Thomas Barnard, MD
Ask yourself, "What is the one health challenge that most Canadians will face?" The answer is always heart disease. Heart disease is the most likely condition to shorten lifespan and affect quality of lif.
Ask yourself, "What is the one health challenge that most Canadians will face?"
The answer is always heart disease. Heart disease is the most likely condition to shorten lifespan and affect quality of life. But, as Dr James Friese demonstrated in his famous Stanford-based study, leading a healthy lifestyle, eating a diet rich in heart-healthy nutrients will reduce our risk of heart disease. In fact, it was Dr Friese who coined the term, "compression of morbidity": we can make our "health span equal our lifespan."
In order to achieve this goal, my advice is simple add preventive supplements to a healthy diet and exercise routine. The proven value in heart disease prevention through the use of supplements and botanicals cannot be ignored.
Preventive nutrients for the heart include both B vitamins and antioxidants. B vitamins such as B6, B12 and folic acid protect us from the accumulation of the toxic amino acid homocysteine, which causes the build-up of plaque in arteries. Antioxidants such as vitamins A and C can protect our cholesterol from oxidation and provide ongoing protection from the free radical damage at the cellular level. This impacts directly on the arterial wall integrity, on the cardiac muscle cell and its energy-producing machinery, the mitochondria.
Niacin or nicotinic acid is a B vitamin that plays an important role in lowering cholesterol levels and improving circulation. It's most effective in increasing levels of beneficial high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol as well as reducing triglycerides. (Use a flush-free form of niacin to avoid the unpleasant histamine release that can result in itchy, burning skin.)
Vitamin E with mixed tocopherols appears useful in primary prevention of arterial disease. It protects fats and fatty cholesterol from free radical damage and reduces unhealthy low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. It decreases plaque formation in the arteries and can help reduce blood pressure. Vitamin E is best used in combination with adequate, but not excessive selenium and vitamin C. Vitamin C rejuvenates the fat-soluble vitamin E, extending its protective capabilities.
Coenzyme Q10 is vital to the functioning of the mitochondria in each cell of the heart. The essential fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids in fish oils, algae species and flax oil are powerful cardioprotectants. The average diet lacks sufficient quantities of essential fatty acids that are found in cold-water fish and in freshly pressed flax oil.
Botanicals also play an important role in heart health. Gingko biloba enhances circulation and increases oxygen availability at the tissue level. Ginseng appears to enhance glucose utilization and reduce insulin resistance. The latter's benefit decreases damage to the microcirculation, which protects the energy-producing capacity of the heart muscle tissue. The use of an aged garlic extract, in combination with a healthy diet, provides additional antioxidant protection. It lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, reduces the tendency for excessive clotting in the blood and may decrease inflammation, which is being recognized as a factor in reducing the development of heart disease.
Remember that all the supplements in the world don't replace the benefits of a healthy, whole food diet and regular exercise. A healthy diet includes fresh, organic and nutrient-rich green vegetables, especially broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage and the dark green leafy plants kale and chard. Eat plenty of whole grains, cold-water fish, legumes, nuts and seeds. In the Nurses Health Study followed at Harvard University, a handful of walnuts taken a few times a week decreased cardiac deaths by 30 per cent. Fitness helps to control blood pressure, prevent weight gain and improve glucose tolerance, thereby lowering insulin levels. Try to incorporate 30 minutes of exercise three to four times a week. Get your body moving every day. The current epidemic of diabetes and obesity in Canada, often leading to heart disease, must be addressed. A full 50 per cent of our population fails to exercise to minimally acceptable levels.
What You Need to Know
If you are currently taking heart medications but would like to supplement with some of the preventive nutrients mentioned above, here's what you need to know: