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One of the reasons doctors focus so much on making sure we keep our hearts healthy is because heart disease becomes progressively harder to treat. Once you hit the point of heart failure, it’s impossible to reverse the damage already done to your heart.
When a person develops heart failure, it means their heart muscle is no longer able to pump enough blood to meet the nutrition and oxygen needs of their body. A measure called ejection fraction is used to gauge the heart’s pumping function; it represents the percentage of blood pumped per beat from the left ventricle, or main pumping chamber. A measurement of 50 percent or greater is considered a normal ejection fraction.
There are two types of heart failure: one in which the heart muscle is too weak to pump normally, which is referred to as heart failure with a reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF); and one in which the heart pumps normally but is too stiff to fill properly, which is called heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about half of the estimated 6.5 million adults in the U.S. with heart failure present with HFpEF. Of those with HFpEF, more than 80 percent of those are overweight or obese.
To date, there are no FDA-approved drugs to improve clinical outcomes in HFpEF. However, a common household pantry item might hold the key to improving quality of life for HFpEF sufferers…
Add some extra-virgin olive oil
A recent study found that adding extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) to the diets of nine obese study subjects with HFpEF helped improve their cardiorespiratory fitness upon cardiopulmonary exercise testing.
The participants, who had a median age of 56 years, were supplemented with unsaturated fatty acid-rich foods and had their EVOO intake estimated over 12 weeks according to their dietary recall. Five of the nine study participants were women, and six of the nine were black.
The participants were asked to recall their diets at the beginning of the study, as well as at their four-, eight-, and 12-week visits. They also underwent cardiopulmonary exercise testing at the beginning of the study and at the 12-week mark.
Daily EVOO intake increased from zero at the beginning of the study to 23.6 grams (about 1.5 tablespoons) on average during the study. Statistically, a 40-gram increase (about 3 tablespoons) in EVOO intake was shown to lead to a 6 percent improvement in peak oxygen intake (VO2) compared with predictions. Oxygen efficiency slope, a measure of cardiorespiratory function that does not require maximal exercise, also increased by about 0.1.
“Further studies are warranted to confirm this finding and establish a basis for testing the effect of EVOO on cardiorespiratory fitness as well as major cardiovascular outcomes and to explore these effects across differing baseline intakes of EVOO,” says study lead Hayley Billingsley, RD, of Virginia Commonwealth University.
Ways to keep your heart beating strong
Doctors have long recommended people follow a Mediterranean-style diet for peak heart health. This type of diet is rich in healthy fats like EVOO, as well as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans and eggs. Dairy is consumed in moderation, and red meat intake is limited.
There are also natural supplements you can take to help protect your heart from damage that could lead to heart failure. Here are some suggestions…
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). Your body produces CoQ10, which is used by cells to produce the energy needed for growth and maintenance. It protects the heart and skeletal muscles and functions as an antioxidant, defending your body from cellular damage caused by harmful substances. CoQ10 can be found in organ meats like heart, liver and kidney; beef; soy oil; fish like sardines and mackerel; and peanuts.
As a supplement, CoQ10 can help lower blood pressure and protect the body from the side effects of statins, a commonly prescribed type of cholesterol-lowering drug. Statins tend to lower the amount of CoQ10 in the body, so doctors often advise patients on these drugs to take a CoQ10 supplement to counteract this effect.
Omega-3 fatty acids. Usually consumed through fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids have numerous heart benefits. They have been shown to reduce the level of triglycerides by up to 30 percent. High levels of this unhealthy fat in the blood can lead to coronary artery disease, heart disease and stroke. Omega-3s have also shown potential for reducing blood pressure.
In one study of patients with chronic heart failure, fish oil supplementation resulted in a small but significant decrease in the number of deaths and hospitalizations for cardiovascular reasons. And another study showed that supplementation improved heart function and decreased hospitalizations in some patients.
You can get omega-3s by consuming at least two 3.5-oz servings of fish a week, as recommended by the American Heart Association. Or you can take omega-3 supplements, most of which contain fish oil.
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Dietary Supplementation of Extra Virgin Olive Oil in Patients with Heart Failure with Preserved Ejection Fraction is Associated with Increases in Cardiorespiratory Fitness — Journal of Cardiac Failure
Heart Failure with Preserved Ejection Fraction (HFpEF) — University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center
Is food the best medicine for heart failure? — VCU Health Pauley Heart Center
The Oxygen Uptake Efficiency Slope: WHAT DO WE KNOW? — Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention
Mediterranean diet: A heart-healthy eating plan — Mayo Clinic
8 heart health supplements to take – and one to avoid — PeaceHealth
6 Supplements for Heart Health — WebMD