Vitamins and Minerals for Heart Health
Blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity are undoubtedly the top three recognized risk factors for heart disease. And what’s the first recommendation from a licensed physician to combat heart disease?
Diet. A heart-healthy diet to be a little more specific, in combination with getting regular exercise, can improve heart health tremendously and even reduce or eliminate the need for prescription medications.
But when people think about a heart-healthy diet it’s possible they are missing some big key factors – vitamins and minerals! It’s all a numbers game isn’t it? Getting the blood pressure numbers down, making sure the “good” cholesterol remains high enough while decreasing the dangerous cholesterol levels and maintaining a healthy weight.
Correct Nutrition is Essential to Heart Health
But the list shouldn’t stop there! We need to consider proper nutrition as a whole and include getting in certain vitamins and minerals for heart health.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease was the leading killer in 2015. Cancer came in a close second. The heart pumps blood to the tissues of your body. Your blood contains the oxygen and vital nutrients you need to get through each day.
A diet which includes the proper daily recommendations of essential nutrients can help reduce the risk for heart disease and prevent further damage. It’s worth considering, especially considering the inexpensive, self-help aspect as opposed to the pharmaceutical alternative.
According to Carolyn Dean, MD, author of The Magnesium Miracle, “If you don’t have enough magnesium to help dissolve calcium, you will end up with various forms of calcification. This translates into stones, muscle spasms, fibrositis, fibromyalgia, and atherosclerosis (calcification of the arteries).”
Magnesium is widely known for helping muscle cramps but people don’t really correlate the heart also being a muscle and cramps as chest pain. Did you realize medical facilities use magnesium in patients with an acute myocardial infarction and cardiac arrhythmia?
Magnesium, or rather the lack of it, has now been shown to be a bigger influence on heart health than cholesterol. Low magnesium levels are detected in almost all heart attack sufferers.
Until recent times there was no test available to monitor levels of magnesium. And even with the test it just measures the levels in your blood.
This vital mineral is in your bones and muscles too! In fact, when the magnesium levels drop in your blood, your body then starts depleting the bone and muscle storage of magnesium to restore the blood levels.
Why? Because your heart requires a certain level of magnesium at all times. If your heart isn’t happy with the magnesium levels it could spasm… otherwise known as a heart attack.
The next time you have a Charley horse, consider that your body is possibly stealing magnesium to deliver to your heart.
Foods That Contain Magnesium
How do you get magnesium? Dark, leafy greens, nuts and whole grains are naturally fortified with magnesium. Avocados, soy beans and even chocolate are good sources.
Recent research indicates that a very large percentage of people living on a typical modern, western diet are deficient in magnesium. Too many are not getting their necessary daily intake from the foods they eat.
If you feel you aren’t getting enough from your normal diet, you may want to seriously consider purchasing a supplement. Of note, magnesium will exit your body when you get enough. It simply won’t build up in your body. Your body will flush it out through the kidneys and intestines.
There are a couple B vitamins of note for heart health. B3 niacin is sometimes recommended to patients with cholesterol issues prior to offering a prescription. This incredible supplement has been shown to actually raise the HDL (good cholesterol) while lowering the LDL (nasty cholesterol) and triglycerides.
Folic acid, B9, is a natural homocysteine-lowering agent. Homocysteine is an amino acid associated with blood clots. Niacin can produce some side effects, namely itching and flushing of the skin, and should only be taken in pill form at the recommendation of a licensed professional.
B3 is found naturally and as an over-the-counter supplement. Dairy, chicken, fish, lean red meats, nuts and eggs are rich in B3. Several grocery items are fortified with niacin, such as beans, breads and especially cereals. B6 also has a list of fortified foods; cereals, breads and some grains.
However, if you choose things like spinach, strawberries, bananas and particularly broccoli, you’re bound to get a nice nugget of folic acid added to your diet.
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. Potassium helps regulate blood pressure levels. The American Heart Association states that normal blood pressure should be less than 120 systolic (the upper number) and less than 80 diastolic (the lower number). Prehypertension is from 120-139/80-89.
Anything above that, on multiple readings of course, and you are probably looking at a hypertension diagnosis and the need for lifestyle changes… and more potassium!
Potassium-rich foods are easy to find, really, if you like fruits and vegetables; bananas, potatoes, peaches, raisins, apricots. You’ll need about 3,500 mg of potassium daily. Raisins have over 1000 mg per cup and winter squash is nearly 900 mg for the same amount.
If you can, try to get your potassium intake from natural sources. Fruits and vegetables are rich in potassium, as well as fiber. If you’re looking at trying to keep your cholesterol under control fiber is your friend. You can’t get this double benefit from a potassium supplement.
Vitamin D is technically a hormone and not really a “vitamin” but it does aid in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, both vital nutrients for heart and bone health. Also called cholecalciferol, this vitamin affects your heart in an extremely important and yet not well-known way.
Surrounding your heart are tiny nerves that talk to the heart and ensure a steady heartbeat. Vitamin D makes it possible for these nerves to absorb the proper amounts of calcium needed to function, which then allows communication between these tiny nerves and the very important muscle that is your heart.
According to Dr. Sinatra, cardiologist, “Vitamin D testing should be part of every cardiology workup”.
Vitamin D isn’t just in pill form. It can be found naturally in sun-exposure, milk, fatty fish, orange juice, oatmeal, and tofu to name a few.
The problem with vitamin D supplementation is finding the right level; too high of levels are almost as dangerous as too low.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, (Durup D. et al. Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism 2015), revealed that too low levels of vitamin D doubled the deaths from stroke or cardiovascular disease yet when the levels were too high the deaths increased by one-third.
This being the case, vitamin D deficiency is far more prevalent than excess levels, mostly due to reduced exposure to sunlight and sunscreen application. Also, vitamin D is essential for many bodily processes, so if intake is low, heart health, bone density and emotional well-being will all suffer, as they compete for a reduced resource.
Excess may occur as a result of over-supplementation, not from sun exposure or ingestion of foods containing vitamin D.
For many people, supplementation will be necessary, so the following is a guide.
Normal levels are around 70 nmol/L with 50 nmol/L and lower being categorized as low and over 100 nmol/L being high, both requiring intervention. The recommended daily intake of vitamin D is 1,000-3,000 IU daily for maintenance and 5,000-10,000 IU daily for up to three months to increase your levels.
Once upon a time, doctors were eager to prescribe super high doses of vitamin D at 50,000 IU once or twice a week to help increase the levels, but that’s not really the norm anymore. As always, this should be under the direct supervision of a licensed professional.
Technically CoQ10 is an enzyme but it works hand-in-hand with vitamins. This handy enzyme is pretty much essential if you are taking a statin drug for cholesterol, as it helps lessen side effects. And although the studies are still continuing on the direct relativity to heart health, CoQ10 has the potential for improving heart conditions by slowing down aging and degeneration of organs.
CoQ10 is in every cell of our bodies and gradually starts depleting with age. It can be found naturally in organ meats, sardines, mackerel, broccoli, cauliflower, eggs and even strawberries. It is also available and most commonly taken as a supplement purchased over-the-counter.
These fatty acids are naturally found in both plant and animal products. Fish oil has been proven to reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke and it helps decrease the risk of sudden cardiac death. There’s an added perk to taking Omega-3s however.
Omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory component. Inflammation is either a cause, enables, or magnifies diseases. A rising chorus of pro-active holistic health experts are convinced that inflammation is the root cause of almost all human ill-health, heart disease included. Cardiac surgeons have stated that inflammation is present in all cases of advanced heart disease.
To get some added Omega-3s naturally, try adding flaxseeds to baked goods and protein shakes. You could also add cold-water fish to your diet a couple times a week. Salmon always tops the list of recommended species due to its high omega-3 content. Fish oil capsules are readily available over the counter, even in grocery stores.
The most known perk of vitamin K is its clotting property. If you are taking blood thinners you’ll definitely want to get some information on vitamin K. Paper cuts can almost seem like a near death experience to those who don’t clot properly.
But here’s something you probably didn’t know about vitamin K – it puts calcium where it belongs. Vitamin K assists in getting calcium into the bones and keeps it from clumping up in your arteries.
Vitamin K pushes that mess away from your arteries thus assisting a great deal with cardiovascular health.
It’s a little harder to find great amounts of this vitamin naturally but egg yolk, as well as liver and other organ meats are rich in vitamin K. Any local drug store will have several options of vitamin K on the shelves.
Many people have problems with calcium deposits, in their arteries and also in their joints. This causes pain and results in a compounding reduction in mobility, further adding to problems with heart-health.
Yet at the same time, they may have problems with reducing bone density, or osteoporosis. How can this be?
If the body is deficient in magnesium, vitamin D or vitamin K, the body cannot use calcium to effectively form needed replacement bone. Some of the unused calcium is excreted via the kidneys, but some finds its way to places it is not needed or wanted, causing problems for the cardiovascular system and pain in the joints.
Calcification, or calcium deposits, can result from poor food choices, causing a dietary imbalance. This is compounded by a sedentary lifestyle and obesity. Calcium supplementation without the complementary and necessary vitamins and minerals can also exacerbate the problem.
Basics of Heart Health
In summary, vitamins and minerals for heart health are essential, readily available and quite affordable, especially if incorporated into your dietary intake. Some dietary changes can turn your health around. Swap out low-nutrient, high sugar processed foods, and replace with whole fresh meat, vegetables and fruit.
Regarding supplementation, please do your research and do not start anything without consulting your primary care provider for advice, especially if you are trying to address an existing issue.
Regular blood testing is par for the course when adding some supplements so you don’t accidentally get to a toxic level and end up causing more harm than good. It’s also a good idea to keep a blood pressure log, especially if you already carry a diagnosis of hypertension, just to make sure you aren’t exacerbating your symptoms.
By no means is this an exclusive or comprehensive list. There are many more options for heart health, however, these few are some of the most common and carry the most published studies to back their claim to heart health fame. Each person has varying degrees of vitamin and mineral needs and what works for one may not be the whole answer for another.
Vitamins and minerals are found naturally in food sources but it’s impossible to tell exactly how much you’ll get from any one meal, particularly if the foods are processed, which impact the results.
Supplements, as with any new medicine, should be started one at a time to be sure there are no untoward side effects with each before adding another. Otherwise, you may have a hard time figuring out what is causing which symptom. Likewise, you’ll never know which vitamin or mineral is actually helping.
And finally, supplements are exactly that… supplemental. They aren’t intended to replace a balanced diet and regular exercise. Just because you are taking a couple heart-healthy vitamins and minerals doesn’t negate the need to be wise in food choices on the norm.
It’s okay to enjoy that juicy cheeseburger every once in a while, but it should be a treat and not a regular meal.
Making positive changes to your diet and exercise patterns will almost certainly be the biggest single factor in improving the health of your heart and cardiovascular system. This will also have flow-on effect on your overall health and wellbeing, and will add useful and useable years to your life.
Learning which vitamins and minerals support heart health, and what foods they are naturally found in, will be an excellent starting point. For many people, for various reasons, supplementation will be necessary.
If used properly and monitored by a primary care provider for any necessary adjustments, vitamins and minerals can help prevent and even reverse damage to the cardiovascular system.
None of us are getting any younger and there is no better time than now to start considering how to keep that ticker ticking efficiently, for as long as possible.