A Natural Approach to Heart Health

Jan 4, 2024

The intricate relationship between supplements, exercise, and a nutrient-rich diet plays a crucial role in maintaining cardiovascular well-being. This extensive guide will explore the synergy between these elements, delving into essential supplements, heart-health exercises, and a wholesome diet that includes fiber, healthy fats, and organic, whole foods.

Supplements that Support Heart Health

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Role in Cardiovascular Health: Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), play a vital role in cardiovascular health. Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids contribute to reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, reducing triglyceride levels, and reducing the number of heart attacks and strokes (1).

Sources and supplementation: Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, as well as plant-based sources like flaxseeds and walnuts, provide omega-3s. It’s typically recommended to get at least two servings of fatty fish per week, equivalent to about 500 milligrams of EPA and DHA combined. There are a variety of supplement options for specific ailments, as well as vegan (algae) varieties.

Considerations: While omega-3 supplements can be beneficial, it's essential to be mindful of potential side effects and interactions with medications. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends consulting with a healthcare provider before starting a supplement regimen (NIH, 2021).

 

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

Cellular Energy Production and Heart Function: CoQ10 plays an essential role in energy metabolism and antioxidant protection within our cells. Research suggests that CoQ10 supplementation can improve heart function in individuals with heart failure (2).

Sources and Supplementation: While CoQ10 is naturally present in meat and fish, supplementation may be necessary for those with specific health conditions.

Heart Health Benefits: CoQ10's potential benefits for heart health extend beyond its role in cellular energy production. A meta-analysis suggests that CoQ10 supplementation may significantly reduce blood pressure (3). Furthermore, CoQ10 supplementation can help to reduce oxidative stress, improve clinical outcome in patients undergoing coronary artery bypass graft surgery, helps to prevent the accumulation of LDL in arteries, decreases vascular stiffness and hypertension, and improves endothelial dysfunction (4).

 

Magnesium

Muscle and Cardiovascular Support: Magnesium is essential for muscle and cardiovascular function. One study found that there is an inverse relationship between magnesium intake and the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (5). Magnesium also helps transport potassium and sodium across cell membranes, which promotes healthy heart rhythms.

Dietary Sources and Supplementation: Dietary sources rich in magnesium include leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. However, certain factors like soil depletion may impact magnesium levels in food so supplementation may be necessary. Magnesium glycinate and/or taurate are typically used to support heart health.

Magnesium's Impact on Heart Health: Maintaining adequate magnesium levels is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. A systematic review and meta-analysis reinforced the link between magnesium intake and a lower risk of stroke (6).

 

Vitamin D/K2

Cardiovascular Support and Calcium Homeostasis

There is strong evidence that have linked low serum levels of Vitamin D with poor Cardiovascular outcomes (7).  Because vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium in the small intestine, it is often recommended to take calcium with vitamin D.

Dietary Sources and Supplementation: Although a small amount of K1 is converted to K2 through bacterial synthesis, most of it comes from animal products like goose liver, eggs, grass fed butter, cheese and grass-fed milk, and lard. It can also be found in fermented soy (natto).  MK4 is from animal sources and MK7 comes from a bacterial origin (natto).

Butter, egg yolks, oily fish like mackerel, salmon, and liver contain small amounts of Vitamin D. Because of where we live, it can be hard to get enough Vitamin D from the sun, especially if you never expose yourself to it. Please read the article The Power of the Sun: Safe Sun Exposure, Benefits, and Risks if you are wanting to learn more about Vitamin D and sun exposure. If you cannot get enough Vitamin D from food and the sun, supplementation might be the right choice for you. There are now a variety of supplements containing both Vitamin K2 and D3 and vegan and non-vegan forms.

Calcium, Vitamin D, and the Vitamin K2 Connection: While calcium is important for many functions in the body, it’s important to note that taking high amounts of calcium, especially without vitamin k2, may put you at risk for cardiovascular disease (8). Why is vitamin K2 so important? Essentially, Vitamin K2 moves calcium into the bones and teeth and prevents buildup of plaque in the arteries. This can also be referred to as calcium homeostasis.

 

Types of Exercise for Heart Health

Aerobic Exercise

Cardiovascular Benefits: Engaging in aerobic exercises provides numerous cardiovascular benefits. The American College of Cardiology recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week. This level of activity has been linked to improved heart health.

Examples and Recommendations: Running, cycling, and swimming are excellent examples of aerobic exercises. One study suggests that both moderate and high levels of physical activity are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (9).

Making Aerobic Exercise Enjoyable: Incorporating activities that align with personal interests can enhance adherence and sustain long term exercise habits to an aerobic exercise routine.

 

Strength Training

Building Muscle for Heart Health: The benefits of strength training extend beyond muscle development. One comprehensive review suggests that resistance training positively influences cardiovascular health by improving blood pressure and lipid profiles (10).

Weightlifting and Resistance Training: Incorporating resistance training into the exercise routine is also crucial for a holistic approach. Aim to include strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two days per week.

Balancing Cardiovascular and Strength Exercises: Achieving a balance between aerobic and strength exercises is essential for overall cardiovascular health.

 

Mind-Body Exercises

Stress Reduction and Heart Health: Chronic stress is a risk factor for heart disease. Mind-body exercises, such as yoga and tai chi, have been associated with stress reduction. One meta-analysis highlights the positive effects of mindfulness-based interventions on cardiovascular risk factors (11).

Integrating Mindfulness into Physical Activity: Mindfulness techniques, when integrated into physical activity, can amplify the cardiovascular benefits. Combining mindfulness with exercise may lead to better heart health outcomes (12).

 

Heart-Healthy Diet

Importance of Fiber

Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber: Dietary fiber can be categorized into soluble and insoluble forms, each offering unique benefits. There is an emphasizes on the importance of both types of fiber for digestive health and cardiovascular well-being so be sure to include a mix of both on a regular basis. One study suggests that a high-fiber diet is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease (13).

Cholesterol Management: Specifically, soluble fiber plays a crucial role in managing cholesterol levels. It is typically recommended to aim for a daily intake of at least 25 grams of total fiber, with a focus on soluble fiber sources like oats, barley, beans, legumes, and fruits.

 

Healthy Fats for Heart Health

Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fats: Healthy fats, specifically monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, play a crucial role in heart health. The Mediterranean diet, rich in these fats, has been extensively studied for its cardiovascular benefits. A study found that a Mediterranean diet, which included extra virgin olive oil and/or nuts, reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events (14).

Sources and Guidelines: Sources of healthy fats include olive oil, avocados, nuts, and fatty fish. It is commonly suggested that replacing some of your saturated fats with healthier alternatives can help to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Limiting Saturated and Trans Fats: Saturated and trans fats, found in processed and fried foods, can contribute to heart disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting the intake of saturated and trans fats to less than 10% of total energy intake. Saturated fat still continues to be a controversial topic so until more research is conducted, being mindful of saturated fat intake is probably in your best interest.

 

Organic, Whole Foods

Reducing Exposure to Pesticides and Chemicals: Organic produce reduces exposure to pesticides and chemicals that may have adverse effects on health. One study found that continual exposure to herbicides and pesticides can increase your risk of cardiovascular diseases (15).

Nutritional Value of Organic Produce: While the nutritional differences between organic and conventional produce are still debated, some studies, like one published in the British Journal of Nutrition (Barański et al., 2014), suggest that organic crops may have higher levels of certain nutrients.

Importance of Whole, Unprocessed Foods: Whole, unprocessed foods provide a spectrum of nutrients crucial for heart health. Research in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition highlights the nutritional advantages of whole foods compared to processed alternatives.

 

What to Avoid for a Healthy Heart

Excessive Salt Intake

Impact on Blood Pressure: Excessive salt intake is a major contributor to elevated blood pressure. The majority of national and international organizations recommend reducing sodium intake to at least 2,300 mg per day to reduce cardiovascular risk.

Reading Food Labels: Reading food labels and choosing low-sodium alternatives is essential for maintaining heart health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides resources on understanding and interpreting nutrition labels to make informed choices.

 

Refined Sugar and Processed Foods

Connection to Heart Disease: Refined sugar and processed foods contribute to heart disease through various mechanisms, including inflammation and insulin resistance. Strong evidence suggests that high sugar intake among adults and children, is associated with a increase risk of cardiovascular disease (16,17)

Alternatives and Whole Food Choices: Choosing natural sweeteners and whole foods over processed alternatives is crucial for heart health. Try adding herbs and spices to increase flavour and reduce cravings for sugar.

 

Smoking and Excessive Alcohol Consumption

Impact on Cardiovascular Health: Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are significant risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that smoking damages blood vessels and can lead to heart disease, while excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to high blood pressure and heart failure. While some studies suggest that there is no amount of alcohol that is safe, other studies show that binge drinking and excessive amounts of alcohol greatly increase your risk of heart disease vs. lower amounts of alcohol consumption,1-2 times per day. (18)

Strategies for Quitting Smoking and Moderating Alcohol Intake: Quitting smoking and moderating alcohol intake are crucial steps for heart health. Resources like smokefree.gov provide evidence-based strategies and support for quitting smoking, while the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism offers guidelines for responsible alcohol consumption.

 

Sedentary Lifestyle

The Dangers of Inactivity: A sedentary lifestyle is a well-established risk factor for heart disease. One meta-analysis emphasizes the importance of reducing sedentary time and increasing physical activity for cardiovascular health (19).

Incorporating Physical Activity into Daily Life: Simple lifestyle changes, such as taking short breaks to move and incorporating physical activity into daily routines, can significantly impact heart health. Some associations recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, which can be broken down into shorter sessions throughout the day.

 

Maintaining heart health through natural approaches requires a comprehensive understanding of the interplay between supplements, exercise, lifestyle, and diet. The evidence-based strategies discussed in this guide provide a solid foundation for individuals seeking to optimize their cardiovascular wellness.

Embracing these natural approaches collectively empowers individuals to take charge of their heart health, promoting vitality and longevity. Always consult with healthcare professionals for personalized advice and guidance on implementing these strategies based on individual health conditions.

(1) https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/omega-3-fatty-acids-and-the-heart-new-evidence-more-questions-2021032422213

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8092430/

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9776655/

(4) https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3921/10/5/755

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5852744/

(6) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22205313/

(7) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23149428/

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4566462/

(9) https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/daily-11-minute-brisk-walk-enough-to-reduce-risk-of-early-death

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6172294/

(11) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19432513/

(12) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4429005/

(13) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12963562/

(14) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29897866/

(15) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32816635/

(16) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27550974/

(17) https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2020.603653/full

(18) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5513687/

(19) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29991570/

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