Half the people who die of heart disease have normal cholesterol. How helpful is that?” says Steven Masley, MD, author of The 30-Day Heart Tune-Up: A Breakthrough Medical Plan to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. More importantly, he says, “Plaque is what causes heart disease.” Plaque constricts arteries, reducing the flow of oxygen and nutrients, and can trigger clots that lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Plaque levels can be tested with a non-invasive Carotid Intima Media Thickness (CIMT) ultrasound scan, but few doctors use it and insurance plans don’t cover the cost. But even without the test, plaque can be controlled and even reversed.
Masley’s heart tune-up plan is based on his research, in which more than 100 patients were able to reduce and reverse plaque with a three-step strategy: eating the right foods, getting fit, and taking heart-healthy supplements.
6 Vital Heart Nutrients
You can get most of these important nutrients from a good quality multivitamin. Additional supplements for fish oil, fiber, and possibly vitamin D and magnesium may be required.
“If fiber intake long-term has been about 30 grams per day, almost no one gets heart disease,” says Masley, especially if the person is also physically fit. But the average American gets only 12–14 grams of fiber daily. It’s quite realistic to get enough from a combination of fiber-rich foods and fiber supplements (see: “Fiber Up!,” right).
To start your day, try a satisfying shake that will get you about halfway to the 30-gram mark. Blend a cup of berries, a scoop of your favorite protein powder, almond milk, and a tablespoon of chia seeds, flaxseeds, psyllium, or a fruit and vegetable fiber powder.
2 Fish Oil
“Fish oil has been shown in several studies to decrease risk of heart disease and sudden death—it’s just so important,” says Masley, “but more than half of Americans don’t meet their needs.” If you don’t eat low-mercury, cold-water fish, such as wild salmon, herring, sardines, or sole, at least two or three times per week, take enough fish oil to get 1,000 mg daily of EPA and DHA.
Freshness is key, as fish oil can become rancid over time. Masley recommends testing one pill in a bottle by pricking the capsule with a needle and tasting the oil. “It isn’t lemonade but it should taste pleasant,” he says. In liquid supplements, it’s virtually impossible to disguise rancidity.
“If you take a calcium supplement without magnesium, it can make your magnesium deficiency worse,” says Masley. Common symptoms of magnesium deficiency include migraines, constipation, muscle cramps, heart palpitations, and high blood pressure. If you have any of these, take 200–400 mg of magnesium one to two times daily. Magnesium can cause loose stools so start with a lower dose.
Look for an absorbable form of the mineral that’s easy to digest, such as chelated magnesium, magnesium glycinate, or magnesium malate. See the sidebar on p. 38 (“Take It to Heart”) for more information on magnesium.
4 Vitamin D
We don’t typically get enough sun exposure to make sufficient amounts, even in warm climates, yet vitamin D is essential for heart, immune system, and bone health, as well as cancer risk reduction. Take 1,500 IU daily.
5 Vitamin K
If you’re deficient in vitamin K—and most Americans are, says Masley—calcium will shift from your bones to your arteries, where it’s harmful. Eating a daily cup of cooked green vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, or spinach, will give you between 250 and 1,000 mcg, but most people don’t get enough. In a supplement, take 250 mcg daily of vitamin K1 or K2.
“If you’re zinc deficient, that’s a very powerful predictor of arterial plaque,” says Masley. The underlying mechanism is likely this: Lack of zinc contributes to prediabetes, also called metabolic syndrome, which includes high blood sugar, an inability to utilize insulin (insulin resistance), high blood pressure, and a pot belly. These factors lead to heart disease and an overall shorter lifespan.
Oysters, crab meat, pumpkin and squash seeds, wheat germ, lean grass-fed beef, and cocoa or dark chocolate are all good food sources. In a supplement, women need 12 mg daily and men require 15 mg, amounts that can be found in many high-quality multivitamins.
According to Masley, these are the most important foods for fighting plaque:
Healthy Fats: Olive oil, fish and other types of seafood, almonds, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, and hazelnuts, including nut butters and oils.
Clean, Lean Protein: Organic, grass-fed lean poultry and beef, and organic, grass-fed, low-fat dairy products.
Beneficial Beverages: Green tea, cocoa, and dark chocolate, and if you drink alcoholic beverages, red wine in moderation (no more than 1–2 glasses daily, 4.5 ounces per glass).
Flavor:Use chili, curry, Italian, and other seasonings to make food taste great.
On the flip side, foods such as sugar and flour increase the odds of prediabetes, inflammation, and plaque production. Most people should avoid them. But healthy, trim, fit people may benefit from nutrients found in whole-grain flour, says Masley.
“There’s a ton you can do to decrease your risk, stop plaque growth, and tune- up your energy, your waistline, and your sex life,” says Masley, “And who doesn’t want that?”
Get 30–40 grams of fiber daily. Add up your daily fiber intake from food, and use supplements to bridge the gap. Here are some good sources:
Raspberries (1/2 cup frozen): 5.5 grams
Pear (medium): 5.1 grams
Apple (medium): 3.3 grams
Banana (medium): 3 grams
Vegetables and legumes
Beans (1/2 cup): 5–10 grams
Split peas (1/2 cup cooked): 8 grams
Avocado (1/2 medium): 6.5 grams
Artichoke hearts (1/2 cup): 4.5 grams
Spinach (1 cup cooked): 4.3 grams
Mixed vegetables, frozen (1 cup): 4 grams
Sweet potato (medium, with skin): 4 grams
Potato, baked (medium, with skin): 3.8 grams
Superfoods & Supplements
(Amounts vary by product)
Psyllium (1 Tbs.): 3 grams
Chia seeds (1 Tbs.): 3–5 grams
Flaxseed, ground (1 Tbs:.)2 grams
Other fiber supplements: 1.5–9 grams per serving
Take it to Heart
“There is a solution to our health woes, a tragically underutilized remedy that has been with us for decades: magnesium,” says Dennis Goodman, MD, author of the new book Magnificent Magnesium (Square One Publishers, 2014). Magnesium is an abundant natural element that is vital to the proper functioning of our bodies—and yet, nearly 80 percent of Americans are magnesium-deficient. With publication of his new book, Goodman wants to help drop that percentage level to zero.
In Magnificent Magnesium, Goodman provides detailed explanations of the many forms of heart disease; the role magnesium plays in many life processes; and how a deficiency of this substance can lead to major health conditions. He also includes easy-to-use guidelines for using magnesium as a safe, natural, and effective approach to improvement of heart function. Special sections include:
According to Goodman, magnesium deficiency often goes undetected until a more serious medical problem develops. Here is a list of possible warning signs that you are low in magnesium:
For dosages, Goodman follows guidelines developed by magnesium researcher Mildred S. Seeling: “A good rule of thumb is to take about 3 mg of magnesium for every pound
of body weight at the minimum,” says Goodman. For example, a woman weighing 120 lb would take at least 360 mg of magnesium daily. “Under more stressful circumstances, you’ll need to increase this dosage,” says Goodman. He suggests adding roughly 100–200 mg of magnesium on to your normal daily dose during periods of intense stress and tension.
Visit dennisgoodmanmd.com to learn more about Goodman’s work and his new book, Magnificent Magnesium.
More Helpful Supplements
CoQ10: For anyone taking statin drugs, which deplete CoQ10, this is an essential supplement. It may also improve energy in people middle-aged or older.
Arginine: An amino acid, it increases levels of nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels, reduces blood pressure, improves circulation, and can help relieve erectile dysfunction.
Resveratrol and Curcumin: Both support energy production in cells, including cells
in the heart. They also help slow overall aging, lower inflammation, and lower cancer risk.
|BrickerLabs OptiFlow supports heart health and circulation with a blend of trans resveratrol and tomato concentrate.|
|Salus Floradix Calcium Magnesium is an easy-to-absorb liquid with a higher magnesium-to-calcium ratio—ideal for heart health.|
|Redd Remedies HEART Strong promotes heart muscle energy and function with magnesium, CoQ10, and other nutrients.|
|ReNew Life Norwegian GOLD Super Critical OMEGA is a concentrated formula with more than 1,000 mg of omega-3s per softgel.|
|Wakunaga Kyolic Total Heart Health can be used daily and contains Aged Garlic Extract, arginine, and B vitamins.|
Vera Tweed has been writing about nutrition, fitness, and healthy living since 1997. She specializes in covering research and expert knowledge that empowers people to lead better lives. She is the author of numerous books, including Hormone Harmony and The User’s Guide to Carnitine and Acetyl-L-Carnitine.