Two to the heart: Cardio essentials

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 is strongly linked to diet and lifestyle choices, though genetic predisposition can be a factor.

A number of nutritional supplements have been studied in relation to preventing or treating heart disease; however, these two have so much clinical science behind them that they might be considered “essential” for heart health.

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. Ironically, some heart medications, including statin drugs, reduce CoQ10 levels in the body. Many doctors now advise patients on these drugs to supplement with CoQ10.

Omega-3 Oils

Studies show that both fish and flax oils are extremely beneficial for heart health. In the landmark Nurses Health Study, where more than 120,000 women were followed for 10 years, researchers found that those with the highest intake of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) experienced 30% fewer fatal heart attacks than those with lower amounts. Flax is a rich source of ALA. Combining ground flax and flax oil is especially good for normalizing cholesterol levels.

A study published in 2000 looked at the effects of fish oil on heart disease risk in postmenopausal women. The results showed that supplementing with fish oils (2.4 g EPA, 1.6 g DHA) was linked to a 26% lower level of triglicerides, and researchers said the approach could reduce heart disease risk by 27% in postmenopausal women. Fish oil also appears to help lower blood pressure — particularly the DHA portion. Likewise, among a group of 11,323 patients who had suffered a recent heart attack and were given fish oil supplements, 45% were less likely to die from a heart-related cause. There’s no question CoQ10 and omega-3 supplements are an extremely important part of a heart disease prevention or treatment strategy.

Sources: The Super Antioxidants by J Balch, MD. Evans:1998; Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements by M Murray, ND. Prima:1996; Healthy Fats for Life by L Vanderhaeghe & K Karst, Quarry:2003; Hertz 1999; 24(7):586T