Though Valentine's Day may well have been a made up holiday on the part of the greeting card folks, its existence is redeemed in the light of American Heart Month—a February-long celebration of heart health awareness.
Each year, the American Heart Association (AHA), in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies, compile and present the Heart Disease and Stroke Statistical Update. Among study highlights from the 2013 update, the report revealed that between 1999 and 2009, the rate of deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD) fell 32.7 percent but still accounted for nearly one in three deaths in the nation—about one death every 40 seconds.
With stats like these, we clearly can't afford to ignore heart health 11 months out of the year. Pump up your Valentine's Day, February and remainder of 2013 with what's trending in heart-supporting supplements.
Omega-3 fatty acids
In a Scientific Position statement, the AHA recommends "that healthy people get adequate nutrients by eating a variety of foods in moderation, rather than by taking supplements," making one exception for omega-3 fatty acid supplements.
Because fish intake has been associated with decreased risk of heart disease, the AHA advises that patients without documented heart disease eat a variety of fish—preferably omega-3-containing fish, such as salmon, herring and trout—at least twice a week. Patients with documented heart disease are advised to consume about 1 gram of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) + docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) types of omega-3 fatty acids, "preferably from fish, although EPA+DHA supplements could be considered," after consulting with a physician first.
For people with high triglycerides (blood fats), ADA recommends 2 to 4 grams of EPA + DHA per day in the form of capsules and under a physician’s care.
According to Mayo Clinic, "omega-3 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fatty acid that's thought to reduce inflammation throughout the body, "which can damage blood vessels and lead to heart disease. What's more, the fatty acids "may decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, boost immunity and improve arthritis symptoms, and in children may improve learning ability."
Low magnesium levels—not cholesterol or saturated fat intake—are the greatest predictor of all aspects of heart disease, according to a review of cardiovascular disease research studies dating back to as early as 1937.
"This means we have been chasing our tails all of these years going after cholesterol and the high saturated-fat diet, when the true culprit was and still is low magnesium," says research scientist and author Andrea Rosanoff, PhD, who conducted the comprehensive ongoing review for more than 10 years.
Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, and Medical Advisory Board member of the nonprofit Nutritional Magnesium Association, adds, "That cholesterol is not the cause must be obvious, since heart disease is still the number one killer in America in spite of over two decades of statin use. The fact that low levels of magnesium are associated with all the risk factors and symptoms of heart disease—hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart arrhythmia, angina and heart attack—can no longer be ignored; the evidence is much too compelling."
According to Dean's website, magnesium is the multi-tasking mineral, playing a key role in more 325 enzyme reactions in the body—from energy production to cholesterol control, with up to 80 percent of Americans suffering from a deficiency. Dr. Dean recommends "a 1:1 balance of calcium with magnesium, while also taking into account the amount of calcium people get in their daily diets." She also suggests adding low doses of vitamin D and incorporating vitamin K2 to protect bones and heart.
"Rogue Nutritionist," Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, also challenges conventional wisdom that identifies cholesterol as the cause of heart disease, which he says is untrue in his new book, The Great Cholesterol Myth (Fair Winds, 2013), co-authored with cardiologist Stephen Sinatra, MD. He recommends specific “super foods” and nutritional supplements for improving cardiovascular report card, with the natural phenol trans-resveratrol topping the list of nutritional heart helpers.
“Resveratrol helps the heart in a number of significant ways,” says Bowden. “It’s a powerful anti-inflammatory, and inflammation is the primary cause of heart disease. In addition, it strengthens the mitochondria, which are the energy factories in every cell. Since the heart is one of the hardest working muscles in the body (no time off, no vacation days!) it has tons of mitochondria. Breakdown in the mitochondria is one of the main causes of aging and disease in general.”
Dr. Oz even backs this one up, writing that we can protect our bodies from the harmful effects of inflammation by taking a resveratrol supplement. "Resveratrol is a compound found in plants such as the Japanese knotweed, blueberries, peanuts, red grape skins and others. While resveratrol has been recommended for fighting the physical effects of aging, a brand new study shows it reduced inflammation of the heart in the study's participants by 26 percent. Taking one 500 mg capsule of resveratrol daily with food will help you maintain a strong, healthy heart."
As a good basic recommendation, Bowden condones taking 250 mg a day of trans-resveratrol—emphasis on trans—which amounts to exactly one cap of Reserveage resveratrol, he points out. "Not all resveratrol supplements are created equal—you want to pay attention to how much trans-resveratrol is in the capsule, as that is the specific compound that has been shown in the lab to have positive effects." Furthermore, Bowden suggests adding CoQ10, omega-3s, curcumin and citrus bergamot in the daily diet.
The proteolytic enzyme nattokinase in an ally in reducing the risk of excessive blood clotting and maintaining healthy circulation to all the vital organs, according to Steven Lamm, MD, professor at NYU School of Medicine, who says that nattokinase helps break down fibrin. "Fibrin is a protein that forms in the blood after trauma or injury. This is essential to stop excess blood loss, but excess fibrin has been shown to contribute to cardiovascular issues, poor circulation and slow tissue repair."
Nattokinase has been the subject of 17 studies, including two small human trials. Researchers from JCR Pharmaceuticals, Oklahoma State University, and Miyazaki Medical College tested nattokinase on 12 healthy Japanese subjects—6 men and 6 women, between the ages of 21 and 55. The tests found that natto generated a heightened ability to support circulation. On average, subjects' ELT (a measure of how long it takes to dissolve a blood clot) dropped by 48 percent within two hours of treatment. An additional study showed an 11 percent decrease in blood pressure after just two weeks.
"The risk factor for blood clots increases with poor diet, lack of exercise, chronic inflammation, obesity, excess free radical damage and aging," explains Dr. Lamm. As part of a heart healthy regimen, I recommend daily nattokinase supplementation as well as healthier lifestyle choices including regular exercise and a diet free of trans-fats and sugar."
Additionally, Dr. Lamm considers the proteolytic enzyme serratiopeptidase a “jack of all trades” for reducing the body's potential for creating inflammation. He says this enzyme handily digests dead, damaged and proteins that don't belong—"the 3 Ds." "The faster you remove the 3 Ds," explains Dr. Lamm, "the faster you remove the instigators of inflammation in the body."