The heart is the most vital organ in the body, beating around 100,000 times per day to get blood pumping to all areas of your body, transporting vital nutrients and oxygen to enable optimal function. It is estimated that around one quarter of deaths in the UK each year are attributed to cardiovascular disease (CVD), with an equal gender split of those with a cardiovascular condition. So where does it all go wrong and, importantly, how can you protect your heart?
Some of the risk factors for CVD include poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and being overweight, as well as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. When considering these risk factors, it is clear that applying some healthy dietary and lifestyle techniques is likely to have a beneficial effect.
EPA & DHA reduce the risk of CVD, reducing high blood pressure and high cholesterol
It’s no secret that the Inuit consumed high doses of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), from a diet rich in oily fish. Interestingly, Inuits also had an overall reduced risk for coronary heart disease. Coincidence? Well, when we look at the research, we see that both EPA and DHA have been shown to reduce high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, risk factors for CVD.
You can obtain EPA and DHA from oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, herring, anchovies and sardines, with studies suggesting a decrease in CVD risk with the consumption of 2-5 portions of fish per week. The Food Standards Agency recommend 2-3 portions per week, due to sea pollutant levels; high amounts of fish in the diet could increase mercury exposure, which is also suggested as a possible contributor to poor heart health (1). For the few times per week that you do enjoy a portion (140 grams) of fish, consider broiling or baking your fish rather than frying it, as frying increases exposure to trans fats, which may increase cholesterol levels and negate any benefit for a healthy diet.
High levels of arachidonic acid (AA), an omega-6 long-chain fatty acid, relative to EPA levels, are an established risk factor for CVD. Whilst we obtain EPA from fish, AA is obtained from grains, as well as meat and dairy products produced from animals fed a high grain diet; for this reason, organic meat and dairy products are recommended as the animals consume at least 51% of their diet from pasture.
If you are not a fan of fish, or wish to further reduce your risk of CVD, consider supplementing with a purified fish oil supplement obtained from wild fish, such as Igennus Pure Essentials Super Concentrated Omega-3 Wild Fish Oil, containing 660mg of EPA and DHA per capsule (2). One capsule also contains 25mcg of vitamin D (2.5x the recommended daily intake), with deficiency of vitamin D also being linked to an increased risk of CVD (3). Unfortunately, the body’s ability to produce vitamin D from sunlight is vastly diminished in the UK, especially during the winter months, making this supplement ideal for protecting the health of your heart.
Whilst some vegetarian forms of omega-3 oils exist, many studies suggest that supplementing fatty acids from animal sources has a more potent effect than using a plant form of omega-3 oil (4). This is likely due to the body not being very efficient at converting short-chain fatty acids (ALA, SDA) to the beneficial long-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA.
If you have been diagnosed with CVD, high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, consider a higher dose EPA and DHA supplement such as Pharmepa Restore and Maintain, as at least 1 gram of EPA and DHA per day is shown as beneficial in reducing levels of these important CVD risk factors (5). This is particularly beneficial for those prescribed statins, as studies suggest that DHA levels are depleted with use of statins whilst, simultaneously, supplementation of EPA when taking statins has a positive effect on cholesterol levels (6, 7).
Antioxidants, such as CoQ10, have a cardioprotective effect
Statins work by blocking the liver’s production of cholesterol, to manage those with high cholesterol levels. However, a common side effect of statins is reduced energy, as they also block the liver’s production of a naturally occurring substance – co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10). CoQ10 is required in every cell of the body for energy production, especially in the heart area where a lot of energy is required. For those taking statins, a supplement is highly recommended to support reduced energy levels, support the health of the heart and, as studies also show, it has a beneficial effect on blood pressure and cholesterol levels (8). Supplementing with Igennus VESIsorb Ubiquinol provides the body with CoQ10 in its ready to use form, allowing quick absorption and utilisation in the body. Ubiquinol is also a potent antioxidant, providing protection to the heart against the oxidative side effects of CVD, as well as stress, smoking, consuming alcohol, and a poor diet.
Other antioxidant-rich foods that can be included in the diet to protect the heart and other organs from oxidative stress include fruit and vegetables, especially brightly coloured berries and dark green leafy vegetables, green tea and cocoa, with green tea showing an additional cardio-protective effect by reducing total cholesterol and blood pressure (9).
Optimising the diet to protect the heart
Be aware of your salt intake. Whilst it is well known that a high salt diet can have a negative impact on blood pressure, many are still unaware of just how much salt you should consume each day, and of how much is contained within foods that are consumed. The British Heart Foundation recommends a maximum of 2.5 grams of sodium and 6 grams of salt per day for an adult, and much less for those under the age of 18. The common culprits of foods high in salt include ready-meals, take-away foods, tinned foods, salted crisps and nuts, and cooking sauces. Become familiar with reading food labels and keep track of how much salt you consume each day.
Adherence to both the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) diet have shown promise in reducing risk for developing CVD, and for reducing cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Both diets recommend antioxidant-rich foods from fruit and vegetables, as well as good quality fats from fish and nuts, whilst reducing your intake of processed foods (high in salt), reducing refined foods such as cakes and biscuits, and recommending the consumption of whole grains.
Finally, get the heart racing
Whilst many positive changes to the diet can have a beneficial effect on the health of your heart, increasing your activity levels can also reduce your risk of developing CVD. Activity trackers, such as a pedometer or a fitness tracking watch, can be a fun way to ensure you are moving around and getting active each day. Some now even contain heart rate trackers, as well as the ability to track your food intake, useful for ensuring you don’t exceed your recommended level of sodium.
1. Genchi, G., Sinicropi, M. S., Carocci, et al. (2017). ‘Mercury Exposure and Heart Diseases’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(1), 74.
2. Lentjes M. A. H., Keogh R. H., Welch A. A., et al. (2017). ‘ Longitudinal associations between marine omega-3 supplement users and coronary heart disease in a UK population based cohort’, BMJ Open 2017, 7
3. Mozos, I., & Marginean, O. (2015). ‘Links between Vitamin D Deficiency and Cardiovascular Diseases’, BioMed Research International, 109275.
4. Liu L., Hu Q., Wu H., et al. (2016). ‘Protective role of n6/n3 PUFA supplementation with varying DHA/EPA ratios against atherosclerosis in mice’, The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 32, pp. 171-180.
5. Alexander D. D., Miller P. E., Van Elswyk M. E., et al. (2017). ‘A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials and Prospective Cohort Studies of Eicosapentaenoic and Docosahexaenoic Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Coronary Heart Disease Risk’, Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 92 (1), pp 15-29.
6. Nozue, T., & Michishita, I. (2015). ‘Statin treatment alters serum n-3 to n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids ratio in patients with dyslipidemia’, Lipids in Health and Disease, 14, (67).
7. Yokoyama M, Origasa H, Matsuzaki M, et al. (2007). ‘Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid on major coronary events in hypercholesterolaemic patients (JELIS): a randomised open-label, blinded endpoint analysis’, Lancet, 369 (9567), pp. 1090-1098.
8. Flowers N., Hartley L., Todkill D., et al. (2014). ‘Co-enzyme Q10 supplementation for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease’, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 12.
9. Hartley L., Flowers N., Holmes J., et al. (2013). ‘Green and black tea for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease’. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, 6.