Each year, more men and women die from heart disease in the United States than any other cause, and this pattern has held true for more than a century (with just one exception: 1918’s flu pandemic). In fact, heart disease claims more lives than the other seven leading causes of death combined, says Ronald Stram, MD, from the Stram Center for Integrative Medicine in Albany, New York.
If the major forms of heart disease could be eliminated, life expectancy would jump by nearly seven years. Yet today in the United States, for almost half of heart disease cases, the first symptom is sudden cardiac death, notes Stephen Sinatra, MD, cardiologist and founder of Heart MD Institute. Clearly, “It makes sense to practice a lifestyle that supports cardiovascular health,” says Sinatra. “In essence, prevention is easier than cure.”
There are two important fats circulating in your blood: cholesterol and triglycerides. Cholesterol can be both “good” (HDL) and “bad” (LDL). Camps are divided as to exactly what role cholesterol levels play in heart health. However, approximately one in every six adults (that’s 16.3 percent of us) has high cholesterol. High total cholesterol—which is anything over 240 mg/dL—doubles your risk of heart disease. Similarly, high triglycerides—anything above 200 mg/dL— ups your chance of an unhealthy heart.
One of the easiest things you can do to keep your blood fats in a healthy range is to add more fiber to your diet. People who eat more fiber-rich foods have lower cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber, found in oats, oat bran, barley, legumes, apples, and citrus fruits, provides the most heart benefits. The National Fiber Council recommends that adults consume an average of 32 grams of fiber every day, but that doesn’t have to only come from foods. Many people find it easier to rely on a fiber supplement, such as one based on psyllium, flaxseed, fenugreek, and/or glucomannan, to boost their fiber intake. Taking omega-3 supplements and eating more seafood, as well as avoiding trans-fats, boosts healthy HDL cholesterol.
Want an even tastier way to keep your blood healthy? Dark chocolate (70+% cocoa) contains compounds called flavonols that contribute to healthy cholesterol levels. Research shows that 50 grams daily (about half the size of the average chocolate bar) does the trick.
What to do if your blood fats are already too high? Stram’s three favorite supplements for bringing down high triglycerides are omega-3 fatty acids (at least 1 gm daily), magnesium (400-600 mg daily), and CoQ10 (100 mg twice a day). The omega-3s serve double duty by also enhancing the cholesterol-lowering effects of statin drugs.
Beta glucan (a naturally occurring substance found in the cell walls of yeast, many medicinal mushrooms, and oats) also lowers cholesterol. Beta glucan binds with cholesterol and sends it out of the body, with the end result being lower blood cholesterol. It takes 3-5 gm of beta glucan daily to significantly lower cholesterol (1½ cups of oatmeal supplies 3 gm of beta glucan); some people prefer to take beta glucan as a supplement.
High Blood Pressure
Known as the “silent killer,” high blood pressure occurs without symptoms and afflicts one in every four adults. High blood pressure begins at 140/90 or greater. High blood pressure causes the heart to work too hard and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Everyone should have their blood pressure checked at least once every two years, and more often if it’s high or borderline high. If you haven’t had your blood pressure checked lately, take the time to get it checked.
Factors such as weight and exercise are known to influence blood pressure. Three-quarters of people with high blood pressure are overweight or obese. Exercising three times a week cuts the risk of developing high blood pressure dramatically.
Omega-3s are the jack-of-all-trades when it comes to good health; keeping blood pressure in the healthy range is yet another benefit of taking this supplement. And cocoa can help your cardiovascular system; the antioxidants in dark chocolate keep blood pressure in check. Research shows that blood pressure is lower in daily chocolate eaters. There are also cocoa supplements available.
Look to the mineral magnesium if your blood pressure is high. Most people fall short when it comes to this mineral, which regulates blood pressure while lowering your risk of heart attack and stroke. Two recent studies show that supplementing with magnesium lowers blood pressure and for every 100 mg of extra magnesium in your diet, your risk of ischemic stroke drops by 9 percent. Keep in mind that magnesium has a laxative effect in some people in amounts over 350 mg per day.
Pharmaceutical drugs are not necessarily needed to treat high blood pressure, says Sinatra, who only uses them in patients who don’t respond to natural remedies or who are in danger. “My non-pharmacological approach includes magnesium and omega-3s as well as 100 mg of CoQ10 twice a day; 500-1,000 mg of garlic once a day; hawthorn berry (500 mg three times a day); and nattokinase in the amount of 50-100 mg daily,” he says.
Poor circulation can result from either a problem with how your heart is pumping blood through your body or a problem with your blood vessels themselves. In either case, chronically chilly hands and feet can be the result.
Moving your body, not surprisingly, gets your blood moving. As such, according to Stram, exercise is one of the most effective ways to improve circulation. High-intensity interval training, in which you exercise for one minute at 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, alternating with one minute of rest, is particularly effective, he says. Another option is 30-45 minutes of moderate movement (at 60 percent of your maximum heart rate) four to five times each week.
A type of antioxidant called proanthocyanidins bolster blood circulation by strengthening capillaries, arteries, and veins. Proanthocyanidins, in the amount of 50-200 mg daily, can be found in plant-based supplements from grape seed and pine bark.
Congestive Heart Failure
With congestive heart failure, the heart’s pumping power is weaker than it should be and it ends up working too hard to pump blood.
A healthy cardiovascular system is the best defense, so that means following the other tips in this article for controlling blood pressure and keeping blood fats in the healthy range.
With congestive heart failure, says Sinatra, the key to enhancing quality of life and even increasing longevity is providing “fertilizers to the heart” to support the heart’s energy production. He recommends what he refers to as the “awesome foursome” of D-ribose (1 tsp. three times a day); CoQ10 (200-400 mg a day); L-carnitine (1-3 gm a day); and magnesium (200-300 mg twice a day).
Heart attacks, unfortunately, are common, with more than 1 million occurring every year in the United States. During a heart attack, the blood supply to the heart itself is compromised and this results in permanent damage to the heart muscle, with the worst events ending in death.
Enjoying one glass of red wine a day (for women) or two glasses (for men) benefits your heart and reduces the risk of heart attack. Wine’s active ingredient, a polyphenol called resveratrol, can also be taken as a dietary supplement; it reduces inflammation throughout your body. This is good news for your blood vessels, since inflammation here is a major source of narrowing of blood vessels and the ultimate cause of heart attacks and strokes.
For patients who have experienced a heart attack, Sinatra recommends the “awesome foursome” at half the amount of what he uses for congestive heart failure. So that would be: D-ribose (½ tsp. three times a day); CoQ10 (100-200 mg a day); L-carnitine (½-1½ gm a day); and magnesium (100-150 mg twice a day).
Kick Off Your Shoes
It sounds a bit unusual, but one of Sinatra’s favorite recommendations for healthy circulation is as simple as taking off your shoes. When you walk barefoot on certain surfaces—including sand, grass, bare dirt, and untreated concrete, brick, and ceramic tile—there’s an antioxidant effect as negatively charged ions transfer from the earth into your body through the soles of your feet, he explains. This process is called “grounding,” and Sinatra says it can thin the blood and improve blood pressure. You might not even need to be barefoot: leather-soled shoes allow for the beneficial transfer of electrons, although rubber-soled shoes block the process, according to Sinatra.
Proceed With Caution
Natural remedies for a healthy heart and circulation offer many benefits, but there are some cautions to keep in mind. If you are taking any prescription medications for heart disease, check with your doctor before using supplements. Some supplements and medications should not be taken together, such as these:
CoQ10/Warfarin (Coumadin): This supplement might interfere with the proper function of this drug.
Garlic/Ticlopidine: This herb presents a slight risk for increased bleeding.
Ginkgo/Ticlopidine: This herb presents a slight risk for increased bleeding.
Ginkgo/Warfarin (Coumadin): This herb could reduce clotting time and increase bleeding.
Licorice/Diuretics: This herb can intensify the side effects of these drugs. Note: The DGL form of licorice is fine to use.
St. John’s Wort/Digoxin: This herb can reduce blood levels of the medication.
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