Even if you have a family history of heart disease, these nutrients can help keep your ticker in top shape
Every year, I write at least one column listing my top supplements for heart health. I try to do this without looking back at what I’ve written before. But when I finally do reread what I wrote the previous year, I’m always amused to find that the list doesn’t change that much.
So here’s this year’s list of superstar heart supplements. A good supplement plan isn’t the only thing you’ll need—far from it—but it’s a great addition to a heart-healthy lifestyle. These nine supplements are a great place to start.
9 Supplements for Heart Health:
1. Coenzyme Q10
The heart needs a lot of energy. It never takes a vacation, and beats approximately 86,400 times a day, day after day, year after year. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) literally “recharges” the energy production factories—known as mitochondria—in the cells. It’s needed to generate the “bitcoin” of cellular energy, ATP. The cells use ATP to power everything you do. ATP is needed to pump your blood, burn fat, snore, digest food, dance the rhumba, blink your eyes—every single operation in your body requires ATP, and CoQ10 helps make it.
Pantethine, the active form of pantothenic acid, is the most important component of CoQ10, and some research supports its use for lowering high cholesterol levels. Look for products featuring Pantesin, a proprietary form of pantethine that has been clinically studied and shown to help promote healthy cholesterol levels.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in plant foods such as flaxseeds and animal foods such as coldwater fish. Flaxseed oil has some marvelous properties—there’s a lot of good research on flax oil and cancer, for example. But for heart health, fish oil has the heavier research pedigree. Fish oil has been shown to reduce the risk for having a heart attack or a stroke. It has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity. And it helps decrease the risk of sudden cardiac death.
But for me, the most important action of omega-3s is that they are anti-inflammatory. Inflammation either causes, promotes, or amplifies just about every degenerative disease known— including heart disease. And low levels of omega-3s have been associated with everything from heart disease to ADHD. That’s why I recommend omega-3 supplements for everyone, including children.
Magnesium is the ultimate “anti-stress” nutrient. It basically calms things down, functioning as a kind of “relaxer.” It relaxes (dilates) the arteries, which lowers blood pressure and makes it a lot easier for the heart to pump blood. It improves sleep, which in turn lowers stress. It helps lower blood sugar, a major concern of diabetes and metabolic syndrome, both of which wildly increase the risk of heart disease.
According to surveys, almost no one gets enough magnesium. One easy (and fun) way to get your magnesium is to take a relaxing magnesium bath (powders and flakes are now available and can be easily added to a warm bath).
Niacin is accepted even by mainstream doctors because it lowers cholesterol. But its real value is that it lowers Lp(a), an independent risk factor for heart disease and heart attacks. It also raises HDL cholesterol, specifically HDL-2 cholesterol which is the most beneficial of the HDL subclasses. The only problem with niacin is the dreaded niacin flush, which is why a lot of people don’t take it. Sustained-release niacin was introduced to remedy this problem, but there’s only one problem: it doesn’t work.
D-ribose is another of the components of ATP, that cellular energy molecule we talked about earlier. Without D-ribose, you’ve got no ATP. Without ATP, you’ve got no energy to do anything, including basic metabolic functions. When the heart is stressed, it can’t make enough D-ribose to replace lost energy quickly.
D-ribose stores in the body are “tissue-specific”—the heart can’t “borrow” D-ribose stores from the liver. It has to have its own stash. My coauthor on The Great Cholesterol Myth, cardiologist Steven Sinatra, MD, recommends 5 grams a day as a starting point for cardiovascular disease prevention, athletes, and healthy people who engage in strenuous activities.
L-carnitine is like a shuttle bus that transports fatty acids into the mitochondria—little energy plants within the cells—where those fats can be burned for energy. Because the heart gets 60 percent of its energy from fat, it’s very important that the body has enough L-carnitine to shuttle the fatty acids into the heart’s muscle cells. A number of studies have shown that L-carnitine can improve exercise endurance in heart patients, and in some research carnitine actually improves survival rate.
8. Vitamin K
Vitamin K actually comes in two “flavors,” K1 and K2. Most people know of vitamin K because it’s involved in clotting, something that’s necessary if you’re not going to bleed to death from a paper cut! But clotting is a property of vitamin K1. Vitamin K2 has a whole different resumé. It’s important for the heart, because it helps get calcium into the bones where it belongs, and helps it stay out of the arteries, where it doesn’t. For its ability to help prevent calcification in the arteries (what my parents used to call “hardening of the arteries”), it’s a very important supplement for heart health. Vitamin K2 is found in some foods like natto, egg yolks, liver, and other organ meats, but many people don’t eat enough of those foods to get much K2 from food. Be smart and take a
9. Citrus Bergamot
I’ve been a fan of citrus bergamot for quite a while because it has an impressive resumé of beneficial effects on metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome—also known as prediabetes—is a collection of symptoms (including high triglycerides, high blood sugar, and abdominal obesity) that greatly increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Citrus bergamot, with its rich array of polyphenols, has a beneficial effect on at least three of the defining characteristics of metabolic syndrome. It lowers triglycerides, raises HDL, and lowers blood sugar, making it a shoo-in for a well-rounded heart protection supplement regimen.
What’s important to remember is that the heart doesn’t operate in a vacuum. So although supplements such as probiotics, vitamin D, resveratrol, curcumin, Niagen, and fiber may not be directly associated with heart health, they’re associated with processes and metabolic operations that are essential for your overall health. Probiotics nourish the all-important microbiome. Resveratrol and curcumin are very anti-inflammatory. Vitamin D is needed for just about everything. Niagen is a new supplement that helps turbocharge the energy pathways in the cells. And fiber helps manage blood sugar, which in turn helps control insulin levels. Chronically high insulin levels can lead to obesity and diabetes, which greatly increase the risk
of heart disease.
Heal Your Heart with Hawthorn
Hawthorn is considered the “heart” herb, and for good reason—it has been shown to support oxygenation and blood flow to the heart, and it’s rich in flavonoids for free radical protection. It also helps keep blood pressure within the normal range.
“Hawthorn increases the force of the heart and is a good therapy for those with arrhythmias, tachycardia, and/or mitral valve abnormalities,” says Mary Bove ND, author of The Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants. “Hawthorn is also a healing herb for soft, connective tissue damage, including sports injuries, broken bones, and knee surgeries,” says Bove, adding that skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis often respond well to hawthorn, too.
On an energetic level, hawthorn can help heal emotional grief, including that associated with great loss, separation, or a broken heart, says Bove. She recommends combining hawthorn with magnesium for the synergistic effects. You’ll find hawthorn in heart health formulas and as a single supplement. Or try it in tea form—the berries have a pleasant, sweet flavor with a hint of tanginess.
- 1 tsp. dried hawthorn berries
- ½ tsp. dried albizia bark
- 1¼ cups filtered water
- 1 tsp. dried or fresh lemon balm
- ½ tsp. dried wood betony
- ¼ tsp. dried rosebuds or petals
- ¼ tsp. dried heartsease
- Honey, to taste (optional)
- Put hawthorn berries and albizia bark in small saucepan with measured water. Heat to nearly boiling, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes.
- Remove pan from heat and immediately add remaining herbs. Cover pan with lid and let steep 10 minutes.
- Strain into a large mug, and add honey, if desired.