3 Essential Ingredients for a Healthy Heart
Jessica Wilhelm, CN
The heart is about the size of a large fist and is the hardest working muscle in the body. Working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, never getting a break, it is no wonder a whole month of February has been dedicated to the health of this amazing organ. The heart sustains life by pumping blood in concert with the lungs through highways of interconnected vessels and arteries to ensure nutrients and oxygen get to our tissues and organs.
Did you know that heart disease it the leading cause of death in men and women and about half of all Americans have at least one of these risk factors? When we consume a highly processed diet and do not get adequate amounts of heart-healthy nutrients or regular exercise, cardiovascular health starts to decline. Other side effects of consuming a highly processed diet in combination with a sedentary lifestyle: blood sugar levels become out of balance, cholesterol levels increase, blood pressure starts to rise, and body fat increases. All adding more stress on the heart. Prevention is key, but it is never too late to make positive changes to your diet and lifestyle for better heart health. Below I’m highlighting my top recommendations for science-backed supplementation and my top lifestyle tip to support optimal cardiovascular function.
Three Key Supplements for a Healthy Heart:
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for a healthy heart and must be consumed in the diet from food or supplementation because the body cannot make them. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is lacking in this nutrient and typically contains higher amounts of Omega-6 fatty acids from refined corn and soybean oil and fried foods. Eating higher amounts of meat and dairy from animals that have not been allowed to graze on plants, which contain omega 3’s, is also a contributing factor. It is important to have a healthy balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Studies suggest that the ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 should be between 4:1 and 2:1, however the SAD contains up to a 20:1 ratio, meaning we consume up to 20 times more omega-6’s than omega-3’s. This increases inflammation in the body which alone is a risk factor for chronic disease, but also may alter blood lipids, raise blood pressure, contribute to blood sugar imbalances and affect cognitive function.
Dietary sources of omega 3’s are found in plants as alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and cold-water fish as Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). Foods rich in ALA include chia, hemp and pumpkin seeds, walnuts, avocados, and edamame. The ALA in these foods is slowly converted to EPA and DHA in a process that requires B-vitamins, Vitamin C, Zinc and Magnesium. However, many people do not get adequate amounts of these nutrients daily or have a deficiency, making it harder to convert ALA to the more active EPA and DHA.
EPA and DHA supports healthy triglycerides, increases the “good” HDL cholesterol, supports a healthy inflammatory response in the body, and structurally supports nerve cell membranes for improved focus, memory, concentration and mood. According to a 2017 analysis in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, there was a lower risk for developing heart disease associated with a higher intake of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. This is due to the positive effects omega-3’s has on reducing triglycerides and improving LDL levels, both of which when elevated are associated with plaque formation in the arteries. Symptoms of an omega-3 deficiency include dry eyes, hair and skin, brittle nails, joint aches and pains, low good “HDL” cholesterol, mood and focus issues, and poor memory.
To improve your omega-3 status eat cold-water fatty fish such as wild-caught salmon, halibut, cod, sardines, or tuna twice a week (3.5oz serving) and take a high-quality, concentrated, pharmaceutical grade fish oil supplement daily. Upgrading your meat to include grass fed and/or grass finished beef is also beneficial. However, if you are vegetarian or vegan, make sure you are either taking a multivitamin or eating foods rich in B-vitamins, Vitamin C, Zinc and Magnesium daily so your body can convert the ALA in plant foods to the more active EPA and DHA.
Coenzyme Q10 is a fat-soluble substance produced in the body that is a key nutrient for the energy producing powerhouse inside our cells known as the mitochondria. CoQ10 also provides antioxidant protection from the free radicals we are exposed to in our environment daily. The two most common forms of CoQ10 are ubiquinone and ubiquinol. The biologically active form ubiquinol is what does the work in the body and is made from ubiquinone. CoQ10 is important for heart health, because heart muscle cells contain more mitochondria than any other organ in the body. Not too surprising since our heart is constantly working for us 24/7.
Common symptoms associated with a CoQ10 deficiency are muscle aches and pains, muscle weakness and fatigue. Studies have also shown that migraine activity, changes in blood pressure, inflammation, and altered blood lipids are also associated lower CoQ10 levels. Depletion of this heart healthy nutrient can occur when taking blood pressure medications classified as beta blockers and statin medication to lower cholesterol. To keep your ticker humming it is important to get adequate amounts of CoQ10 daily. Dietary sources of CoQ10 include meat, fish and poultry, however, to get the amounts needed to replenish CoQ10 levels, pounds of these foods would need to be consumed daily. Therefore, it may be beneficial to include at least 100mg of a high-quality, crystal-free, emulsified CoQ10 supplement to replenish levels in the body.
Magnesium is a mineral involved in over 300 different metabolic processes in the body that are critical for cardiac health, lipid metabolism, mineral absorption, hormone regulation, a healthy mood, muscle function, and energy production. Yet, according to the World Health Organization, three quarters of all Americans eat a diet that is deficient in magnesium. Studies show that having adequate levels of magnesium is associated with a lower risk for cardiovascular disease but can also support healthy blood pressure because of its smooth muscle relaxing properties. Signs that the body may be magnesium deficient include muscle twitches, cramps and stiffness, fatigue, low mood, and anxiety. Foods rich in magnesium include Pumpkins Seeds, Spinach, Swiss Chard, Sesame Seeds, Black Beans, Quinoa and Cashews. Eating foods rich in magnesium and taking approximately 350 to 400 mg of a magnesium supplement daily can help replenish the body of this vital mineral to positively impact heart health.
My Top Lifestyle Tip
Get Moving: Exercising at least 30 minutes most days of the week promotes a healthy cardiovascular system by supporting the tone and structure of blood vessels. When the vessel walls are strong, blood flows more freely and there is an increase in nitric oxide production. Nitric oxide is a chemical that expands blood vessels to help maintain a healthy blood pressure and its production increases with regular exercise. Getting exercise doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, always take the stairs, park your car further away from the store, take your dog on a walk, participate in a group class at your local gym, join a running group. There also several free exercise programs available online that can be done in the comfort in your home.
Remember, it is never too late to make changes to your diet and lifestyle. By making some simple adjustments to your diet to eat whole foods 80 percent of the time and incorporating omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium and CoQ10 can make a huge impact on overall health. All it takes is a positive mindset and can-do attitude.