Coronary artery disease, also known as coronary heart disease, is the most common type of heart disease in the United States. It refers to the development of plaque on the inside of the heart’s major arteries. As the plaque grows, blood flow gets reduced, and a heart attack may result. It is the leading killer of American men and women, accounting for approximately 385,000 deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many doctors and patients believe that coronary heart disease is caused by eating too much saturated fat or cholesterol. However, half of all heart attacks occur in people with normal or low levels of cholesterol. Instead, considerable evidence points to inflammation as the fundamental cause of coronary heart disease, with cholesterol deposits being part of the body’s response to heal injured arteries.
Bypass surgery, angioplasty, and cholesterol-lowering statin drugs are common conventional approaches. Prevention and more natural approaches are preferable except in life-and-death situations.
Eating a lot of high-fiber, antioxidant-rich vegetables lowers the risk of coronary heart disease. So does eating cold-water fish, such as salmon, at least twice each week. Early in 2013, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that following a Mediterranean diet led to a 30 percent reduction in cardiovascular diseases.
Several supplements can lower the risk of coronary heart disease.
Omega-3s from fish oils. Found in fish oils and some types of algae-sourced supplements, omega-3s are potent anti-inflammatories. Omega-3 fish oils help maintain heart rhythm, are mild blood thinners, and can lower triglycerides. Dose: 360–800 mg of EPA and 100–500 mg of DHA daily.
Vitamin E. First used to treat heart diseases in the 1940s, vitamin E is a natural clot buster. In a 10-year study, doctors found that it significantly reduced the risk of blood clots. A person’s vitamin E requirements increase with higher cholesterol levels (to prevent oxidation), and cholesterol-lowering statin drugs reduce the vitamin’s benefits. Dose: 200–400 mg daily of natural mixed tocopherols.
Vitamin K appears to regulate where the body deposits calcium via a substance known as “matrix Gla protein” Without enough vitamin K, calcium can end up in the heart and cause hardening of the arteries. A study at Tufts University focused on 388 healthy men and postmenopausal women who took multivitamins with or without 500 mcg of vitamin K. After three years, people getting vitamin K had lower levels of coronary calcification. Dose: 500 mcg of vitamin K1 or 100 mcg of vitamin K2 (MK-7 form). Do not take if you use the drug warfarin.
Magnesium. Magnesium is needed for regulating heart rhythm and relaxing the heart muscle, and supplements might help prevent erratic heartbeats called arrhythmias. Researchers at the Harvard University School of Public Health analyzed data from 16 studies that included more than 300,000 people. People who had high blood levels of magnesium had a 30 percent lower risk of developing ischemic heart disease or dying from it. Meanwhile, people with high dietary intakes of magnesium had a 22 percent lower risk of ischemic heart disease. Dose: 200–400 mg daily, preferably of magnesium citrate.
Beta-Sitosterol. Considered a plant sterol, beta-sitosterol has long been used as a food additive that lowers total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. To avoid the excess calories of processed foods, it’s easier to simply take the capsules. Dose: 1.3–3.6 grams daily.
Biotin and Chromium. Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes increase the risk of coronary heart disease, so it makes sense to maintain normal blood sugar levels. Biotin and chromium are essential for regulating blood sugar and insulin levels. Doses: 2,000–5,000 mcg biotin and 200–1,000 mcg chromium.
WHAT IS HEART FAILURE?
Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle becomes too weak to efficiently pump blood. Considerable research suggests that certain nutrients can help protect against heart failure by fueling the mitochondria, the parts of our cells involved in energy production. These nutrients include vitamin-like CoQ10 (100–400 mg daily), L-carnitine (1,000–2,000 mg daily), and ribose (2–4 gm daily). If you take medications for heart failure, let your doctor know you are taking supplements and be sure you are monitored closely. As these nutrients start working, you may have to reduce the dosage of your medications.
Jack Challem, aka “The Nutrition Reporter,” is the best-selling author of more than 20 books on health and nutrition, including The Inflammation Syndrome and Feed Your Genes Right. He is also a fine-art photographer. Visit him on the Web at nutritionreporter.com and jackchallem.com/photography.