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When you say heart health (or lack thereof), you can be referring to at least a dozen conditions. You’ve got arrhythmias (palpitations), high cholesterol, heart attack, stroke, blood pressure and more. With all of that going on, it’s hard to believe any of us ever cross 75. But the fact is, just like that faithful old Subaru, even a dented and dinged ticker can clock a few hundred thousand miles with a little health and care.
Hey, let’s not pretend. You have to stay away from Mickey D’s, lay off the booze and the smokes, hit the treadmill, stay happy if possible, and eat the stuff that’s good for you: the fruits and vegetables and normal-sized portions of healthy meats and fish. The American Heart Association has some good starting guidelines, goals and resources.
And once you’ve got your diet mostly dialed in, you can supplement it with ingredients and compounds that will specifically and directly help the heart (that’s why they call them supplements!). There are a few standouts worth mentioning, and some that should be approached with caution. And things change all the time, which is why it’s important to stay in touch with the most recent research.
Co-Q10 to power up the heart cells
If you think of each little cell as an engine, the fuel is called ATP. Anyway, heart cells need this stuff – without it the heart gets weak. And science has found that a compound in our bodies called coenzyme-Q10 is critical in the cellular production of ATP. Lower levels seriously affect the blood pump. What’s more, co-Q10 is an antioxidant that also limits the production of bad cholesterol, so it helps clean the pipes and prevent hardening of the arteries. A dose of 60 to 200 mg a day following an incident of heart failure has helped people get on their feet quicker and feel better. In addition, it is important to know that if you are on statin drugs such as Lipitor and Zocor, it is essential that you be taking co-Q10 to counteract in co-Q10-inhibiting effects of these drugs.
There’s nothing fishy about omega-3s (EPA and DHA). These friendly fats have been found to increase the good cholesterol, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting and reduce inflammation – the Mayo Clinic says so. What’s more, studies have found that whether you eat the recommended one-to-two weekly servings of fatty fish such as salmon or herring, or just take those fish-oil horse pills, you get the same heart-helping effects. A newer omega-3 product available today that is showing great promise is krill oil, which delivers its omega-3s in the form of phospholipids, the same stuff all your cell walls are made of. Concerning fish, however, WellWise.org recommends that you consider carefully the fish you buy, and that there are likely to be fewer contamination problems with wild-caught fish. A recent ABC News report revealed that the vast majority of the fish in U.S. supermarkets today is imported, and the Food and Drug Administration inspects less than one percent of it. Farmed fish is particularly dubious, since much of the fish are being raised in all sorts of unhealthy environments, and can be loaded with antibiotics or chemical agents that you don’t want in your food.
Alpha-linolenic acid, another omega-3 source
A cousin to the aquatic variety, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is a plant-based omega-3 found in walnuts, canola oil and the now-famous flaxseed oil. The body must first convert this to EPA and DHA, while with something like krill oil, EPA and DHA are immediately available to the body. While less researched, studies suggest ALA has heart-health benefits similar to EPA and DHA, especially when you get up to two to three grams a day. But don’t confuse this with the omega-6, alpha-linoleic acid, which we in Western civilization get far too much of in our diets. For more on the imbalance between omega-3s and omega-6s, read the information on brain health section elsewhere on WellWise.org.
Yes, you read correctly. Cocoa is known to boost HDL (healthy cholesterol) levels. Researchers think now that this is due to proteins which boost levels of a compound called apolipoprotein A1 (Apo-A1), which is required by the body to produce HDL-cholesterol.8
8. A. Yasuda, M. Natsume, N. Osakabe, K. Kawahata, J. Koga. “Cacao Polyphenols Influence the Regulation of Apolipoprotein in HepG2 and Caco2 Cells. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1021/jf103820b