Eight Ways to a Healthy Heart
Diet, Exercise, and a Novel Blend of Nutrients Support Heart Health
More people die each year from heart disease than any other condition—in fact, an astonishing one in four deaths is due to heart disease. To put it in the words of Mayo Clinic cardiologist Amir Lerman, MD: “Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the world regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender, and costs related to cardiovascular disease in the United States…surpass $300 billion [per year].”
Science has documented simple and proven ways to dramatically reduce the risk of heart attack or heart failure. Those include:
Though not a panacea, exercise is remarkable in its ability to protect your heart. According to the Harvard Health Letter, exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, help lower blood pressure, lead to healthier cholesterol levels, and help promote healthy blood sugar. Regular exercise also lowers your overall risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as type 2 diabetes.
Thirty minutes a day (or 150 minutes a week) of moderate or brisk exercise at least four to five days a week is recommended. Brisk walking (at a pace of about a mile every twenty minutes), bicycling, dancing, swimming, water aerobics or even vigorous gardening all qualify. The benefits are tremendous: a 2013 study found noted that coronary heart disease was slashed by 21% in men and 29% in women simply with regular moderate exercise.[i]
A Heart Healthy Diet Plan
The foods you eat can have a profound impact on heart health. Every year U.S. News & World Report’s ranks diets based on their ability to support health and wellness. Their 2019 survey asked a panel of experts to weigh in on 41 different diets. The famous and delicious Mediterranean diet came in first, while the well known DASH diet came in second. The Mediterranean diet is specific to heart health.[ii] The tasty and even mouth-watering choices include fish, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts, and even moderate alcohol consumption. According to researchers, this diet alone has been shown to help prevent cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, depression, colorectal cancer, diabetes, obesity, asthma, erectile dysfunction, and cognitive decline. It even reduces common inflammatory markers, and modulates gene expression involved in LDL-oxidation.[iii]
Boost Your Mood and Get Connected
There is a strong causal association between depression, social isolation, lack of quality social support and cardiovascular disease. In fact, these are risk factors as potent as smoking, high cholesterol and hypertension.[iv] One in five patients with heart disease is clinically depressed, as opposed to one in fifteen in the general population.[v] Stress of all kinds can increase the risk of heart disease, including chronic psychological stress, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety.[vi]
Proven mood boosters include mindfulness and other forms of heart-centered meditation, qi gong and tai-chi, forest bathing, joining a community where you share common interests, family time, comedy shows, donating time at an animal shelter, exploring your creativity and the arts. Spending time in nature, or living in a green area, is also protective of cardiovascular health, according to a recent study of 400 people living in Louisville, Kentucky. Metabolites of stress hormones were lower, the capacity of blood vessels to repair themselves was higher, and cardiovascular health was better when people lived in green spaces. All these activities help support our parasympathetic nervous system, the “calm and connect” suite of hormones and molecules.
Take Oxidative Stress Seriously
The human heart is amazingly powerful. A healthy heart pumps 4 to 5 liters of blood per minute and beats nearly 40 million times a year, or 2.5 billion times over a period of seventy years. In fact, every day your heart moves all your blood around your entire body about 1000 times. The only time your heart rests is between beats, and unlike other muscles, healthy cardiac muscle never gets fatigued.
How can your heart perform such seeming miracles? Along with its unique muscle, it is packed with energy-producing powerhouses inside every cell, known as mitochondria. While the muscle in your biceps has about 200 mitochondria per cell, each cell in your heart is crammed to overflowing with about 5,000 mitochondria per cell. As renowned cardiologist Stephen Sinatra, MD, puts it: “Your health and vitality relate directly to the health and vitality of the mitochondria. As they go, so go you. Their status is your status.”[vii]
Not surprisingly, your heart’s heroic and ceaseless effort can lead to wear and tear, which in molecular terms is known as oxidative stress. The molecular and chemical ‘fire’ of energy generates high amounts of free radical damage and oxidative stress. According to studies, oxidative stress can be identified in most of the steps that lead to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Inflammation due to oxidative stress has been implicated in unhealthy cholesterol (dyslipidemia) and metabolic syndrome[viii], as well as thrombosis and hypercoagulation[ix]. Inflammation helps initiate and encourage plaque.[x] A higher level of oxidized “bad’ cholesterol (LDL) is strongly correlated with more severe episodes of sudden, reduced blood flow to the heart.[xi]
A healthy heart will have enough potent antioxidant support to quench fire and inflammation. It will at the same time have superbly functioning mitochondria that generate abundant cellular energy. But that begs the question: what type of antioxidant support is most effective? “The naïve assumption is that all antioxidants are essentially the same,” writes Fredric J. Pashkow, MD, of the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii, in a review paper. “Nothing can be further from the truth. All antioxidants are not the same: they may work in substantially different ways…and in different locations… and very small differences in molecular structure can have profound influence on biological activity.”
Heart Health Supplements: Know the Top Phytonutrients for Heart Health
It’s hard to beat Vitamin C for universal antioxidant power. Vitamin C has a special affinity for the mitochondria. Vitamin C can actually enter the mitochondria themselves and protect them from oxidative injury.[xii] In fact, vitamin C is critical for the regulation of oxidative stress, and survival of mitochondria.[xiii] Lipoic acid works synergistically with Vitamin C, helping to recycle it. It is a potent antioxidant in its own right, and supports healthy mitochondrial and vascular function.[xiv] Lipoic acid serves as a cofactor and support for enzymatic reactions within the mitochondria, helping to optimize energy conversion.[xv] In addition, studies have shown that it may help modulate blood lipids, protect against the oxidation of LDL “bad” cholesterol and even help support healthy blood pressure.[xvi]
Coenzyme Q10 is a critical nutrient for heart health. It is a lipid-soluble antioxidant that has been the subject of many thousands of significant scientific articles. CoQ10 facilitates the transfer of electrons (energy) into ATP, our energy “currency.” It lives mostly on the inner membranes of the mitochondria. An astonishing 95% of all cellular energy is dependent upon CoQ10.[xvii] CoQ10 protects mitochondria from damage and oxidative stress. When CoQ10 has been added to aging mitochondria, their function has improved markedly. In 2014, a ten-year study on CoQ10 and the heart was completed. Called the Q-SYMBIO trial, it followed 420 patients for two years.[xviii] The study found a 44% reduction in death from heart disease in heart failure patients supplemented with CoQ10, and a 42% reduction in death from any cause.
The unique pyrroloquinoline quinone molecule (PQQ) assists in cellular health, and can be recycled by the antioxidant glutathione thousands of times. PQQ is a powerful protector of mitochondria, and helps guard against free radical damage, as well as stimulate the growth of new mitochondria.[xix] PQQ promotes or activates genes and receptors that boost mitochondrial “respiration”, stimulate the growth of new mitochondria, and help prevent cell death due to oxidative stress.[xx],[xxi]
Tocotrienols are potent isomers that belong to the vitamin E family, which contains 8 different molecules—four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. Tocotrienols have greater antioxidant activity than tocopherols. Tocotrienols benefit heart health by reducing lipids and raising our “good” HDL cholesterol. They also lower inflammatory molecules such as C-reactive protein (CRP) that have been implicated in heart disease.[xxii]
Adaptogenic herbs increase resilience and the ability to meet demands without undue stress. In this way they, too, benefit the heart.[xxiii] Certain classic adaptogenic herbs are also well known to support healthy blood flow. For instance, the Chinese herb Panax Notoginseng balances the body’s systems and supports healthy circulation. Ginseng can increase coronary flow reserve—additional blood flow that can be supplied to the heart above normal baseline.[xxiv] It supports the health of arteries as well.[xxv] Another potent adaptogenic is breviscapine, an extract from Erigeron breviscapus. This botanical has been used for centuries by Chinese herbalists to enhance blood flow throughout the body.
In conclusion, you can support lifelong heart health with wise choices. Exercise regularly, eat heart-healthy foods, engage in activities that modulate stress and foster your ‘calm and connect’ parasympathetic nervous system. Just as important, support your vascular system and your heart’s cellular batteries, the mitochondria. Incorporate cutting-edge heart-healthy nutrients and botanicals into your daily life.
You might also be interested in:
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[iii]Salas-Salvadó, J ea. Effect of a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts on metabolic syndrome status: one-year results of the PREDIMED randomized trial. Arch Intern Med. 2008; 168(22): pp. 2449–58.
[iv]Bunker SJ et al. “Stress” and coronary heart disease: psychosocial risk factors. Medical Journal of Australia Volume 178, Issue 6
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