Heart Health

New Heart Health Research

 I’ve come across a couple new heart health studies that I wanted to share. Heart health isn’t a “trending” subject when it comes to supplements, but is really important when you consider that heart disease still remains the number one cause of death in the United States. Below are two supplements that are not traditionally thought of as things for heart health, but that have been researched lately with interesting results.

Beets and beet juice have been popular lately, and a new study confirms their benefits for heart health and increasing blood flow. The study followed people with something called reduced ejection fraction, which means that the heart isn’t contracting effectively and is not providing enough oxygen rich blood to the body. It’s a condition often seen with heart failure and can impact activity since your heart literally is not working to circulate enough oxygen needed for body and brain function.

In the study, the people using the beet juice supplement had significant increases in oxygen uptake during exercise and they were able to exercise longer and remain more active. Frequently athletes will take beet juice supplements for this reason, though the benefits can be seen for most adults, particularly older adults or people with heart issues. The nice thing about supplementing with a beet juice supplement is that there are no negative side effects. Beets are also a fantastic antioxidant

Another study on calcium found that people with lower levels of calcium in the blood had increased rates of sudden cardiac arrest. Sudden cardiac arrest is fatal in 90 percent of cases and the majority of people experiencing sudden cardiac arrest had no history of heart disease or other high risk warning signs.

Calcium is a tricky thing since it’s necessary for the body, but too much can also be a problem. Calcium supplements should always be taken in divided doses of no more than 500mg at a time, since that is all the body can absorb at once. Also, not all calcium supplements are created equal, so be sure you’re taking a well absorbing form.

 

Supplement Spotlight: Garlic

We’re usually always excited to read about supplements that are new or “hot” at the moment, but I wanted to write instead this month about a supplement that has been around for ages, but none the less, has many benefits that deserve to be reexamined- garlic.

Most of us eat garlic occasionally, and are vaguely aware of its health benefits, but I wanted to write about its many benefits when used as part of a daily supplement regimen.

Garlic for cardiovascular health

One of garlic’s most interesting benefits is for helping to prevent atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the thickening or hardening of the arteries caused by a buildup of fats and cholesterol (plaque) on the artery walls, which then restricts blood flow. These arterial plaques can then burst, causing blood clots.

Atherosclerosis often happens with age, but it’s definitely something to be avoided! Garlic can prevent these problems by reducing cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood, but also by inhibiting platelet stickiness.

Garlic supplementation has been found to reduce the size of plaque deposits in animal studies by fifty percent. One double blind human study found that a dosage of 900mg per day of garlic extract “significantly slowed the development of atherosclerosis when measured by an ultrasound”. Another human garlic study measured the flexibility of the aorta (the body’s main artery) in two hundred participants and reported that those who took garlic supplements had more flexibility in their arteries, which indicated a lower rate of atherosclerosis.

Garlic for preventing heart attacks

Garlic also can help to prevent heart attacks. In research, participants who had already suffered a heart attack that used garlic supplements had a reduced risk of a second heart attack, and a fifty percent lower death rate. Garlic works to prevent heart attacks by stimulating a process in the body in which blood clots are dissolved. Because of this action, garlic supplements should not be taken by people using prescription blood thinners without speaking to their doctor.

Garlic and high blood pressure

Benefits for high blood pressure have also been found after taking aged garlic extract supplements. Studies have shown that taking garlic supplements twice a day were able to lower their systolic blood pressure by twelve points.

Garlic for boosting the immune system

Garlic is great for the immune system and works in part by helping to activate the body’s macrophages- a specific type of white blood cell that literally ingests and destroys harmful microorganisms. There have been numerous studies on garlic’s benefit to the immune system, and ability to significantly increase the numbers of germ eating macrophages in the bloodstream.

Garlic for cancer prevention

Garlic can also aid in cancer prevention since it has compounds which stop tumor formation as well as inhibiting the spread of tumors. Garlic has been shown to reduce the occurrence of a variety of cancers, including colon, prostate, and stomach cancer.

 

Even with all these benefits, however, no one wants to reek of garlic.  Eating too much raw garlic can cause stomach upset and may keep people from wanting to stand too close to you. Thankfully, there are odorless garlic supplements available that can impart the benefits of garlic without your neighbors knowing about it. My favorite garlic supplements are the aged garlic supplements by Kyolic. Aging garlic removes its odor while retaining its health benefits; in fact, aged garlic has been shown to be significantly higher in active beneficial compounds than raw garlic. I take Kyolic garlic on a regular basis, and can absolutely attest to it being odor free.

The Importance of Exercise: More than Just Weight Loss

With spring in full swing, I wanted to write about exercise, since April is a great time to begin an exercise regimen with such nice mild weather outside.  First, I wanted to say that I think it’s a good idea to start thinking of exercise in a different way.  We usually think of exercise as connected with weight loss, and while exercise and weight loss do go hand and hand, it seems to me that connecting exercising with trying to lose weight can put exercise in a negative light, as something that can almost be a discouragement and easily set aside as “too hard” or too large of a problem to overcome.

If we begin to shift our thinking from the idea of exercising to lose weight to instead, deciding to make a change to a healthier, more active lifestyle, I think it can make a real difference.  “Dieting” can feel like such a negative thing, and can be something that’s difficult to maintain.  For example, my dad (I hope he doesn’t mind me writing about him) was overweight for years, and would joke every week about how he was, “restarting his diet” each Monday- something which never stuck.  Then, a couple years ago, he and his wife decided to make a change, and they took up biking.  At 73, he has gone from being overweight and unhealthy to biking huge distances, sometimes up to 50 miles at a time!  I am amazed by him, and really proud.  I wanted to tell his story as an example that anyone can make a change, today, and turn their life around to a healthy, active life, no matter how sedentary you may be.   It doesn’t happen overnight, but it won’t happen if you don’t start.

Being active is about much more than weight loss- exercise is one of the top ways to prevent heart disease.  Exercise improves blood flow, lowers blood pressure, and strengthens the heart, all of which lead to a longer life!  The official recommendations for exercise are 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise a week.  That number seems like a lot, but is completely doable when broken up into small minutes each day.

Many people say that they don’t have enough energy to exercise.  If that’s the case, supplements like ginseng can really help.  Ginseng is a herb used for thousands of years for vitality and stamina and is something that can help you to get going in the morning.  In fact the German science commission has approved ginseng’s use in reducing fatigue.  Studies have shown that ginseng helps with increasing stamina during exercise, allowing a person to sustain aerobic activity for a longer period of time with less fatigue.  A typical dose is two five hundred milligram capsules first thing in the morning.  Ginseng is slightly more effective on an empty stomach, though it can be taken with food.

Another supplement that can be helpful for people starting an exercise regimen is CoQ10.  CoQ10 is most well known for its benefits to heart health, though it is also useful for improving stamina and energy during exercise and even helping with improving recovery after exercise.  CoQ10 has so many proven benefits and is a supplement everyone would benefit from.  If you’re interested, you can search “CoQ10” on our website for many, many articles on the benefits of CoQ10. 

The standard dosage is 100mg per day.  CoQ10 is a fat-soluble vitamin, so it should be taken with food for the best absorption.  We currently have a buy one, get one free two pack of CoQ10 by Natural Factors at Pass Health Foods which is a really great deal.

The last recommendation I would make would have to do with protein.  After exercising, particularly strenuous exercise or exercise where you’ve worked your body hard, it’s a good idea to use a protein shake.  There is a “magic window” of 45 minutes after exercise where ingested protein can make a real difference for muscle repair and synthesis.  That protein does not need to be in the form of a protein shake, though I have found protein shakes to be the most convenient after exercise, since they’re simple and fast. 

If you consume dairy products, whey protein is a fantastic, easily absorbed protein source, and the company Jarrow has a line of whey protein powders which are very high quality as well as a good value.  If you’re dairy-free, as I am, I’d very much recommend Garden of Life’s Organic Plant Protein.  It’s the one I use, and I really love it.  Also, while supplies last we have a number of really nice shaker cups that are free with any full size Garden of Life protein powder.  I use a shaker cup all the time; you can put a serving of protein powder in a shaker cup to take along with you when exercising at the gym and then add water and drink immediately after exercising, since protein shakes are best when drunk right after mixing.  Protein shakes taste best when mixed with milk or in a smoothie, but they are perfectly acceptable when mixed with water- plus it’s easier and has less calories.

Finally, I want to say two more things- the first is that exercise can be enjoyable, and not everyone likes the same things.  We live in an area with a huge amount of paved forest preserve trails, and Lake Katherine and Swallow Cliff are nearby as well.  If you don’t like biking, try walking, or running, or hiking.  Numerous studies have shown the benefits to stress relief simply by being outdoors, and even more have shown exercise’s ability reduce stress and improve mood.

In closing, I again want to encourage you to start being more active and to begin to add exercise as a regular component to your day!  Nothing happens overnight, but it all starts with a choice, and taking that first step.   Good luck!

 

If you’re interested in further information, here are two of our past articles that go into more detail about protein shakes:

Exercise and Protein Shakes

Protein Shakes for Weight Loss

 

Women's Heart Heath

Q: I have an acquaintance, a woman who was only 42, die suddenly of a heart attack recently.  It's really scared me and has made me worried about my own heart health.  Is there anything you would recommend to protect the heart and prevent heart attacks, particularly for women?


A: Women age 50 and younger are twice as likely to die of heart attacks then men.  Part of the problem is that diagnosing heart attacks in women is more difficult and less clear cut than the heart attack symptoms men typically experience.  One reason women are more likely to die from a first heart attack is that women often attribute pain from a heart attack to non-cardiac causes. Men will usually have textbook crushing pain in the chest during a heart attack, while women can have a variety of symptoms: pain just under the breastbone, or abdominal pain, indigestion, difficulty breathing, nausea and unexplained fatigue. 
 
The main risk factors for heart disease and heart attacks are high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, being overweight and not being physically active.  Almost everyone can reduce or eliminate those risks with diet and lifestyle changes.   Certain supplements can also be very helpful in reducing the risk of heart disease and heart attacks.  There are a number of effective supplements which work well in lowering cholesterol, and red yeast rice is one of the most popular.  Red yeast rice works in the body similarly to a statin, but without the many debilitating side effects that statins have.  I know of a number of regulars at Pass Health Foods who have taken it with good results, particularly the Nature’s Plus brand of Red Yeast Rice, since it’s an extended release formula.
 
Fish oil is also helpful for the heart in a number of ways.   It can help to encourage a regular, stable heartbeat.  It also helps to promote elasticity in the artery walls and can lower cholesterol levels, especially triglycerides.  When shopping for a fish oil supplement, it’s important to note that not all fish oil supplements are equal.  Be sure to look for products that say they have been tested for mercury and lead or that have been molecularly distilled to ensure they are free of heavy metals and other contaminants.  Another crucial thing with fish oil is to find a product with the highest amount of EPA and DHA, the beneficial parts of omega 3 fatty acids per pill; it will list it on the “supplement facts” portion of the label.  The best I’ve found that has the highest amount of EPA/DHA per pill is a company called Solgar with their Omega 950.  Its potency is comparable with prescription fish oil.
 
For high blood pressure, an easy thing to do to help lower it is drinking hibiscus tea.  One study compared drinking 16 oz of hibiscus tea in the morning to taking a popular hypertensive drug.  After four weeks the results were statistically similar, reducing diastolic blood pressure (the lower blood pressure number) by 10 points.  Another study found that drinking 3 cups of hibiscus tea lowered the systolic blood pressure (the top number in the blood pressure reading) by an average of 7 points.  Hibiscus tea is delicious, particularly Republic of Tea’s flavored hibiscus teas, and it’s also caffeine free and full of antioxidants.
 
CoQ10 is another supplement that’s great for protecting the heart.  CoQ10 works in the mitochondria of our cells, which are literally the cells powerhouses.  CoQ10 helps give the cells the energy they need to run.  Without sufficient CoQ10 cells can literally starve for energy, weaken and die.  This is especially notable since the heart has the most mitochondria per cell, and therefore needs the most CoQ10.  The body produces its own CoQ10, but those amounts decrease as we age.  Certain drugs, especially cholesterol medications like statins, further impede the production of CoQ10, so if you take cholesterol-lowering medication it’s especially important to supplement with CoQ10. 

Another benefit from CoQ10 is that it helps to prevent LDL, or bad cholesterol, from oxidizing.  There is quite a bit of new research suggesting it isn’t total cholesterol that is necessarily the problem, but rather the amount of oxidized cholesterol.  Cholesterol that oxidizes becomes sticky and is the type of cholesterol that sticks to the arteries and begins to form plaque, which reduces the diameter of arteries and makes it easier for clots
to get stuck and cause a heart attack or stroke.
 
There are a lot of other supplements I could mention, but for space I’ll just mention one more of my favorites- vitamin K2.  Vitamin K is best known for its work in helping to ensure proper blood clotting; it also has another lesser known benefit.  Research has found that vitamin K, especially in the K2 form, works almost like how a police offer would direct traffic, telling calcium in the body to go into the bones and to stay out of the arteries, preventing calcification of the arteries.  Studies have shown that higher levels of vitamin K2 in the body correspond to lower rates of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and lower rates of death from cardiovascular disease and heart attacks.

Berberine: An Amazing New Supplement for Diabetes and High Cholesterol

Q: I’ve read a couple articles recently about the supplement berberine for type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol- two problems I have.  The things I’ve read sound almost too good to be true. I wanted to see if you had information about berberine and diabetes, since I don’t want to buy something that doesn’t really work.

A: Berberine is a little-known supplement that has been gaining popularity for its amazing benefits for diabetics as well as people dealing with high cholesterol.  Berberine has been touted lately as a wonder supplement, but I’m happy to report that the science actually does back up the hype around berberine, especially for diabetics.

Berberine has been the subject of several recent scientific studies for diabetes.  Scientists concluded that taking berberine, at a dose of five hundred milligrams two to three times a day, was shown to be as effective as three different prescription oral diabetes medications for lowering blood sugar.  The researchers reported that berberine had “identical effects in the regulation of blood sugar” when compared to the top diabetes medications for type 2 diabetics.  

In another study in patients with type 2 diabetes, five hundred milligrams twice a day of berberine lowered fasting blood sugar  from just above the range of being classified as diabetes (i.e., 126ml/dL) to normal blood sugar levels (less than 100mg/dL) in most people.

Similar positive results were observed in studies focusing on people with high cholesterol and high triglycerides.  A review of the current studies also determined that berberine was safe to take in conjunction with prescription medications for the above issues, and produced better results than the medications alone.  In one placebo-controlled trial, berberine lowered triglyceride levels by 35.9 percent, LDL cholesterol by 21 percent, and total cholesterol by 18 percent.  The participants in the study that took berberine also experienced lower blood pressure as well as weight and abdominal fat loss.

The accumulating research on berberine is really showing it to be an impressive supplement and one that would be of benefit to many people, particularly those with blood sugar or cholesterol issues.  The recommended dosage is typically five hundred milligrams two to three times a day.  Berberine has also been shown to be well tolerated, and without side effects with the exception of constipation for some people at higher dosages.  For people who do experience constipation after taking berberine in higher dosages usually experience relief if they reduce their dose.

So, to answer your question, yes, the science backs up the many benefits of berberine, and no, it is not too good to be true!  I would recommend the Natural Factors brand of berberine, known as WellBetX Berberine, since it contains the 500 milligram dose used in the above research studies.  Also, since I’m writing about berberine this month, we will be offering the Natural Factors brand berberine on sale for the month of March at the store for 25% off.  If you have type 2 diabetes or issues with high triglycerides, I would very much recommend giving it a try!
 


The Many Benefits of CoQ10: An Overview

February is heart month, and out of the many amazing supplements for heart health available I think if there is one that really stands out (and that I think everyone should be taking) its CoQ10.  I’ve written about CoQ10 numerous times, so I thought I would link a few of our past articles below regarding its many benefits.  I wanted to highlight it because we have Carlson’s CoQ10 on sale this February for 25% off (they’re really a fantastic company).

Below are a sampling of past articles from our health blog that feature CoQ10:

Heart Health Supplements

Gum Disease

Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure

Cholesterol, Red Yeast Rice, and CoQ10
 

Pterostilbene: The Power of 2,000 Cups of Blueberries

At the store, we make it a point to keep up to date about new supplements and research and then pass that information on to our customers, so I wanted to write about a new supplement called pterostilbene (pronounced terro-still-bean).  This strangely named supplement is an incredible antioxidant.

Pterostilbene is a nutrient found in blueberries that is closely related to resveratrol.  Research has even shown it to be more potent that than the well known anti-aging nutrient resveratrol, since it works in the body six times longer than resveratrol supplements, and is also better absorbed.  One capsule of Carlson’s pterostilbene has the antioxidant power of 2,000 cups of blueberries- an almost unbelievable amount.  Research has shown benefits for heart health, cholesterol, brain function, and more from pterostilbene.

This February we will be offering Carlson’s Pterostilbene on sale for 25% off.  It’s a fantastic new supplement that we’re very excited about, so this is a great time to give it a try.


Olive Leaf Extract for Blood Pressure and Immune Health

I wanted to write about olive leaf, since it’s a little known supplement that deserves a bit more recognition.  Olive leaf’s two main benefits are for blood pressure and immune function, though it also has benefits for lowering cholesterol, cancer prevention, and reducing cognitive decline.

Blood Pressure

The beneficial extract in olive leaf is oleuropein.  Oleuropein works extremely well for lowering blood pressure.  One recent study measured olive leaf supplementation against the blood pressure drug Captopril and found that olive leaf extract worked just as well as the prescription.  After eight weeks both groups had significantly lowered blood pressure and there was no significant difference between the two groups.  The study used 500mg of olive leaf extract twice daily for lowering blood pressure.  Since olive leaf extract is so effective at lowering blood pressure, if you are on blood pressure medication you may want to speak to your physician before starting the supplement.

Olive leaf also has been shown to prevent the formation of arterial plaque in the body, which helps to prevent heart attack and stroke.  It also works to prevent platelet clumping, which reduces the chance of blood clots forming.

Immune Benefits

Olive leaf has potent antibacterial and antiviral properties, which is very helpful during cold and flu season.  In in-vivo studies, nearly every virus was inactivated when exposed to the active ingredients in olive leaf extract. It was also shown to be beneficial against harmful bacteria and yeasts.  Additionally, olive leaf extract helps to contain viral infections by stopping viral replication inside the cell, which helps to prevent viruses from gaining a foothold and becoming a full-fledged illness.

Olive leaf is also a wonderful antioxidant, which in turn helps with boosting the immune system.

 

Supplement Spotlight: PQQ for Heart Health and More

I’m very excited to share some information about a brand new supplement that we’ve been lucky enough to find, PQQ.  PQQ is related to CoQ10, but might even be superior in its benefits.

I’ve written about CoQ10 numerous times for its benefit to heart health and so much more.  Here are a couple of our past articles about that amazing supplement:

CoQ10 and Heart Health
 

CoQ10 and Heart Disease
 

CoQ10 helps to support our cell’s mitochondria.  Mitochondria are literally the powerhouses of each cell.  Mitochondria are most present in parts of the body that need the most energy- particularly the heart.

CoQ10 helps to support and preserve mitochondrial function.  The new supplement PQQ is amazing because it has been shown in preliminary studies to not only aid in mitochondrial function, but actually help to generate new mitochondria (there’s a link to one of the studies here).

PQQ has also been found to have neuroprotective effects, and may even be beneficial for Parkinson’s Disease (study here) and as a therapy for recovering from a stroke (study here).

Research on PQQ is still in its very preliminary stages, but I am extremely happy that we are able to offer it as a supplement due to its impressive list of potential benefits.

I wouldn’t suggest that people replace their CoQ10 supplements with PQQ, but I do think it would be a wonderfully beneficial supplement to add to a CoQ10 regimen, particularly for persons with heart, brain, or nerve issues.


Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure

Q: It seems I have high blood pressure!  I am healthy, I exercise and eat right, but I’ve been getting high blood pressure readings for the past several weeks.  At first I ignored it since I thought, “I’m healthy, I can’t have high blood pressure!”, but since those high readings have stayed consistent, I have to come to grips with reality.  Do you have any suggestions of natural things I can do to lower it?  I just can’t believe it!

 

A:  High blood pressure is often called “The Silent Killer” because it can occur without any symptoms. Risk factors for high blood pressure are obesity, lack of exercise, a diet high in salt, stress, smoking, as well as a family history of high blood pressure. 

High blood pressure is a common problem, but it’s important to not ignore it because of that.  High blood pressure can damage and narrow the arteries, which can lead to heart attack and stroke.  Over time high blood pressure can even cause an aneurysm, which can rupture and cause life threatening internal bleeding.

The first thing I would look to is the amount of salt in your diet.  There is sodium in everything, particularly canned and prepared foods, so it could be that you don’t realize the amount of salt you’re eating.  Some people are especially sensitive to salt, and you could be one of those people.  Excess salt in the diet increases the amount of sodium in the bloodstream.  This puts a strain on the kidneys since the kidneys as they work to maintain the body’s water and salt balance, which in turn raises blood pressure.

Start taking note of the nutrition facts on the foods you’re eating, adding up the sodium content.  At first, aim to have your daily sodium count under 2,300 mg.  If you do this for two weeks without noticing a change in blood pressure, reducing it to a number of 1,500 or below may be necessary to see results.

Some scientists content that salt in the diet is not the problem, but rather an imbalance in a person’s sodium/potassium balance.  Increasing the amount of potassium in the diet may help to lower blood pressure.  The daily recommendation of potassium per day is 4,700mg, a number most Americans don’t get anywhere near.  Potassium works to balance the effect of sodium on the body, so reducing sodium in the diet while increasing your daily potassium content is especially helpful.  Many common foods are high in potassium, including oats, barley, quinoa, avocado, bananas, lentils, pinto beans, potatoes, and spinach to name a few.  We have a great list of potassium containing foods on our website, so be sure to look there for a more complete listing. 

There are also supplements which can help with lowering blood pressure.  The first I would recommend is CoQ10, a nutrient best known for its benefit to heart health.  CoQ10 is often taken for cardiovascular health and for improving heart function, but recent research has extended its long list of benefits to include the ability to lower blood pressure.  A review of 12 different clinical studies on CoQ10 reported that supplementation with CoQ10 was able to lower blood pressure on an average of 17 for the top number (systolic blood pressure) and 10 for the bottom number (diastolic blood pressure).  CoQ10 must be taken consistently for its benefits, and scientists say it may take anywhere from one to three months to see the full difference the supplement makes.

CoQ10 may also help to lower cholesterol, balance blood sugar, and reduce periodontal disease, so it is  a fantastic supplement for anyone to take.  It’s important to note that CoQ10 must be taken with food for maximum absorption.  For people with compromised absorption, or severe high blood pressure, the ubiquinol form of the vitamin would be a good idea.  It’s more expensive than regular CoQ10, but it is significantly better absorbed.

Hibiscus tea is also a nice adjunct for people with high blood pressure.  Studies have showed a modest, but impressive ability to lower blood pressure for people who drink three cups per day, with an average of about a 7 point reduction.  Hibiscus tea is caffeine free, absolutely delicious, and good hot or iced.  Republic of Tea has several flavored varieties which are especially amazing that contain a little stevia for added calorie free sweetness (I’ve tried almost all of the ones they have, and they are among my favorite teas).

Stress can also be a big factor for people with high blood pressure, especially chronic or constant stress.  There are many very effective supplements which can help to reduce stress and anxiety.  Theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, is one that I especially recommend.  Theanine helps to encourage a calm, relaxed state without tiredness.  It can be taken on a regular basis, or just when you know you’ll be going in to a stressful situation.  Interestingly, theanine has also been shown to increase focus and attention, something most everyone would like to have more of. 

Finally, I’d suggest buying a new blood pressure monitor.  Most doctors recommend replacing blood pressure monitors every three years to ensure the most accurate readings.  Keeping a daily blood pressure log can also be helpful to monitor changes and to show your doctor; it’s also an easy way to monitor the effectiveness of the changes you make.