Heart disease includes a number of separate but often related conditions, such as angina, congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and atherosclerosis. As the number one cause of death in North America, heart disease (cardiovascular disease) is strongly linked to diet and lifestyle choices, though genetic predisposition can be a factor.
A number of vitamins, herbs and phytonutrients have been researched in relation to preventing or treating heart disease. The following are among the most well researched and commonly used:
COENZYME Q10: This vitamin-like compound has two main attributes—it’s a potent antioxidant and it plays a role in cellular energy production, both of which spell good news for the cardiovascular system. CoQ10 protects the heart muscle and arteries from damage while also allowing the heart to pump more blood more easily, reducing heart muscle fatigue and stress.
As early as 1985, a review of 67 medical studies indicated that 75% of the heart patients involved showed meaningful clinical improvement with CoQ10 therapy. The studies suggested that CoQ10 can cut the frequency of angina episodes while strengthening the heart muscle and increasing quality of life in those with congestive heart failure. CoQ10 is also known to help lower high blood pressure.
GARLIC: Most of garlic’s cardiovascular benefit is due to its cholesterol-lowering effects. It also supports the overall health of the circulatory system, which can lower the risk for heart attack and stroke. Garlic is known to lower blood pressure and protect the elastic properties of the aorta. It’s also an antioxidant which protects cholesterol from oxidation (free radical) damage. One study found that people taking garlic every day were 34 times more resistant to oxidation damage than those not taking garlic.
HAWTHORN: Known as the “heart herb”—and with good reason! Hawthorn is widely prescribed in Europe as a general heart tonic and to improve circulation. The herb appears to dilate coronary blood vessels, improving blood flow and oxygenation. A recent study in Germany monitored 1,011 subjects taking hawthorn extract for a 24-week treatment period. This study observed an improvement in many symptoms: an 83% decrease in edema (water retention) in over half of the subjects; improved cardiac performance; slower resting pulse rate; decreased blood pressure; and fewer secondary heart problems. Overall, two-thirds of the subjects “felt better or much better” upon completion.
Other popular heart health remedies include lecithin, which helps to lower cholesterol and homocysteine levels; cayenne, which promotes circulation; and the B-vitamins folic acid, B-12 and B-6.
Sources: The Super Antioxidants by J Balch, MD. Evans:1998; Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements by M Murray, ND. Prima:1996; Hertz 1999; 24(7):586;Arzneimittel-forschung 2000;50(7):613-17