If you’re a health-conscious consumer focused on your cardiovascular system, congratulations: You’re getting to the heart of the matter when it comes long-term health. It takes effort, but rest assured that shoring up your cardiovascular health is worthwhile.
That’s because heart disease remains the leading cause of death among men and women in the developed world. Cancer is edging cardiovascular disease (CVD) out in some places. But overall, CVD remains the single biggest threat most people face. Enhanced healthspan—meaning additional years of life marked by good enough physical health to enjoy them—is possible for most people alive today. Advances in everything from sanitation to vaccination have combined to significantly extend lifespan today, compared to previous generations.
Toward a Longer Healthspan
The notion of the healthspan was introduced largely in recognition of this achievement. We’re living much longer now. As such, many formerly rare diseases are becoming all-too common. These infirmities, often associated with advanced age, are not necessarily inevitable.
We’ve learned, for example, that staying active—both physically and mentally—is crucial for retaining one’s mobility and mental acuity. Diet plays a large role, too. Since the end of WWII, it’s become clear that diet and nutrition play a big role in achieving a desirable healthspan. Although, to be fair, the importance of diet is nothing new. Thousands of years ago, the father of medicine, Hippocrates, famously wrote, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates was clearly on to something.
A largely plant-based diet, supplemented with seafood, may be the healthiest dietary pattern of all, according to new and emerging research. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, herbs, and other plant foods are clearly linked to better overall health, characterized by healthy body weight, normal blood pressure, normal blood sugar levels, and an optimally functioning immune system.
On the other hand, diets featuring processed foods, simple carbs, lots of fat—and especially, lots of sugar—are inherently damaging to longterm health. Much of that damage can be traced to atherosclerosis, which begins in the blood vessels and may eventually lead to heart disease.
Sadly, the high-fat/high-carb/low-vegetable diet is closer to the typical American diet than any vegetarian model. Not surprisingly, a majority of American adults are now overweight or obese. Many also suffer from numerous heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels, and aberrant blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes, also related to poor diet and inadequate exercise, is also at epidemic proportions.
Supplements for Heart Health
In addition to following a healthy diet and lifestyle (which includes plenty of exercise, and consistent, adequate sleep), certain heart health supplements may help contribute to overall healthy lifestyle. Here’s a brief sampling.
Fish Oil/Omega-3 Fatty Acids
There are three forms of essential omega-3 fatty acids. By definition, we must have two of these, and we can only obtain them from the diet. Basically, that means cold-water fish and/or fish oil. Vegans and some vegetarians rely on plant sources, such as flaxseed or walnuts, to obtain these essential nutrients. Vegans should be aware, though, that the plant form of omega-3s must be converted within the body to the two forms the body actually uses. This process is highly inefficient, however, so it may be wise to supplement with fish oil.
Fish get these crucial nutrients from microalgae in the sea. If you do not eat fish or seafood, you should consider taking fish oil supplements. Whether it’s harvested from salmon, tuna, or tiny crustaceans called krill, supplemental omega-3s play a key role in regulating the immune response. In essence, these nutrients are anti-inflammatory in the body. Many of our most troubling modern lifestyle diseases—including atherosclerosis and cancer—are linked to low-grade inflammation in the body. Getting adequate omega-3s in the diet—on a regular basis—can help quell this form of inflammation.
CoQ10 is available as a supplement taken by mouth. This chemical is found in virtually every cell in the body. It’s a mitochondrial co-factor, which means that it facilitates the production of energy at the sub-cellular level. It’s also one of the body’s few fat-soluble antioxidant molecules. That means that unlike water-soluble antioxidants, such as vitamin C, CoQ10 is capable of entering the cells to quench damaging free radicals. Levels of this key compound tend to fall as we age. Supplementing may help restore energy levels. CoQ10 is especially beneficial to the heart, because heart muscle tissue works hard and requires an especially large amount of ready energy to work at peak efficiency.
Dietary nitrates, from foods rich in these compounds (such as raw beets, spinach, etc.) help provide the raw materials the body needs to regulate blood pressure efficiently. If you are unwilling or unable to consume foods rich in these phytonutrients, it may make sense to supplement with extracts that can supply them.
Magnesium, Zinc, Potassium and Selenium
The essential micronutrients listed above all play important roles in regulating blood pressure and maintaining healthy immune system function. If your blood pressure is high, and you’ve been told to consume less sodium (from table salt), you may not have been told that potassium and magnesium may also help counteract the effects of too much sodium in the diet.
Research suggests that many Americans do not get adequate amounts of nutrients such as magnesium in the diet. Incidentally, selenium is best obtained by eating 2-3 Brazil nuts per day. These nuts are especially high in selenium. Limit your intake to no more than 3 per day, however. Excess selenium is not desirable.
Fresh garlic and aged garlic supplements are both excellent for the cardiovascular system.