Archives for August, 2008

Take Heart

The Herbal Insider Vol 1, Issue 6“The B vitamins…neutralize homocysteine, and thus reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.”
Nutrition for a Healthy Cardiovascular System

Heart disease is not only one of the nation’s deadliest killers—taking the lives of almost one million Americans each year—but it is also responsible for chronic illness and suffering in many more. Although there are impressive medical advances in the treatment of heart disease, it simply makes sense to take the nutritional initiative and prevent heart disease from developing in the first place. Fortunately there’s no shortage of supplements geared to nutritional prevention—whether it is the management of cholesterol levels or the prevention of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

Vitamin E and Other Antioxidants
Vitamin E is a nutritional leader for preventing heart disease. According to the Cambridge Heart Antioxidant Study (CHAOS), when 2,002 men and women diagnosed with atherosclerosis took either vitamin E supplements (containing 400 IU or 800 IU) or inactive pills for 17 months, the risk of non-fatal heart attack was reduced by 77% in the vitamin E groups (Lancet 1996;347:781-86).

But this is not the only study regarding vitamin E. Two landmark studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported on vitamin E intake and the risk of heart disease in more than 125,000 men and women (New Engl J Med 1993;328:1450-56, 1444-49). Those supplementing with 100 I.U. or more of vitamin E were found to have up to a 40% lower risk of developing heart disease.

Vitamin E is available in either natural or synthetic forms. The natural forms are designated d- (d-alpha-tocopherol), the synthetic forms dl- (dl-alpha-tocopherol). The natural and synthetic forms are not the same, they are mirror images of each other. In the human body, only the natural form is recognized. The synthetic form may prevent the the natural form from entering cell membranes (Am J Clin Nutr 1976; 29, 569-578. Annu Rev Nutr 1992; 10, 357-382). Therefore, the natural form is recommended. Some doctors recommend water soluble forms of Vitamin E such as Trolox or Aquasol E which can be up to 10 times more expensive than the fat soluble vitamin E. A doulbe-blind study comparing the two indicated that both forms were equally effective.

Vitamin C supplements help lower high total cholesterol levels and LDL-cholesterol levels while raising HDL cholesterol levels in people with mild deficiencies of vitamin C (J Am Coll Nutr 1992;11:107-125). Some research suggests that individuals with a high intake of vitamin C actually have a lower risk of dying from heart disease (Eur Heart J 1997;18:719-727; N Engl J Med 1996; 334:1156-62). For each 0.5 mg/dl increase in vitamin C content of the blood, HDL cholesterol increased 14.9 mg/dl in woman and 2.1 mg/dl in men. For every 1 percent increase in HDL cholesterol, the risk for heart disease drops 4 percent (Am J Clin Nutr 1994; 60, 100-105). Other cardiovascular benefits of vitamin C include the neutralizing of free radicals and, possibly, the prevention and treatment of mild hypertension.

Several minerals are associated with protection from cardiovascular disease in some studies, including calcium, magnesium, and selenium. Bioflavonoids contribute to cardiovascular health by acting as antioxidants, as well as by preventing blood clots (Arch Intern Med 1996;154:637-42).

Fishing For a Healthy Heart?
The omega-3 fatty acids, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in cold water fish oils are linked to cardiovascular health. As little as one serving of omega-3 fatty acid per week can halve the risk of heart attack, according to a study of 827 individuals (JAMA 1996;274:1363-67). Another study, involving older women, reports that eating fish more than once a week halved the risk of stroke (Arch Intern Med 1996;156:537-42). Although most of the research on omega-3 oils has featured fish oils rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), EPA can be manufactured in the body from alpha-linolenic acid. Flax seed contains more than twice as much omega-3 oil as fish oil contains and is a good source of linoleic acid. Flax seed contains: 19.0% linolenic acid and 10.0% linoleic acid.