February, and particularly Valentine’s Day, is the time of year we spend the most time thinking about the hearts of our loved ones as shop shelves are filled with heart-based merchandise. But do you spend enough time thinking about your own heart? Despite the fact that the human heart is one of the most efficient pumps in nature, pumping an incredible 2.5 billion times during the average lifespan, heart disorders are by far the most common cause of death in the UK. Almost 1 in 5 men and 1 in 8 women die from heart disease. Heart Disease is responsible for 82,000 deaths in the UK each year, an average of 224 people each day.
CAUSES OF CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE
WEIGHT – If you are overweight or obese you are more likely to develop coronary heart disease than someone who is a healthy weight. Research shows that being overweight or obese can raise your blood cholesterol levels, increase your blood pressure and increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Because these are risk factors for coronary heart disease, your weight can have a big impact on your long-term health.
SMOKING – Smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack compared with people who have never smoked. Smoking damages the lining of your arteries, leading to a build-up of fatty material (atheroma) which narrows the artery. This can cause angina, a heart attack or a stroke. The carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood. This means your heart has to pump harder to supply the body with the oxygen it needs. The nicotine in cigarettes stimulates your body to produce adrenaline, which makes your heart beat faster and raises your blood pressure, making your heart work harder. Your blood is more likely to clot, which increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Stopping smoking is the single best thing you can do for your heart health, and the good news is that the risk to your heart health decreases significantly soon after you stop.
DIABETES – People suffering from type 1 and type 2 diabetes are more likely to be at risk from heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure. Vascular problems, such as poor circulation to the legs and feet, are also more likely to affect diabetes patients.
HIGH CHOLESTEROL – Although the body needs a certain amount of cholesterol, when there is more cholesterol circulating in the blood than the body needs the cholesterol can build up on the artery walls. This eventually leads to narrowing and hardening of the arteries, a process called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. This risk is increased when other risk factors such as high blood pressure and a family history of heart disease are also present.
HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE – If you have high blood pressure, this means that your heart has to work harder to push blood round your body. To cope with this extra effort, your heart becomes thicker and stiffer, which makes it less able to do its job. You can lower your blood pressure by increasing doing more exercise, losing weight, reducing the salt in your diet, drinking less alcohol and eating a balanced, healthy diet.
FAMILY HISTORY – Your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases is increased if there is a history of the disease in the family. Genes can pass on the risk of cardiovascular disease, and they can also be responsible for passing on other conditions such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels. Whilst there is nothing you can do to change your family background, you can choose to lead a lifestyle which helps to keep you fit and healthy.
SUPPLEMENTS THAT CAN HELP
Antioxidants are a group that should be taken seriously when talking about heart and arterial health with a wealth of positive studies supporting their use. Increasing the intake of these from sources such as all fresh, coloured fruit and vegetables as well as green tea, grape juice (even the odd glass of the alcoholic type!) and dark berries can significantly lower heart disease risk. A number of supplemental sources of these antioxidants are available for those who wish to maximise their protection including Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium and botanical extracts such as Pycnogenol®, Bilberry, Green tea and Ginkgo Biloba.
Natures Aid Red Yeast Rice provides 10mg of Monacolin K per daily serving. Monacolin K helps maintain normal blood cholesterol levels.
Another effective antioxidant that is useful in supporting cardiovascular health is the reduced form of Coenzyme Q10 (Co-Q-10) also known as Ubiquinol. Both Coenzyme Q10 and Ubiquinol have been shown to be supportive in maintaining optimal cardiovascular health2 and the wealth of evidence for the supportive role they play is growing.
Indeed the levels of these nutrients is so important for heart health that a 75% reduction in the body’s Co-Q-10 level leads to the heart ceasing to function, making it vitally important that we maintain adequate levels. Co-Q-10 also enhances the antioxidant activities of Vitamin E, helping to maintain healthy arteries. Healthy levels of Co-Q-10 are associated with a strong pumping action in the heart and less resistance to blood flow. Reducing the resistance to blood flow is associated with healthy blood pressure.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFA) are popular with people looking to give their heart some love. The two major members of the omega-3 group are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in oily fish such as sardines, anchovies, herring, mackerel and salmon. Another member of this group is alpha-linolenic acid which is the best omega-3 source for vegetarians and is found in oils such as flaxseed, rapeseed and walnut with flaxseed being the most effective form available as a supplement.
Researchers have identified a link between the concentration of omega-3 fatty acids in tissues, blood, and red blood cells, and the overall health of the cardiovascular system1. Omega-3 fatty acids provide recognized benefits in promoting the wellness of the heart and blood vessels, and the evidence supporting greater omega-3 dietary intake is increasing.
The latest innovation in this market has seen the introduction of omega-3 rich oil from krill. Krill (Euphausia superba) are ocean-living shrimp-like crustaceans that are between 1cm and 6cm long. Krill are an excellent source of Omega-3 essential fatty acids as well as the antioxidant astaxanthin.
The major difference between krill oil and fish oil is the way in which the essential fatty acids are presented with krill providing them as phospholipids and fish oil containing them as triglycerides. Phospholipids (the form in which fatty acids are present in our cell membranes) are digested and absorbed in a different way to triglycerides in the intestine, following simpler digestion and distribution routes. Research indicates that phospholipid Omega-3 fatty acids have greater bioavailability for cell growth and functioning than Omega-3 triglycerides. Omega-3 utilisation in some tissues increases when delivered in a phospholipid form.
No feature regarding healthy heart and arteries would be complete without mentioning the vitally important mineral magnesium.
Unfortunately in the past 70 years our soil levels of this mineral have declined by as much as 70% and therefore our food intake has also dramatically declined. This has led to more people turning to supplemental forms such as the highly absorbable magnesium citrate to correct this shortfall.
Magnesium has been referred to as “nature’s calcium channel blocker” due to its ability to block the entry of calcium into vascular smooth muscle cells and heart muscle cells. As a result, the use of magnesium supplements can reduce vascular resistance, lower blood pressure, and lead to more efficient heart functioning.
So, this Valentine’s Day, think about the changes that you can make to protect the most important heart in your life, your own.