Experts share tips on how to
keep your heart healthy & happy
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States. If you look at the Centers for Disease Control map, the South has some of the highest death rates from cardiovascular causes, though Madison County appears a bit better than surrounding counties. Nonetheless, we’ve got some work to do if we want to claim a heathy heart.
So what are the risk factors? Smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol (though many docs in the functional medicine community would say it’s not high cholesterol but oxidized cholesterol, indicating inflammation is as big a factor as just cholesterol), a big waistline, being sedentary, eating an unhealthy diet, age (55 or older for women) and having a family history.
Some of the solutions to lower risk factors are obvious: don’t smoke, lose weight, exercise. But there are many ways to improve your heart health. Functional Medicine Doctor Mark Hyman suggests the first step to reduce risk factors is to eat a healthy diet. He recommends avoiding white flour and sugar, increasing vegetable intake and avoiding hydrogenated oils. He also recommends regular exercise and some supplements.
Dr. Andrew Weil breaks down cardiovascular disease into more specific categories and then lays out suggestions for each. For atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in the arteries) Weil suggests the obvious solutions mentioned above and also eating a low-glycemic index diet, taking fish oil and coenzyme Q10. He notes fish oils have been shown to lower triglycerides and inflammation while increasing HDL (the “good” cholesterol). CoQ10 is an antioxidant that Weil says helps protect LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and helps maintain healthy blood vessels.
Weil also mentions that high homocysteine levels in the blood (your doctor can test for this) is thought to contribute to plaque formation by damaging the arterial wall. Weil suggests eating more foods that contain B vitamins (green veggies, beans) and supplementing with a B-complex high in folic acid to bring homocysteine numbers down.
Cardiologist Stephen Sinatra recommends taking at least 2 grams of high quality fish oil daily to help prevent heart disease. He also recommends his “Awesome Foursome” of heart healthy supplements: CoQ10, magnesium, l-carnitine and D-ribose. He suggests 50-100 mg of CoQ10 daily, but if you take a statin drug he recommends 200-300 mg daily.
L-carnitine helps move fatty acids (cell fuel) into the mitochondria (the engine in every cell). Sinatra suggests 1,000-1,500 mg in divided doses daily. Magnesium is needed in all reactions that help produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate), a molecule needed to supply energy to every cell. Sinatra suggests 400 mg daily with meals.
Last of Sinatra’s Foursome is D-ribose, a simple sugar that helps fuel regeneration of energy when your body can’t create it quickly enough, such as during heavy exercise or in people with ischemia. He recommends 5 grams daily prior to exercise.
Studies show other supplements also may be helpful in preventing heart disease, even the humble garlic. To learn more, click here.