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We’ve all seen the statistics on heart disease. Despite a variety of pharmacological, surgical and other breakthroughs, cardiovascular diseases still kill millions each year. In many cases, these are preventable conditions, yet it seems we are doing little to prevent them. We have a vast heart disease tool kit to draw from: beta blockers, stents, defibrillators, but they’re almost all reactive.
The truth is, we’re in the middle of a worldwide metabolic-cardiovascular disease epidemic and the only way to truly defeat it is to help people adopt the beneficial habits, healthy diets and active lifestyles that we know can extend lives. The question is how?
While they are no panacea, nutraceuticals and natural supplement ingredients may be part of the solution. By helping to address the underlying causes behind cardiovascular disease, targeted nutraceuticals offer an easy-to-follow path, giving patients momentum towards better cardiovascular health.
Preserving blood vessels
It’s well-established that the Western diet and sedentary lifestyles contribute to heart disease. But to counteract these, we need to understand the specific processes that translate into problems like hardened arteries – a significant factor in heart attacks and strokes.
Perhaps one of the reasons heart disease is so common is that there are so many mechanisms that contribute to arterial hardening and other degenerative processes in the cardiovascular system. For example, when free radicals (from toxins, unhealthy foods or other sources) encounter LDL cholesterol they oxidize it – essentially making the cholesterol “rancid,” which in turns fuels inflammation and attracts macrophages, instigating a cycle of chronic inflammatory processes that create arterial plaque and harden blood vessels.
There’s also evidence that arterial hardening has a close relationship with osteoporosis. Both stem from problems with calcium metabolism – calcium is pulled from bones and deposited on artery walls, fueling atherosclerosis.
Another atherosclerotic mechanism involves the protein galectin-3, which at elevated levels is shown to drive inflammation and fibrosis. Specifically, galectin-3 fuels inflammation and the progression of chronic inflammation to fibrosis of organs and tissues, including hardened arteries. Understanding galectin-3 provides a window into the pathophysiology of cardiovascular disease. Many large scale human studies are emphasizing this point, so much that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recognized galectin-3 as an important marker for heart failure. In 2011, the FDA approved a test that analyzes galectin-3 levels as a diagnostic and prognostic tool in assessing cardiovascular disease.
To address these mechanisms with integrative solutions, let’s examine them one at a time.
Free radicals may be tough to address because there is so much uncertainty about the efficacy of antioxidant supplements to combat them. Supplements like vitamins C, E and omega-3 fatty acids have shown slight promise, but study results have been inconsistent. However, antioxidants founds in foods such as brightly colored fruits and vegetables are shown to provide more effective cardiovascular benefits — likely due to their high levels of polyphenols and other phytonutrients which perform essential health functions we’re only just beginning to understand.
We have also seen some success with cardiovascular disease by modulating calcium metabolism. People suffering from osteoporosis and arterial calcification seem to share a lack of Vitamin K, which plays a key role in calcium distribution. Beneficial bacteria in our guts can be an excellent source of vitamin K. Probiotic foods such as natto, which contains the enzyme nattokinase, can help restore this balance, along with leafy greens. Other potential helpers are vitamin D, which has long been associated with bone mineralization, and magnesium, which is also critical for healthy calcium metabolism.
Elevated galectin-3 levels are also relatively easy to address, using a safe, well-tested agent with a binding affinity for that protein – modified citrus pectin (MCP). Ordinary, unmodified pectin offers some health benefits for the GI system, but its large molecules are too big to enter the circulation. By modifying the pectin molecules to a smaller structure, they become bioavailable. MCP enters the circulation and blocks the effects of excess galectin-3, which in turn reduces fibrosis and associated vascular remodeling, along with other critical benefits. For those who are interested in learning more about MCP, I recommend the book: “New Twist on Health: Modified Citrus Pectin for Cancer, Heart Disease and More,” by Karolyn Gazella. Details can be found at www.newtwistonhealth.com.
Other important supplements
Along with arterial blockages, circulation issues — particularly high blood pressure — seriously impact heart health. Again, there are a number of supplements that can support healthy circulation and help control elevated blood pressure. One of these is the enzyme nattokinase, an active ingredient in natto, the Japanese fermented food mentioned above.
A variety of studies have demonstrated the value of nattokinase in improving circulation, particularly through its anticlotting activity. Other trials have shown that nattokinase supplements can help control both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Another useful supplement is L-carnitine, which has been found to inhibit C-reactive protein, another important inflammatory marker. L-carnitine helps the body turn fat into energy, with obvious consequences for the heart. It also shows some promise as an antioxidant.
Hawthorn berry supports healthy cholesterol levels and contains potent antioxidants. Medicinal mushrooms, such as Ganoderma lucidum and Cordyceps sinensis, are also good for cardiovascular health. Ganoderma fights atherosclerosis by reducing levels of nitric oxide and Cordyceps promotes healthy blood pressure. Other useful supplements include garlic, hibiscus and CoQ10, which have all been shown to lower blood pressure.
Though we have made some progress against cardiovascular disease, our conventional medical approach is somewhat backwards. We tackle the issue late in the process, when it’s difficult or impossible to cure. At that point, we are often forced to simply ameliorate symptoms.
The good news is, many health organizations are being proactive with preventative programs to help people adopt healthier habits. I believe nutraceuticals can play a significant role in this process, on both a physical and psychological level. In the quest to prevent heart disease, researched nutraceutical ingredients –together with dietary modifications — can help elevate cardiovascular health to a higher level, while offering significant benefits related to reduced inflammation, better circulation, and greater energy and vitality.
For more health and wellness information, visit www.dreliaz.org