Super Foods and Supplements for Heart Health
You know the basics: eat right, exercise, don’t smoke and achieve a healthy weight. But, going beyond the basics could really put the brakes on heart and vascular disease and have you living a healthier and longer life. It may even get you off some medications and prevent you from needing them in the future.
Walnuts: Walnuts contain omega-3 fats and are rich in antioxidants. Research shows just one and a half ounces a day (about a handful) as part of a healthy diet may reduce your risk of heart disease. They have anti-inflammatory properties and also help lower bad LDL cholesterol.
Fruits and Vegetables: Aim for at least 5-7 servings a day. Choose from a variety of bright colors including deep blue, purple, orange, yellow, green and red. Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals and many different health-protective phytochemical compounds. A large 14-year Harvard study found the more fruits and vegetable eaten, the more it reduced heart disease risk.
Fatty Fish: Oily fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and albacore tuna are rich in omega-3 fats DHA and EPA. Studies have found fish oils can help keep heart beats steady, lower triglycerides, lower blood pressure and reduce the rate that artery-clogging plaque builds up. The American Heart Association recommends healthy people eat oily fish at least 2 times per week. See if your favorite fish is low in mercury.
Almonds: Rich in vitamin E, fiber, antioxidants and healthy fats, almonds may help reduce the risk of heart disease when eaten daily, according to published research.
Flaxseeds: The tiny flaxseed contains healthy amounts of both soluble and insoluble fibers and is the best source of plant based omega-3 fatty acids. Just a couple of tablespoons a day can help reduce cholesterol levels. To receive the greatest benefit from flaxseed, it should be ground.
Tea: Green, black or white, whatever you fancy. They all originate from the same plant and are rich in potent antioxidant flavonoids. Research has found that regular consumption of tea may help reduce the risk of heart attack and provide other cardiovascular benefits, such as lowering cholesterol. A minimum of 3 cups a day may be needed for these benefits.
Dark Chocolate and Red Wine: Like tea, these items are rich in antioxidant flavonoids which appear to provide cardiovascular health benefits. Moderation is key, however. Excessive consumption of alcohol negates any health benefits.
Oatmeal: This whole grain is rich in soluble fiber, which is thought to help reduce cholesterol absorption. Numerous studies support its ability to help lower cholesterol levels.
Plant sterols and stanols: These occur naturally in small amounts in many plant-based foods. Available in larger amounts in fortified foods, these compounds can help lower total and LDL cholesterol. They can be found in spreads, salad dressings and dietary supplements.
Soy: A recent analysis of studies on soy and heart health found it may have little or no effect on heart disease risk after all. The researchers did note that soy may be beneficial when replacing high saturated fat proteins in the diet. It still is a good source of vegetable protein, fiber, polyunsaturated fats, vitamins and minerals. Many health experts recommend choosing minimally processed soy foods such as tofu, soy nuts, tempeh, edamame and miso.
Vitamins and Minerals
Multivitamin: A study in a 2003 issue of the Journal of Nutrition found daily multivitamin users had a reduced risk of suffering from a heart attack.
B Vitamins: B12, B6 and folic acid are needed to keep homocysteine levels low. High homocysteine levels have been associated with an increased risk for heart disease.
Vitamin C: Some studies suggest vitamin C supplements may help reduce the risk of heart disease, possibly by keeping blood vessels healthy and by reducing oxidative damage to LDL cholesterol. Citrus, strawberries, kiwi, tomatoes, green and red peppers and potatoes are good dietary sources.
Vitamin E: Studies have been conflicting regarding supplemental vitamin E and heart disease protection. Good dietary sources of vitamin E include almonds, sunflower seeds, wheat germ oil, vegetable oils and green leafy vegetables. If you choose to take vitamin E supplements, look for natural, mixed tocopherols.
Magnesium: Magnesium lowers blood pressure by helping to relax the muscles that control blood vessels. Low magnesium levels can lead to abnormal heart rhythms while adequate magnesium levels have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.
Niacin: This B vitamin is commonly used to lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. In a review study, niacin was found to be as effective as some medications in the treatment and prevention of conditions associated with heart disease.
Fish Oil Supplements: Numerous studies support the use of omega-3 fats from fish oil with heart health protection. The American Heart Association recommends regular intake of oily fish or 1000 mg EPA and DHA omega-3 fish oils from supplements for those with heart disease. To lower triglycerides, 2000 to 4000 mg of EPA and DHA omega-3 fish oils are recommended.
Policosanol: Policosanol is derived from sugar cane. It can lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and raise protective HDL cholesterol. It has also been shown to inhibit clot formation and lower a substance that contributes to the constriction of blood vessels.
Chinese Red Yeast Rice: Chinese red yeast rice is a special fungus grown on rice that has been shown to have cholesterol-lowering effects. Compounds in this supplement work to reduce cholesterol synthesis in the same way that “statin” drugs work, thus similar side effects could occur. Many healthcare providers also prescribe CoQ10 to be taken with red yeast rice to help replenish depleted stores.
Gugulipid: Gugulipid is an ancient remedy made from the resin of the mukul myrrh tree of India. Compounds in gugulipid help lower both cholesterol and triglycerides. It also contains antioxidants than help reduce damage to cholesterol. (Damaged cholesterol contributes to plaque build up.)
Psyllium: This soluble fiber source is obtained from the seed husks of the plantago plant. The FDA approved health claim for psyllium states that diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 7 grams of soluble fiber per day from psyllium may reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol.
Please consult with your healthcare provider before making changes to your current regimen as some supplements can interfere with prescribed medications.
American Heart Association
Almond Board of California
Tea Association of the USA, Tea Council of the USA, & Specialty Tea InstituteHarvard School of Public Health
International Food Information Council
Linus Pauling Institute
University of Maryland Medical Center
Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health