Are you motivated to keep your heart, your arteries and your entire cardiovascular system in tip-top shape for many years to come? If you have a genetic predisposition for heart disease, your risk may be increased; however, your habits may speak louder than your genes, experts say.
Cardiovascular disease is currently the leading cause of death among Americans, but it doesn’t have to be. Research shows that smart diet and lifestyle choices—including staying active, not smoking and reducing dietary intake of sugars and refined carbohydrates, whole-fat animal products, fried foods, and trans fats (hydrogenated oils)—can do a lot to prevent heart disease. Plant foods such as whole soy, nuts, beans, legumes, and antioxidant-rich fresh fruits and vegetables also keep cholesterol levels in check and heart and arteries healthy. The following supplements can support your heart, too.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Regular consumption of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, seeds and nuts has long been linked to lower risk of death from heart disease, with benefits such as improved triglycerides, blood pressure and blood clotting. Omega-3 fatty acids generally help the body repair tissues and break the cycle of inflammation, a suspected factor in heart disease. Most supplements are fish oil–based, but omega-3 supplements derived from flaxseed and algae are suitable for vegans and vegetarians. Caution: Talk to your health care provider about interactions and side effects, particularly if you are taking blood thinners or have a blood-clotting disorder. Omega-3 supplements can react with other medications and also reduce the blood’s ability to clot.
Dose: 1,000 mg daily, or as directed by your physician.
If you have known cardiovascular disease, such as a prior heart attack, your doctor may prescribe a daily regimen of this classic pain reliever. The active ingredient of aspirin, salicylate, was originally found in white willow bark and was used by healers as far back as 3000 B.C. Aspirin has been widely proven in studies to lower risk of heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular disease in high-risk individuals. Aspirin thins the blood and reduces the clumping action of platelets, making it less likely that dangerous clots will develop in congested arteries. Do not start taking aspirin without first consulting your doctor.
Dose: Generally 75 mg to 325 mg daily
Generally, the fiber you obtain from fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, oats and whole grains lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol, which can reduce your risk of heart disease. Blond psyllium, a type of fiber derived from the outer covering of the psyllium plant’s seed, has cholesterol-lowering effects for those with mild to moderately high cholesterol. Often used as a laxative or for other digestive issues, such as diarrhea, psyllium has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol by 5 to 10 percent after seven or more weeks. When monitored by a physician, blond psyllium can sometimes be used to reduce the amount of prescription drugs needed to treat high cholesterol. Caution, though: Psyllium may cause constipation for some.
Dose: 10–12 grams daily, with meals, for best results
In studies, flaxseed has been shown to suppress and slow the progression of atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in your arteries that can cause heart attack or stroke. High in inflammation-taming omega-3s and cholesterol-lowering fiber, flaxseed lowers overall cholesterol and reduces LDL cholesterol. For best results, refrigerate whole flaxseed and grind in a coffee grinder. Flaxseed’s oils can degrade quickly when the seeds are ground and left at room temperature. Flaxseed has a strong nutty flavor and is versatile. Sprinkle on cold or hot cereal, add to smoothies, or mix into muffins, cookies, quick breads or other baked goods. Like other types of fiber, flaxseed should be taken with plenty of water.
Dose: 1–2 tablespoons ground flaxseed daily, with meals
Over the last few years, you’ve probably heard that vitamin D deficiency in North America is far more common than previously thought. Your lifestyle, where you live and your age all play into your body’s ability to make vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D deficiency has gained more attention as a contributing factor to a higher risk of some types of cancer. Recent research also links vitamin D deficiency to elevated risk of heart disease. These findings are relatively new, so research is under way to observe whether taking vitamin D supplements can, in fact, help prevent heart disease. However, because vitamin D is associated with so many proven benefits—stronger bones, reduction in cancer risk—doctors generally recommend it as part of an overall health strategy. Your doctor can order a simple blood test to tell you whether your vitamin D levels are optimum (between 30 and 60 ng/ml). Fortified foods, such as milk, yogurt and orange juice, can provide some vitamin D, but supplementation is usually necessary to improve levels.
Dose: Most adults need about 1,000 to 2,000 IU daily. Depending on your blood levels, you may be advised to take between 3,000 to 5,000 IU daily.
Coenzyme Q10 (or coQ10) is a fat-soluble antioxidant that occurs naturally in organ meats and some fish. CoQ10 boosts metabolism, helping cells convert food to energy throughout the body. It also inhibits LDL cholesterol and may minimize atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries). Early studies suggest that increasing coQ10 levels by taking supplements may lower blood pressure and decrease symptoms and future risk of heart attack in patients with heart failure. Although coQ10 deficiency is rare, your coQ10 levels naturally decrease as you age. As with other supplements, coQ10 can significantly alter the uptake and effectiveness of other drugs or treatments, so consult a physician before adding it to your daily regimen.
Dose: Standard guidelines have not been set; consult your physician.