Heart-healthy Foods and Nutritional Supplements 

Many factors influence the health of your heart and circulatory system. This includes the quality of any nutritional supplements you take, how clean your diet is, your levels of activity, and your robustness when dealing with stress.

Note: Unless otherwise specified, I have sourced a range of nutritional supplements from the U.K (via a company called Cytoplan). Please use these products as a benchmark if you are sourcing your supplements elsewhere. 

Omega-3 EPA/DHA. Whole fish oil; vegan EPA/DHA; krill oil 

Several different omega-3 fatty acids exist although the majority of cardiovascular research focuses on two main forms, EPA and DHA (which are found in plant oils, sea vegetables, seafood and cold water fish oils).

Benefits

Omega-3s are good for your heart and blood vessels in several ways.

  • They reduce triglycerides- a type of fat in your blood.
  • They reduce the risk of developing an irregular heart beat. 
  • In a similar way to aspirin, they reduce inflammation and regulate how the blood clots.  
  • They slow the buildup of plaque, a substance comprising fat, cholesterol and calcium, which hardens and blocks your arteries.
  • They help to slightly lower your blood pressure.

Risks and side effects

Consult your pharmacist or health provider if you are taking blood thinners or heart medication before taking EPA/DHA.

Recommended intake

This varies but the general rule is between 500mg – 3000mg daily (always with food).

Food sources of Omega-3 EPA/DHA

Marine omega 3 found in cold water fish e.g. 

  • Wild Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Mackerel
  • Trout
  • Herring
  • Oysters

Other sources include:

  • Seaweed
  • Spirulina 
  • Chlorella
  • Chia seeds 
  • Hemp seeds 
  • Edamame beans 

Coenzyme Q10 “CoQ10”

Although your own body makes Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), levels have been shown to decrease with age naturally. Antioxidants, such as CoQ10, can neutralise free radicals and may reduce or even help prevent some of the damage they cause. Some researchers believe that CoQ10 may help with heart-related conditions, because it can improve energy production in cells, prevent blood clotting (in addition to it acting as an antioxidant).

Benefits 

Improved heart health

Reduced muscle pain from Statin medication 

Post heart attack. In a random clinical trial, patients who received CoQ10 soon after a heart attack had a much lower rate of subsequent cardiac events over the next year than a control group (24.6 percent versus 45 percent).

High blood pressure. In an analysis of 12 clinical studies, researchers reported that CoQ10 has the potential to lower systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) by up to 17 mm Hg and diastolic pressure by 10 mm Hg without significant side effects.

Risks and side effects

While no serious side effects have been reported, mild side effects such as insomnia or digestive upset may occur with high-dose supplementation.

Recommended intake

You may see CoQ10 supplements under the names “ubiquinone” or “ubiquinol.”

Ubiquinol tends to be better absorbed than ubiquinone. It should be taken with a meal that contains fat to increase absorption. Since there is no established recommended dose for CoQ10, follow the directions from the supplement company or talk with your health care provider about if and how much CoQ10 supplementation may be appropriate for you.

Food sources of CoQ10

Foods that contain CoQ10 include:

  • Oily fish: wild salmon, sardines, trout, mackerel
  • Some plant-based foods: soybeans, lentils, peanuts, pistachios and canola oil

Red Yeast Rice

Red yeast rice is produced by fermentation of a specific type of yeast on rice. The active ingredient in red yeast rice, Monacolin K, is structurally identical to the statin medication lovastatin, which helps slow the production of cholesterol in the body. Many studies show that a combination of good quality red rice yeast taken with vitamin C can have the same effect as statin medication…without the side effects. 

Quality Matters: Red yeast rice can be effective in lowering elevated cholesterol, but the amount of monacolin K in red yeast rice supplements can vary considerably. Product labels normally do not list the amount of lovastatin, so it’s hard to know how much of the active ingredient the supplement contains and whether it will be effective.

Risks and side effects

If poor quality, Red yeast rice products can contain significant amounts of monacolin K – this can have the same potential side effects as statin drugs, including muscle, kidney and liver damage. They may also cause digestive problems. Moreover,  Consumer Lab found that 30% of red yeast rice products contain a contaminant called citrinin, which is toxic and can damage the kidneys.

Recommended intake

100-200mg of red rice yeast daily. 

Similar to statin drugs, it is best to take red yeast rice in the evening.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that is crucial for great health.  It is often called the sunshine vitamin, because our body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin. 

Research shows that chronic heart failure is often linked to vitamin D deficiency (with very low levels associated with more negative health outcomes). 

Vitamin D also works with calcium and phosphorus to build and maintain strong bones, supports muscle and nerve function and is necessary for a healthy immune system (which, in turn, protects the heart and blood vessels).

Risks and side effects

Very high levels of vitamin D in your blood can cause high blood calcium levels and lead to nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, confusion, dehydration, kidney stones and cardiovascular events. In addition, cholesterol-lowering statins might not work as well if you take high-dose vitamin D supplements.

Recommended intake

The main source of vitamin D in humans is from a chemical reaction that occurs when our skin is exposed to the sun. However, clouds, smog, old age and having dark-coloured skin reduce the amount of vitamin D your skin makes.

In general, it is important to get at least 20 minutes of daylight onto hands, face and into the eyes daily (no glasses or contact lenses allowed).  

Dose: All teens and adults should supplement 10ug (400iu) everyday between October and the Spring (the official month is March but common sense should be applied, since March sunshine ‘quality’ will vary year on year). If over the age of 65, the recommendation is this dose is taken all year around – especially if indoors more, not exposed to consistent sunlight and if experiencing illness. 

All pregnant, breastfeeding women and at-risk groups (such as people from ethnic minority groups with dark skin, elderly people in care homes and those who wear clothing that cover most of the skin) should take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms (400iu) of Vitamin D all year around.

However, consider that many people in the UK do not get good access to consistent sunlight due to work (offices) and ‘typical British’ summer weather (cloudy days and rain).

Food sources of vitamin D

  • Fatty fish: wild salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines
  • Egg yolks
  • Some Mushrooms

Magnesium 

Your heart cells have 17 times more magnesium in them than any other cell in your body. This is because your heart, as a muscle, must be able to contract and relax without getting tired. 

Magnesium plays an important role in cardiovascular health. It is instrumental for the proper maintenance of cellular membrane potential, functioning of the mitochondria (energy production) and plays a key role in the body’s anti oxidative pathways. Magnesium may also help to lower blood pressure levels and reduce several risk factors for heart disease. 

Risks and side effects

In some people, magnesium might cause upset stomach, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. 

Recommended intake

300-400mg of elemental magnesium daily. 

Cytoplans Magnesium Bisglycinate capsules are a gentle and easily absorbed form of magnesium with excellent bioavailability.  

Magnesium, in bisglycinate form, is particularly helpful for supporting sleep, relaxation and hormonal balance including menopause and perimenopause symptoms.  Improved absorption also helps with heart health. 

It is particularly gentle on the digestive system, making it an ideal choice for those who may not be able to tolerate other forms of magnesium well. 

Food sources of magnesium 

Pumpkin seeds

Chia seeds 

Almonds 

Butter beans 

Cacao 

Edamame beans 

Quinoa 

Dark green leafy vegetables 

Dark chocolate 

Lifestyle

Many lifestyle factors influence your heart and circulation. One main factor is this pesky thing that we call ‘STRESS’. 

The stress bucket analogy 

The stress bucket represents an individual’s level of stress tolerance. The size of the bucket largely depends upon a person’s physiology, personality and life experiences. 

Everyone has a different size bucket, which remains unchanged. The water level in the bucket represents the sum of all stresses in an individual’s life at that time. People who have larger buckets can hold more water (i.e. have a greater tolerance for stress) than those with smaller buckets.

If the bucket overflows, health problems often develop, including cardiovascular disease. To keep the water in the bucket from overflowing, individuals use the coping strategies readily available to them. Coping strategies act similar to taps in the bucket to drain the water. Effective taps (e.g., healthy lifestyle choices, such as we’ve discussed above, adequate sleep and regular physical activity), decrease the amount of water in the bucket and relieve stress. Faulty taps (e.g., poor diet, smoking, vaping, alcohol and drug abuse) provide temporary relief, but ultimately result in more water flowing into the individual’s bucket. Physical (and mental health problems) develop when the water in the bucket repeatedly overflows.

Coping Methods

Stress management techniques include meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing exercise, mental imagery, progressive muscle relaxation and in some cases, psychotherapy. 

In recent years, the role that moderate-to-vigorous exercise plays in stress management has gained increasing attention.  For this reason, exercising for 30 minutes, fives times each week, becomes a valuable tool to reduce the harmful effects that stress can bring to your body, especially your heart and cardiovascular system.  

For more Healthy Habits, head to our blog.

Ali Holden

by Ali Holden

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