blood pressure when it begins to trend up. Without intervention, we then sit by and “watch” until we finally need medication. Many nutrients have been studied for the lowering of blood pressure, as have weight loss programs, stress reduction, smoking cessation, and better nutrition. Our focus here will be on optimal nutrition.
Newer research focuses on chronic inflammation, oxidation, and immune dysfunction as a key determinants of heart disease. Going forward, we will see nutritional and drug treatments focused on these issues. Below we discuss the most important nutrients for maintaining a healthy heart. These nutrients focus on traditional risk factors like high blood pressure and cholesterol, but also address the root cause of these issues.
Omega-3 & Other Healthy Fats. It would be hard to list all of the benefits of the omega-3 fats from fish oil. At a very basic level fish oil bolsters the health of your cell membranes, ensuring proper absorption of nutrients into the cell and proper communication between cells. This helps not only with heart disease, but literally any condition that you have. Fish oil boosts low HDL, reduces triglycerides and lowers C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammatory marker. Omega-3s are found in fatty fish such as salmon, cod, mackerel, anchovies and sardines, but you must eat them at least 3 times per week. Grass-fed beef is another good source. For those that do not these foods into their diet, 500-1200 mg of supplemental omega-3 per day is adequate. If you already have some risks for heart disease, your practitioner may suggest 3000-10,000 mg per day.
Other healthy fats include those found in flax seed, olive oil, avocado, chia seeds, hemp seeds and nuts. While saturated fat should be limited, it is okay to have red meat that is organic, grass-fed and pasture-raised 2 times per week. Trans- fats and hydrogenated oils should be strictly avoided as they provoke an inflammatory response.
Magnesium. Low magnesium levels are the greatest predictor of heart disease risk, according to a 2013 study that reviewed cardiovascular studies over the past seven decades. A deficiency of this macronutrient is very common in those with heart disease and the population at large. For blood pressure that is trending upward (greater than 120/80), this is the first nutrient you should look to. Magnesium relaxes the blood vessels, has a calming effect on the nerves, assists in managing blood sugar (a factor in inflammation), and balances calcium. Magnesium is used in 300 biochemical reactions in the body and therefore is a nutrient that you don’t want to be deficient in! Doses of 250-800 mg per day are safe, depending on your size, diet, and conditions you are trying to address. Magnesium can have a laxative effect because it relaxes the muscles, so start at a lower dose and build from there. Magnesium glycinate is a form that is easier on the stomach. Foods that are high in magnesium include nuts, dark, leafy greens, kelp, avocado and dark chocolate.
Vitamin K2. Vitamin K2, particularly its MK-7 form, removes calcium from the arteries and deposits it in the bone. Calcium that is not directed to bone can build up in the blood causing plaque, high blood pressure, stroke and even heart attacks. Vitamin K has several different forms. Vitamin K1 is in dark, leafy greens and is relatively easy to get through the diet. Vitamin K2 and its various forms are mainly present in a Japanese food called natto, some other fermented foods, and animal livers. Since the American diet is generally low in these food sources, supplementing with K2 can greatly benefit heart health. Dosages in the range of 45-150 mcg are usually recommended.
CoQ10. This coenzyme is a factor in the energy-making process in every cell of the body. It is very important to the pumping action of the heart. It is also a strong antioxidant, helping to clear toxins from the blood vessels. Ironically, CoQ10 is depleted by several drugs used to treat heart disease including statins, beta blockers, and diuretics. CoQ10 has been shown in some studies to reduce blood pressure and improve congestive heart failure. It also reduces the inflammatory marker CRP. For preventative benefit or to replace what is lost with prescription drugs, dosages of 100-300 mg are typically recommended. If your doctor is using CoQ10 to treat congestive heart failure, dosages may be much higher.
Vitamin D. Low levels of vitamin D are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. It acts as a hormone, regulating more than 200 genes throughout the body. It is protective against diabetes, a huge factor in the risk of heart disease, and it tempers damaging inflammatory responses. Since Vitamin D is an immune system modulator, it could provide a buffer for damage to the arteries that originates in an immune response. A deficiency of this vitamin can be detected from the 25-hydroxy vitamin D test. Natural doctors recommend levels of 50-80 ng/ml. If you are deficient, you can take 5000 IU’s per day and retest your levels after 2 months. Daily doses for others who are not getting sun exposure are usually 1000-2000 IU’s per day. The best way to get vitamin D is from the sun, but eggs, salmon, mushrooms, and milk are decent sources. Always choose dairy products from grass-fed, organic sources.
Curcumin from turmeric. Curcumin is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It also assists the liver in detoxification. Many recent studies support the benefit of curcumin in fighting chronic inflammation, and we can expect to see more use of this herb in the treatment of the underlying inflammation and oxidation associated with heart disease.
D-Ribose and Taurine. D-Ribose and taurine can be used to provide energy to the heart where advanced disease has occurred. Heart disease takes a toll on the tissues and impairs the production of ATP, the body’s main source of energy. D- ribose is a simple sugar that is not stored by the body that can speed up healing by increasing the energy available to the heart. The recommended dose is 5 grams. Taurine is an amino acid found in large concentrations in the heart. It can be used to support congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. The recommended dose is 3 grams.
Fiber. Fiber consumption of at least 30 grams a day is important to heart health. Most Americans get 12-14 grams a day. Fiber is a superstar for heart health. It reduces cholesterol, lowers triglycerides, and reduces CRP. It binds heavy metals and other toxins in the digestive tract that can cause damage to blood vessels. Using a fiber supplement each night before bed is a great way to boost fiber intake and manage your blood sugar. Fruits and vegetables, a high quality fiber supplement, or flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp, or nuts, are all great ways to add fiber to your diet. Apples are considered a superfood for the heart due to the pectin fiber they contain, along with being high in potassium.
B Vitamins. The B vitamins help us break down our food, produce energy, and nourish the nerves, thus reducing stress. Certain B vitamins are also directly related to the management of heart disease risk. High homocysteine, an inflammation marker related to heart disease, can be reduced by supplementing with vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid. Pantothenic acid, or vitamin B5, lowers cholesterol by blocking an enzyme involved in the production of cholesterol in the liver. It is also an excellent nutrient for the adrenal glands and thus counters a negative response to stress. If you are taking individual B vitamins to help with specific issues, then you may need to take a high-potency B complex.
Potassium. Next to magnesium, potassium is probably one of the best nutrients for managing blood pressure. Potassium and sodium work together to maintain water balance, a factor in blood pressure. In a typical American diet, the sodium /potassium ratio is out of balance. Since supplements are only available in doses of 99 mg, it is best to get potassium from food sources. The best sources are coconut water (400-600mg), avocado, potato, and many fruits. To reduce your salt intake restrict packaged foods, most of which are loaded with sodium. A high quality salt that is high in minerals can then be added to whole foods that you eat.
Be Aware of Drug Nutrient Depletions
If your doctor has decided that a drug best addresses your heart condition, be aware that drugs can deplete nutrients in the body. Ironically, these nutrients are often beneficial for heart health. If you are unaware what class of drugs you are on, a google search is an easy way to find out:
- Diuretics—Decrease potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, sodium, chloride, zinc, iodide, CoQ10, folate, B12, B6, thiamine and selenium. Herbs like uva ursi and dandelion can be used to decrease water in the system and also have nutritive benefits.
- Beta blockers—Decrease CoQ10. As noted above, CoQ10 is crucial to heart health and supplementation is necessary to make up for the depletion.
- ACE Inhibitors—Decrease zinc, exposing you to immune issues, low testosterone, slower wound healing and anxiety.
- Angiotensin Receptor Blockers—Decrease zinc, same issues as noted above.
- Statins—Decrease CoQ10, selenium, omega-3s, Vitamins E, A, & D, carnitine, and free thyroid hormone. The warnings on this drug say it all—muscle issues, liver problems, increased blood sugar and dementia—there’s got to be a better way!
Remember the “Four Ps” that will begin to define our health care system going forward; Predictive, Preventive, Personalized, and most importantly Participatory. If you want to prevent disease, you need to take an active role in your health. There’s no more going to the doctor with a “fix me” attitude. We all need to advocate for our own health and make decisions based on all of the information we have, not just what the doctor ordered. I hope we have given you some information that you can incorporate into your diet to ensure a healthy heart. Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day!
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!
Part II–Heart Smart: Natural Solutions for a Healthy Heart
Welcome back to our three-part series on heart health! In Part I of our series we talked about the real causes of cardiovascular events, more detailed testing of cholesterol that your doctor may want to perform, and foundational nutrition for heart health. Our top three foundational supplements for heart health are fish oils, magnesium, and believe it or not, fiber. In this second part of the series, we will talk about additional nutrients that are important to heart health. Deficiencies in any of these nutrients can contribute to poor heart health, and supplementation can improve heart health. Choose those that are specific to your own issues.
Potassium. Next to magnesium, potassium is one of the best nutrients for managing blood pressure. Potassium and sodium work together for water balance in the body, which is a factor in blood pressure. Many people use diuretics to manage blood pressure when they would be better off drinking coconut water or dandelion root tea! The real reason so many of us have high blood pressure is that our potassium/sodium balance is off. The typical American diet has potassium/sodium in a ratio of 3 :5 when the ratio for optimal function may be as high as 6:1, depending on what source you consult. By law, potassium supplements can only be 99 mg, so you are better off consuming foods high in potassium. The best sources of potassium are coconut water, avocado, white beans, yogurt, acorn squash, baked potato with the skin, and salmon. Rather than going salt-free, reduce your intake of processed foods, and use a high mineral salt like Himalayan salt or a high quality sea salt. The Spice House here in Evanston has lots of great choices.
Vitamin D. Low levels of Vitamin D are linked to heart disease. Vitamin D acts as a hormone, regulating over 200 genes in the body. It is protective against diabetes, a huge risk factor in heart disease. It also tempers inflammation. Since it is an immune system modulator, Vitamin D can be protective in cases where there is damage to the arteries originating in an immune response. Adequate Vitamin D levels also ensure the proper absorption of calcium. Calcium and magnesium are vital to the pumping action of the heart. Vitamin D levels should be in the range of 50-80 ng/ml. Most individuals can safely take 1000-2000 IUs. If blood test confirm that you have a serious deficiency you will need more, up to 5000 IUs per day.
Vitamin K2. Vitamin K2, particularly the MK-7 form, tells our bodies how to use the calcium we consume. It directs calcium to the bone rather than letting it build up in the arteries where it can contribute to plaque, high blood pressure, and even stroke. Vitamin K2 is found primarily in a Japanese food called natto, other fermented foods, and animal livers. A typical American diet does not include these foods, so supplementation is helpful. Typical doses are in the range of 45-150 mcg daily.
CoQ10. Coenzyme Q10 is the “spark plug” for the energy-making process in every cell and is vital to heart function. The heart is very metabolically active and requires energy for its pumping action. Ironically, CoQ10 is depleted by several drugs used to treat heart disease including statins, beta blockers, and diuretics. Replacing what is lost is crucial to heart health. CoQ10 is a strong antioxidant and helps to clear toxins and debris from the body. It also reduces CRP, an inflammatory blood marker that is very predictive of heart events. For preventative benefit or to replace what is lost by taking prescription drugs, the recommended dose is 100-200 mg per day.
B Vitamins. B vitamins help us break down our food, produce energy, and nourish the nerves, thus reducing stress. Certain of the B Vitamins are directly related to the management of blood markers that are factors in heart disease risk. Homocysteine, one of these markers, can be reduced by supplementing with B6, B12, and folic acid. Pantethine, or B5, lowers cholesterol by blocking an enzyme involved in the production of cholesterol in the liver. It reduces LDL and triglycerides and increases HDL, the good cholesterol. It also helps reduce stress by nourishing the adrenal glands. The B vitamins work together in the body so it is advisable to use a B complex alongside of any single B vitamin. Nutritional yeast, raw honey, and spirulina are excellent food sources of the B vitamins. Spirulina is a micro-algae high in vitamins and minerals that can be found in pill or powdered form.
If you already have heart disease, you will definitely need one or more of these nutrients. Adding the recommended foods is crucial, but extra nutrition is also necessary until your body gets back into balance. Stay tuned for Part III in our series, where we will be discussing anti-inflammatory herbs for heart health, diet misconceptions related to heart disease and more!
Part I–Heart Smart: Natural Solutions for a Healthy Heart
In this three-part series, we will take a look at the real cause of heart attack and other cardiovascular events and talk about nutrition and other lifestyle factors that can significantly reduce your risk of an event. In Part I we will discuss tests that your doctor can do to more accurately assess your risk of heart disease and foundational nutrition to address it. In Part II, we will discuss additional nutrients that are important to heart health and in Part III we will address other factors that affect heart health and how you can manage those factors.
New information shows that the top 5 risk factors on which the medical profession has been evaluating the risk of heart disease for years do not fully predict the risk of a cardiovascular event. Little emphasis is placed on nutrition, exercise, and stress management, three crucial factors in the management of heart disease. As far back as 2004, the medical journal Lancet published a study purporting that exercise, optimal nutrition, optimal body weight and composition, moderate red wine consumption, and smoking cessation could decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease by a whopping 80%! More than 50% of those who have heart attacks have “normal” cholesterol, yet we are lead to believe that taking a statin drug is our main ally in avoiding a heart attack.
Newer research suggests that 1) looking at the make-up of cholesterol and other lipids 2) attention to markers of inflammation and oxidative stress, 3) testing for high blood sugar and insulin 4) looking at immune system dysfunction and 5) appropriate detoxification will allow us to better predict the risk of a cardiovascular event. Once that risk is determined, we can use diet, supplements, exercise and stress management to better manage it.
Let’s take a look at numbers 1) and 2) above, tests your doctor can do to more accurately determine your risk of heart disease. The beauty of this early testing is that once you have an accurate picture of your risk you can use natural means to reduce it.
A VAP panel is advanced testing of cholesterol and other lipids. It further analyzes components of fats in your blood. For example, you may have low LDL (the “bad” cholesterol), normally considered a good thing, yet have a high particle number, indicating a risk of heart disease. Or you may have very high HDL (the “good” cholesterol), normally considered a good thing, but it may not be functioning correctly because the particle size is too small.
The test measures subclasses of LDL and HDL, triglycerides, IDL (intermediate-density lipoproteins), VLDL (very low-density lipoproteins) and Lp(a), or lipoprotein (a). High triglycerides alone do not cause heart attack, but are a driving force behind an increase in both small LDL and VLDL. High triglycerides also signify issues with blood sugar management. Lp (a) is a direct cause of plaque formation and rupture that can cause a heart attack. High Lp(a) is often implicated in the early heart attacks that occur in 40-50 year olds. Using the VAP panel to identify your own risk factors will allow you to target nutrients that address them.
Tests that identify the potential for damaging inflammation or oxidation are as follows:
- Homocysteine. This is an inflammatory marker that, when elevated, causes injury to the arteries, increases oxidation of LDL (promoting plaque), constricts arteries, and provokes blood clot formation. The net result is a 3-fold increase in the risk of heart attack.
- C-Reactive Protein. Another marker that measures systematic inflammation. High CRP increases the risk of heart attack 3-fold. When you also have high small particle LDL, there is a 6-fold risk.
- Fibrinogen. A principle blood-clotting protein that, when elevated, can indicate a risk of blood clot formation. In the absence of a blood clot, it can also accelerate plaque formation.
- MPO (myeloperoxidase). An inflammatory and oxidative stress marker that has anti-infective functions but at higher levels oxidizes HDL, the good cholesterol, rendering it ineffective. It also oxidizes LDL, promoting plaque. Elevated levels increase cardiovascular risk by 16-fold!
Now that we have covered the basics of how your heart disease risk can be accurately assessed, let’s talk about what you can do about it! Below are 3 foundational nutrients that can be used to manage your risk of heart disease:
- Healthy Fats. Low fat is old news and the right fats are what you should be focused on. Omega-3 fats, found in fish oil and certain plants like flax, chia and hemp, are ultra-important to heart health. Omega-3s bolster the health of the cell membrane, increase HDL, and reduce IDL, triglycerides, VLDL and C-Reactive protein. A true bonanza for improving blood markers for heart disease! Three servings of fatty fish per week will protect a healthy person against a risk of heart disease. The highest fish sources of omega-3s are salmon, cod, mackerel, anchovies and sardines. If you eat less than this, taking a fish oil supplement is a great way to protect against heart disease. A typical dose is 1200 mg, but your doctor may recommend in the range of 3000-10,000 mg on a short term basis if disease is present. Other plant fats like those found in avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, and nuts are very heart healthy. The most important thing to stay away from are trans fats and hydrogenated fats, found mainly in packaged foods. Saturated fats from animal sources are okay in smaller amounts, say 1-2 servings per week. The key is to find meats and dairy that are grass-fed, pasture-raised, and free of antibiotics and growth hormones. Grass-fed meats contain CLA, a fat that has been found to reduce the visceral fat surrounding the organs, a factor in heart disease.
- Magnesium. Low magnesium levels are the greatest predictor of heart disease according to a 2013 study that reviewed cardiovascular studies over the past seven decades. A deficiency of this macronutrient is common in the U.S. due to over-farming and the resulting depletion of magnesium in our soil. For blood pressure that is trending upward, greater than 120/80, this is the first nutrient you should look to. It relaxes the blood vessels, calms the nerves, assists in blood sugar management (a factor in inflammation), and balances calcium in the blood. Magnesium works in concert with calcium in the pumping action of the heart, and the contraction/relaxation of the blood vessels. Add 250-400 mg of magnesium a day to manage stress, support healthy blood pressure, and balance calcium. Magnesium can be laxative at higher doses, so be aware of that. Great food sources of magnesium are kelp, dark, leafy greens, nuts, avocado and dark chocolate.
- Fiber. Boring, but important! The recommended amount of fiber per day is 35 grams, but in Paleolithic times we consumed almost 3 times this amount. Many Americans fall short of even the lower amount and average 10-15 grams per day. Fiber is a true superstar in heart health. It reduces markers that are negative for heart health including Lp(a), triglycerides, VLDL, and CRP. It also binds heavy metals and other toxins that can negatively affect heart health. Using a fiber supplement before bed is a great way to improve your heart health and manage blood sugar. Another key way to add more fiber is more fruits and vegetables! Apples are considered a superfood for the heart due to the pectin fiber they contain, along with a higher level of potassium. Whole grains can also provide fiber, but grains in excess of 2 servings a day can contribute to heart disease due to their effect on blood sugar. Adding 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds, chia seeds, or hemp seeds to a protein shake in the morning is another great way to add fiber. It’s a simple and effective way to manage heart health!
Those are our top 3 for now. Remember that protecting your heart health is not just about low cholesterol and being on a statin drug. There are important nutrients and diet changes you can make that can have a profound effect on heart health. Above we have summarized tests your doctor can do to identify your true risk for heart disease, along with three foundational nutrients that all of us should consider taking for heart health. Tune in next week for additional supplements that can be used to improve heart health…