Herbs and Supplements

Cardiovascular disease—better known as heart disease, or coronary artery disease (CAD)—is the number one killer in America.

Luckily, there is is ample evidence that heart disease can be prevented, or even reversed. Diet and lifestyle play a huge role in this strategy, and the dietary component of this approach includes several herbs and supplements that may benefit in the fight against atherosclerosis, the underlying cause of most heart disease.

Atherosclerosis is an inflammatory condition that affects the lining of the blood vessels. Ultimately it may lead to blockages in arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle itself, and that can cause heart attack and even death. But, while atherosclerosis is extremely common in the developed world, it is virtually unknown among certain groups of people. And those people have certain behaviors in common. When you examine the lives of these people, two factors emerge: diet and lifestyle are hugely important. Here are some nutritional supplements that may help decrease your risk of developing heart disease.

Coenzyme Q10

CoenzymeQ10, or CoQ10, (sometimes called ubiquinone) is an important chemical that plays a crucial role in cells’ ability to extract energy from food. Although it’s produced naturally, and is found throughout the body, levels of this widespread cofactor tend to decline with age. Ample evidence shows that CoQ10 is depleted by statin drugs, which are widely prescribed to lower cholesterol levels. As a result, the people who need CoQ10 the most—people at risk for heart disease due to high cholesterol levels—are also at increased risk of suffering from dangerously low levels of this crucial chemical.

Because the heart is the hardest-working muscle of all, it’s essential that the heart has access to a constant supply of CoQ10 so it can readily generate the energy required to do its vital work. One of the potentially serious side effects of statin therapy, a muscle-wasting condition called rhabdomyolysis, may be directly lined to statin-induced depletion of CoQ10. Therefore, anyone taking a statin drug should also consider supplementing with CoQ10.

Studies have shown that supplementation with CoQ10 independently lowers blood pressure, while simultaneously helping the heart to function, especially among people suffering from cardiovascular disease, through its actions as an energy cofactor, and by virtue of its powerful antioxidant activity. CoQ10 is safe and well-tolerated. Although it is not readily absorbed when taken by mouth, a more “bioavailable” form, ubiquinol, may offer significantly improved absorption into the bloodstream.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a no-brainer when it comes to heart disease. Most heart disease is linked to atherosclerosis, an inflammatory condition that affects the lining of blood vessels. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that help reduce inflammation. They also drive down levels of fatty blood components called triglycerides. High triglyceride levels are linked to atherosclerosis and diabetes, among other undesirable conditions.

Studies have consistently shown that higher consumption of fatty fish, or fish oil supplements—which supply the essential omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—is linked to lower blood pressure, better blood lipid profiles (including lower triglycerides) and a reduced risk of death from heart disease. Studies suggest that people should take 2-4 g of fish oil per day.

Green Tea (Camellia sinensis)

For centuries, people around the world have consumed green tea for its purported health benefits. In recent years, scientists have intensively studied one of its chief components, the potent antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), for its apparent ability to prevent cancer. More recently, they’ve turned their attention to green tea’s ability to protect the heart. Most studies have shown significant benefits with the consumption of 5-6 cups of green tea per day. Green tea extract is also available as a supplement in capsule form.    

Pomegranate (Punica granatum)

Like green tea, pomegranate juice has been consumed for centuries, with the belief that the ruby-red fruit promoted health. Modern scientists have shown that this belief is well justified. Powerful antioxidant chemicals in pomegranate fruit and juice may help reverse atherosclerosis and lower blood pressure.

Magnesium and Potassium

The link between sodium (from table salt) and high blood pressure receives plenty of attention in the media. Repeatedly, we’ve been told: Salt is bad! But the link between consumption of the minerals magnesium and potassium and blood pressure is seldom mentioned.

While table salt may raise blood pressure in some people, potassium and magnesium tend to lower blood pressure. Studies have shown that while limiting salt is beneficial, it may be even more helpful to decrease salt intake while also increasing your intake of magnesium and potassium. Five hundred milligrams to one gram of magnesium per day has been linked to significant blood pressure reductions. Recent research suggests that 4.7 g of potassium per day is associated with a significant reduction in the risk of “cardiovascular events.”