February is American Heart Month, and there’s no better time to think about how to improve heart health and keep this vital organ beating strong. For most people, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, refraining from smoking and maintaining low stress is enough to keep their ticker in tip-top shape. But people with high blood pressure or a family history of heart problems may want to do more to protect their heart. Natural supplements such as the following may be good options. Remember to consult a health-care professional before starting a new supplement routine.
“Magnesium can be crucial when it comes to heart health,” says Piper Gibson, doctor of advanced holistic nutrition and traditional naturopathy, and founder of Regenerating Health in Las Cruces, N.M. “It is vital for muscle function, as well as helping to regulate blood pressure. Magnesium assists calcium in making sure we have a healthy heartbeat. While calcium stimulates heart muscles, magnesium relaxes them.”
Steven Lamm, M.D., medical director at the NYU Langone Preston Robert Tisch Center for Men’s Health, often recommends patients take pycnogenol, also known as pine bark extract. “Pycnogenol is a potent antioxidant with anti-inflammatory benefits that has been studied extensively for over 40 years and is shown to provide multiple benefits for heart health,” he says. “Several studies have shown that supplementing with Pycnogenol can help lower high blood pressure and cholesterol, strengthen the vascular system, and reduce inflammation in the body.”
Vitamin K is important for the heart because it helps calcium get into the bones, not into the arteries where it can cause calcification or hardening, says Nicole Avena, Ph.D., and author of Why Diets Fail (Ten Speed, 2013). “Vitamin K2 is found in some foods like egg yolks and other organ meats, but most people don’t eat enough of those foods to get enough K2. This is why taking a supplement may be necessary.”
Mushrooms contain compounds called beta-glucans that provide a number of benefits, including supporting lower cholesterol and better heart health. “Try to avoid buying mushroom formulas that contain or use mycelium,” says Loretta T. Friedman, a chiropractic doctor and founder of Synergy Health Associates in New York City. “You want the fruiting body in the formula. This refers to the whole mushroom cap and stem being used. Also, stay away from powders listed as part of the ingredients. You want extracts. They are much better absorbed in our bodies.”
“Taurine is an herbal supplement that has been used as a cardioprotective supplement and treatment for cardiovascular diseases,” says Lisa Richards, certified nutritional consultant and creator of the Candida Diet. “Taurine has a cardioprotective response by decreasing the amount of resistance of blood flow in blood vessels. This characteristic helps to reduce blood pressure and, thereby, protect the heart.”