The heart is one of the most vital organs of your body. It is a muscular organ which serves as your very own internal "pump". This fist-size pump may seem to be a small part of you, but it is responsible for the transportation of oxygen and nutrients throughout the different tissues and organs of your body via blood circulation.
You only have one heart. Unlike other organs that come in pairs like the lungs, kidneys, ovaries and eyes, you heart has no backup in case it failsâ€¦ no "plan B" should it stop working. Unless you have millions of Pesos to pay for risky heart surgery, it's best to just take care and keep your one and only heart - together with the other organs and tissues of the cardiovascular system - in tip top shape.
Keeping your overall health in mint condition naturally gives you a healthy heart. However, there are some people, no matter how young and healthy they look physically, are genetically more inclined to develop cardiovascular problems like hypertension and heart disease. There are also those who just don't want to risk messing up with their only blood pump, so keeping it healthy is a priority.
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For those who want to keep extra care of their heart, here's some good news for you: science has been able to pinpoint certain nutrients that can contribute to the well-being of your cardiovascular system. These are called "heart vitamins" and can be found both naturally in food and in your local pharmacy in form of oral supplements. By including heart vitamins in your daily diet, you get a better chance of fighting the onset of heart disease and other cardiovascular problems.
Here are some of the most known and widely-recommended heart vitamins available today:
Vitamin B6 (also called pyridoxine), Vitamin B9 (also known as folate or folic acid), and Vitamin B12 (also called cobalamine or cyanocobalamine in supplement form) are the B Vitamins that are responsible for helping the body remove homocysteine (i.e. an amino acid used normally by the body in cellular metabolism and the manufacture of proteins) from the blood. Elevated concentrations of homocysteine in the blood may increase risk of developing heart disease by enhancing blood clotting and damaging blood vessel lining.
Vitamin B3 (known commonly as niacin) has also been seen by some studies as a B vitamin that may improve heart health. According to some studies, Vitamin B3 helps reduce bad cholesterol and increases levels of the good type. Lower cholesterol levels (the bad type) contributes in achieving good heart health.
Naturally, you can find most of the B vitamins in whole, unprocessed foods, especially meat and meat products like liver and tuna. Other good sources for B vitamins are whole grains, potatoes, bananas and beans. It is recommended to have 50mg of Vitamin B3 and B6, 1,000-2,000 mcg of Vitamin B12 and about 400 mcg of Vitamin B9 everyday.
All B vitamins are water-soluble, meaning they can easily be destroyed by cooking and any form of heating, so we are encouraged to replenish them regularly. If you think you can't get the recommended daily allowance from food, there are affordable oral supplements available in local pharmacies.
Vitamin C (better known as ascorbic acid) not only keeps you resistant from colds and flu, it also helps prevent heart disease, hypertension and other cardiovascular ailments through its "antioxidant" abilities.
To explain what an antioxidant is, you first need to know about free radicals. Free radicals are just really by-products of the body when it metabolizes food. They can also be absorbed by our bodies when we are exposed to negative environmental agents like tobacco, pollution or radiation. Free radicals are harmful to us because they start chain reactions that damage cells. They have also been seen to contribute in the development of deadly diseases such as premature aging, cancer and heart disease.
Now, "antioxidants" are the arch nemesis of free radicals. They prevent these cell-damaging chain reactions from happening in the first place, thus protecting the body from potential damage and dreadful diseases. Vitamin C happens to be one of the easiest to find antioxidants that can keep our cells away from the effects of free radicals.
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Vitamin C can be found in many citrus fruits and vegetables naturally, but if you can't keep track of what you eat, you may take ascorbic acid supplements readily available in pharmacies and even in grocery stores nationwide. You may also get your daily dose of its antioxidant goodness from bottled juices and iced tea drinks, just read the label to know how much you're getting. Ensure you take about 3,000 mgs of Vitamin C daily to help keep your heart healthy.
Whoever said that the only thing you get from Vitamin E is great skin?
Vitamin E is actually one of the most important and powerful antioxidants, which as explained earlier, helps prevent cell damage and heart disease. It's a fat-soluble vitamin that exists in different forms - the most active being "alpha-tocopherol". This vitamin is actually a blood thinner as well, so it helps improve blood circulation and reduces the risks of clot formation. It also reduces cholesterol levels and artery-clogging saturated fat. Even after a heart attack, Vitamin E can still be beneficial to a patient, as it helps minimize scarring after the attack.
Actually, there have been a good number of studies conducted to figure out the role of Vitamin E supplements in preventing heart disease. One of the most striking findings reported was from a 1993 study that claimed taking Vitamin E can lower the rate of coronary heart disease by about 30 to 40%. Although there were those that argued about the benefits of taking the known standard dosage (which is 400IU) as being too high that it could just do the opposite, the antioxidant benefits of Vitamin E still cannot be ignored. According to a Johns Hopkins University meta-analysis published in January 2005, taking 200 IU or less of Vitamin E has been seen to offer potential benefit for the heart.
Like all our other heart vitamins, Vitamin E occurs naturally in food sources and in supplement form. The standard dosage of Vitamin E supplements is 400IU a day, but if we will take into account the findings such as that of the Hopkins analysis, you may choose to cut the dosage in half per day. What is important is to note that since Vitamin E is a natural blood thinner, you should consult your doctor before buying your supplements.
Coenzyme Q10, called "Co Q10" for short, is also known as "ubiquinone". It's technically not a vitamin or a mineral, but research has recognized it to be an essential part of the heart's healthy regimen. Coenzyme Q10's has been reported to increase oxygen supply to the heart and re-energizes its cells.
CoQ10 was discovered in 1957 by Dr. Frederick Crane, Ph.D. After 4 years, Dr. Peter D. Mitchell, Ph.D. was able to figure out how Coenzyme Q10 produces energy at the cellular level. He won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1978 for this discovery.
CoQ10 is found in different types of food but only organ meats have been seen to contain significant amounts. Unfortunately, not many people like eating organ meats. It can also be produced by your own body within the cell's mitochondria (i.e. the place where energy is produced), however, your natural ability to produce this decreases as you age or when you contract disease. This is why doctors can prescribe Co Q10 supplements to serve as complementary treatment for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and angina. For a healthy heart, take about 150mg of Co Q10 daily.
Patients who have recently suffered from a heart attack - where spasms of the arteries are the culprit - have been found to contain low levels of magnesium. Magnesium supplements can help stabilize heart rhythm and reduce a patient's susceptibility to having another heart attack.
Magnesium is abundant in food that is rich in the green pigment of plants called chlorophyll. Barley grass and wheatgrass have naturally high amounts of Magnesium. You can also find this mineral in common multivitamins. Make sure you get about 750 mgs of Magnesium in a day for optimum heart health.
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Selenium is another important antioxidant that helps strengthen the heart. It is a trace mineral that also protects the body from cancer and heavy metal toxicity. As an anti-oxidant, it helps prevent cellular damage.
Plant foods grown in Selenium-rich soil are great sources of this mineral, but if you know you don't get enough of it daily, supplements can be taken. The average daily requirement of Selenium is 55 mcg.
Manganese is a catalyst in cholesterol and fatty acid synthesis. It facilitates metabolism of carbohydrates and proteins and aids production of sex hormones.
Manganese is another trace mineral and antioxidant, just like Selenium. Studies have found that "good cholesterol" or HDL levels is low in adults deficient in manganese. The recommended daily allowance of manganese is 1.8 mg for women and 2.3 mg for men.
There are many other vitamins and minerals (like chromium, lecithin and potassium) that contribute to cardiovascular health and may be considered as heart vitamins. Consult your cardiologist to know which ones are best for you.
Food Supplements Rich in Heart Vitamins
Many heart vitamins can be isolated and taken in as an oral supplement individually or as part of a multivitamin, but wouldn't it be great to find a food supplement derived from natural extracts that can provide bulk of these heart vitamins in a single dose? Luckily, there have been studies conducted to discover the array of beneficial properties from consuming natural supplements such as garlic, grape seed and fish oils. Let's discuss the merits of these heart-friendly food supplements one by one:
Garlic does not only make most Filipino food taste delicious, it also beneficial for the heart. It promotes healthy blood circulation, helps lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure naturally.
A German study also found that garlic also greatly reduces plaque generation in the arteries. It not only inhibits the formation of plaque, it also induces relaxation and enlargement of the blood vessels. This lowers blood pressure and improves blood circulation throughout the body.
Garlic undoubtedly lowers cholesterol at the same time. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) published in a report saying that garlic can lower cholesterol up to 9% by simply consuming a half to one clove of garlic a day.
Garlic is also remarkably high in antioxidants, especially vitamins C, E and selenium. As discussed earlier in this article, all three antioxidants lessen the amount of free radicals in our bloodstream. According to a study published in Life Sciences, taking in 1 ml per kilogram body weight of garlic extract daily for six months resulted in a significantly lower amount of free radicals in the blood of patients with atherosclerosis.
You can eat as much garlic as you can from food, but you'll have to contend with the pungent smell in your mouth afterwards. For those who do not want the nasty after breath, garlic oil supplements are already available in pharmacies.
The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that people with heart disease should increase their dietary intake of fish, but since not everyone can consume fish everyday, fish oil supplements containing Omega 3 fatty acids can be considered as an alternative.
Fish oil is has been known to provide benefits for the cardiovascular system. First of all, it helps lower high triglycerides and can slightly increase your body's "good cholesterol" or HDL levels. Aside from this, fish oil also helps lower blood pressure, just like garlic oil. Some researchers even think that fish oil can treat irregular heart beat (also known as "arrhythmia"), although evidence is still inconclusive.
Actually, the superstar ingredient of fish oil is Omega 3. Omega 3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid found in cold-water fish (like tuna or salmon), romaine lettuce, primrose, spinach, and flax seed oil. It is a long-chain fatty acids composed of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eiosapentaenoic acid (EPA). EPA and DHA both help improve the electrical activity of the heart, regulate blood pressure, improve muscle tone, and prevent progression of plaque build up.
People who live in Greenland - known to be consumers of fatty fish - can attest to the benefits of Omega 3. Among all the groups of people in the world, they tend to have lower cholesterol, less atherosclerosis, less clots, and better blood pressure readings than anyone else! Omega 3 fatty acids are so effective in keeping us away from cardiovascular diseases like stroke and hypertension, that the American Heart Association (AHA) officially endorses their inclusion in the diet.
For healthy people, the AHA recommends a daily dose of 500 mgs of EPA plus DHA (equivalent to at least two servings of fatty fish a week). For those who already have heart disease, 800 to 1,000 mgs of EPA plus DHA is recommended. Be careful in consuming fish (or choosing a brand of fish oil supplement), though, as mercury contamination is a risk. The fish with the highest potential for contamination include king mackerel, swordfish, shark and tile fish.
Grape Seed Extract
Grape seed extract or grape seed oil contains essential fatty acids that help in a myriad of ways: preventing heart disease and arthritis, lowering blood pressure and "bad" cholesterol levels, and maintaining your weight. Grape seed oil also assists in normal cell metabolism and lowers free radical content in our blood (it is high in antioxidants like Vitamin E).
According to studies conducted by research cardiologist Dr. David T. Nash, subjects who included a small amount of grape seed oil in the 4-week low-fat diet experienced an increase in their good cholesterol levels (HDL) by 13%. The same subjects also experienced a decrease in their bad cholesterol levels (LDL) by 7%.
Since we don't normally eat the seeds of grapes, supplements in capsule form are available in pharmacies. Recommended daily intake of grape seed extract is between 150 to 300 mgs.
Love your Heart with Heart Vitamins
Heart vitamins certainly help you achieve optimal cardiovascular health, but it should be coupled by proper low fat diet, ample exercise and a healthy lifestyle. Other external factors like smoking, stress and exposure to pollution can cause cell deterioration and must be avoided as much as possible.
Most importantly, consult your cardiologist for more information about heart vitamins.