It seems like every other product we see in the store says ‘heart healthy’ on it. Heart healthy status can be attributed loosely into a few categories: 1) cholesterol lowering, 2) blood pressure control, 3) anti-oxidants, and 4) improving overall blood flow. What is often meant on these labels is that the product/food contains some amount of ‘heart healthy’ ingredients. There is often no description of the amount, its purity or if it reaches levels necessary for beneficial effects. Now that is not to say that they are not worthwhile products and generally healthier. If one wants to guarantee that they are consuming adequate amounts of the known ‘heart healthy’ substances on a daily basis, certified supplements are a good choice, in addition to eating these healthy products.
While many products claim to have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health, not all are clinically proven to do so. A brief description of some of the known beneficial supplements is as follows.
The ability to lower cholesterol and improve the ratio of bad cholesterol (LDL) and improve the good cholesterol (HDL) starts with a balanced diet. Reduction in red meat intake alone can help and supplementing two fish meals per week instead will provide beneficial Omega 3’s. Salmon, tuna and trout are your best choices. Using olive oil or canola oil and consuming soy based products is a simple way to get a start on improving your lipid profile. The most popular and widely accepted supplements to help get adequate amounts are, Omega 3 supplements (fish oil or krill oil), garlic, policosanol (extracted from sugar cane), soluble fiber, and phytosterols (plant sterols). These are added to many heart healthy foods. Niacin (B3) has the proven ability to elevate beneficial HDL levels. To avoid the niacin flush, a slow release product is preferable. Green tea extract has also been shown to have beneficial effects on cholesterol as well as being an anti-oxidant. Current available forms of red yeast rice have not been proven to have beneficial effects on lipid profile, following the removal of a statin-like component in initial formulations.
If all else fails and one is placed on a statin drug, they must make sure to take supplemental Co-Q10 which is inhibited by statin drugs. This can prevent potential muscle weakness and other problems. Some beneficial foods for lowering total cholesterol would be apples and pears, whole grains, salmon, tuna, almonds and walnuts, soy milk or tofu and garlic.
Antioxidants are not only beneficial for the cardiovascular system but for the whole body, including the brain. Foods that are high in anti-oxidants such as blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, pomegranates, cherries, green tea, and tomatoes are very beneficial. Trying to eat all of those in one day is difficult, so anti-oxidant supplements are a good alternative. Some of the more common and beneficial anti-oxidants include lycopene, beta carotene, quercetin, grape seed extract (polyphenols), bilberry, and milk thistle.
Improved blood flow, lower blood pressure, and beneficial anticoagulant effects
This category is a little trickier as many are not fully studied and sometimes the effects are not desired (i.e. anti-coagulants prior to undergoing surgery). In terms of anti-coagulation for heart health, aspirin is certainly shown to limit acute platelet aggregation, a preceding event prior to a heart attack. In anyone with any known CV risk, ASA is often a first line daily therapy prescribed by their healthcare provider. Many of the cholesterol lowering supplements may also have some minor anti-coagulation effects. Garlic, magnesium and vitamin D have been shown to lower blood pressure which may be beneficial in those with borderline hypertension. Resveratrol has been shown to improve cerebral blood flow.
The bottom line is to do your research, eat “heart healthy” foods (realizing that some are better than others), take supplements to augment and exercise regularly.