The heart is an essential organ that is said to beat about 2.5 billion times during the average human lifespan. It is responsible for pumping blood throughout the body, ensuring all organs receive a sufficient supply of oxygen, and carrying waste products to the lungs for detoxification. It never misses a day and works non stop around the clock.
Yet troubles with the heart are not uncommon, in fact heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada and the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States (1).
About half of the population in the United States experience risk factors for heart disease including high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Unhealthy habits such as smoking, sedentary lifestyle, alcohol consumption, and poor dietary choices can put you at a greater risk for heart problems.
Although heart disease is common, it is not inevitable.
The good news is that our nutritional choices and lifestyle habits do have a significant influence on heart health, especially when started early on in life. But it's never too late to start!
This means by choosing healthy behaviors you can lower your risk of heart disease and prevent other complications such as chronic conditions.
Combined with a heart healthy lifestyle, we will explore some natural supplements that can be added to your regimen to give your heart some TLC.
6 supplements for a healthy heart
Omega 3 fatty acids are found in both plant foods, such as flaxseeds, and animal foods, like wild fatty fish.
However, the two main omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are found mainly in fish and fish oil.
These fats have been recommended by the American Heart Association for many years to reduce the occurrence of cardiovascular events, and more particularly among individuals who have already experienced heart issues in the past (2).
Chronic low grade inflammation is at the root of many illnesses and pathologies and can contribute to diseases of the heart by damaging blood vessels, promoting plaque formation, and triggering blood clots.
The anti-inflammatory properties of omega 3 fats can help to reduce inflammatory markers while also decreasing lipids, lowering blood pressure, and increasing levels of good cholesterol (3).
A meta-analysis of 13 randomized controlled trials showed that marine omega-3 supplementation can lower the risk of cardiovascular events and coronary heart disease (4).
Additional studies have shown that those who consumed fatty fish a few times per week had nearly half the risk of death from heart disease and almost one-third the risk of death from a heart attack compared to those who did not consume any fish (5).
The American Heart Association recommends at least 2 servings of fatty fish per week as part of a healthy diet.
However, if you are unable to consume fish regularly in your diet or prefer to avoid animal products, supplementation of high quality omega 3 fats is another way to receive the benefits. Omega 3 fatty acids can be supplemented from plant based algae oil or animal based fish oil.
You've heard it before, eat your fruits and vegetables! One of the reasons why this is so important is because they provide fiber.
Fiber is a carbohydrate that the body can't break down and passes through undigested. But it still provides many benefits!
Fiber can help to stabilize blood sugar, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, reduce chronic inflammation, increase satiety and support healthy weight loss (6).
All of these mechanisms can benefit overall health but also more specifically heart health. Studies have shown dietary fiber intake to be associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease (7)(8).
The recommended daily intake of fiber is atleast 30 grams per day however the majority of North Americans consume only about half of that. It is estimated that only about 5% of the population in America meets the dietary recommendations, which is a public health concern (9).
There are two forms of fiber: soluble and insolube. Soluble fiber can be found in food sources such as barley, oats, psyllium, flaxseeds, beans, lentils, and fruits such as apples, berries, citrus fruits, avocado, and pears.
Insoluble fiber is found in foods such as whole grains, wheat cereals, wheat bran, and vegetables such as carrots, celery, and beets.
Fiber can also be supplemented and added to foods such as smoothies, yogurt or cereal for an extra boost!
If you are adding more fiber to your diet always be careful to gradually increase in small amounts to avoid any possible digestive disturbances like bloating and gas, while also keeping up your water intake!
Curcumin is the active ingredient and bioactive component found in the golden Ayurvedic spice, turmeric. It has gained increasing popularity for its many health benefits and as a natural preventative treatment for a variety of health conditions including heart disease.
Curcumin is well known for its anti-inflammatory effects and antioxidant effects which may reduce or even reverse the onset of cardiovascular complications.
Research has shown that curcumin may exert cardiovascular protective effects through its anti-thrombotic, anti-proliferative, cholesterol lowering, and anti-inflammatory mechanisms of action (10).
One of the main benefits of curcumin for heart health may be related to reducing oxidative stress while improving endothelial function, which is the lining of your blood vessels (11).
You can add turmeric to your dishes for additional nutritional benefits however to receive the full therapeutic benefits of curcumin, supplementation is the most effective way to go.
Coenzyme Q10 is a fat-soluble antioxidant that protects cells from free radical damage. It is found in almost every cell of the body and is produced by the body but it is also found in many foods.
So why supplement?
Though we can produce coQ10 naturally and obtain it through the diet, endogenous production does reduce over time with age. Individuals with chronic diseases such as heart disease are shown to have low levels of coQ10. Supplementation can help to boost this antioxidant and reduce the risk of a variety of chronic and acute disorders (12).
Research suggests that coQ10 may possess cardiovascular protective effects that may help to prevent diseases of the heart as a stand alone nutritional supplement or used as an adjunct treatment in combination with traditional cardiovascular medicines (13)(14).
Oxidative stress is considered to play an essential role in the development of cardiovascular diseases. This is why coQ10 is often considered as a natural treatment for conditions associated with increased oxidative stress and pro-inflammatory states.
Studies have linked coQ10 deficiency to cardiovascular diseases, in fact three out of four patients with heart diseases are said to have low levels of coQ10, and much lower than healthy patients (15).
The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of COQ10 may be effective for different cardiac and metabolic conditions while improving quality of life and decreasing mortality. (16).Though there are two forms of CoQ10: ubiquinone and ubiquinol, the latter is the active antioxidant form of CoQ10 and is said to be more effective.
Quercetin belongs to the flavonoid family, one of the most prominent dietary antioxidants (17).
Flavonoids provide many health benefits and may include protecting against various chronic pathologies such as cardiovascular diseases due to its inflammation lowering effects, among others (18).
It is particularly well known for its anti-inflammatory mechanisms of action and fighting free radical damage.
Quercetin may provide heart health benefits and protective effects by inhibiting LDL oxidation, reducing inflammatory markers, preventing oxidative damage, reducing systolic blood pressure, and protecting endothelial function (19)(20)(21).
Quercetin can be found in many plant foods such as apples, berries, cherries, leafy green vegetables, raw onions, tomatoes, buckwheat, citrus fruits, and beans.
You can also receive the daily benefits by supplementing quercetin for more potent anti-inflammatory effects.
Tribulus is a herb used in natural medicine for many potential health benefits, such as improved sexual function, athletic performance, and cardiac function (22).
Tribulus can help to reduce inflammation, which has been shown to play a role in chronic diseases including heart disease. It has also been shown to reduce "bad" cholesterol and triglycerides and may protect blood vessels against damage (23)(24).
Tribulus has shown positive outcomes in the treatment of various cardiac diseases including coronary disease, myocardial infarction, and cerebral arteriosclerosis (25).
It also appears to protect the cells of the heart and may improve heart function following a heart attack (26).
Though minimal side effects and safety concerns have been reported from tribulus supplementation, it is recommended to discuss the appropriate dosing with your healthcare provider before supplementing.
L-carnitine is an amino acid and a popular supplement for athletes. It is often used to support weight loss and energy levels by transporting fatty acids into the mitochondria of the cell to be burned up and used as fuel.
In terms of heart health, l-carnitine may provide cardioprotective effects by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels, maintaining endothelial integrity, and improving arterial hypertension (27)(28)(29).
L-carnitine has also been shown to reduce insulin resistance, which is a well known risk factor for cardiovascular disease (29).
These positive heart health effects demonstrated by l-carnitine provide evidence that it has potential for long-term cardioprotection, though more research is needed.
L-carnitine can be produced internally by the body and it is found mainly in animal products, however it is often supplemented to provide more potent benefits for the body.
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