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National Heart Month: Heart Health and Omega-3

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.

References
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.

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Heart Health

Heart Health: How healthy is your lifestyle?

Heart Health

This month we turn our attention to heart health. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) still remains the biggest killer, accounting for 155,000 deaths per year, costing the National Health Service 8 billion pounds (1). The most common types are Coronary Heart Disease (narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries) and Stroke (rapid loss of brain function due to disturbance in the blood supply to the brain).

The heart is responsible for pumping blood around the body, carrying all the essential nutrients to distal tissues and organs and collecting any waste products to the liver and kidneys for excretion. We often associate heart disease with old age, taking multiple medications and risk of serious complications or even death. However, even before this stage, suboptimal function can affect our general wellbeing. Poor circulation may lead to fatigue, memory problems or muscle pain for example. If they get overlooked, more serious complications can develop, so it is crucial to look after your heart with a healthy lifestyle.

Cholesterol – friend or foe?

Over the past 50 years, cholesterol has been demonised as the major cause of heart disease. The newest research however, has largely disproven this statement and we now know that although it is a factor, other elements should be taken into consideration. Cholesterol is a type of fat that is produced in the liver but we can also get from animal foods (eggs, meat, dairy). It is actually essential for the body, as a component of cell membranes and nervous tissue as well as a precursor to vitamin D, bile and some hormones. If the arteries get damaged, the body uses cholesterol as a protective plaster to patch up the walls and repair them. However, in the long term, this can lead to a build-up of plaques that could potentially be dangerous. As with everything, we need to keep it in balance. Although a low fat diet isn’t advisable, if your cholesterol levels are too high, there are ways to support your body to bring them down naturally.

Omega 3 fats (EPA and DHA) found in fish oils, have long been known for their benefits to heart health and unfortunately our diets are often lacking in those essential fats. Combining them with specific types of plant sterols provides an even better heart friendly combination. Plant sterols contribute to the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels.

Most studies often use doses that would be very difficult to get from your diet alone, so if you have a problem with cholesterol it may be worth supplementing with a good quality product.

BioCardio - Concentrated Liquid Fish Oil
BioCardio – Concentrated Liquid Fish Oil

Protection against free radicals

We often hear about antioxidants and free radicals, but do we really understand what they are?

Free radicals are simply unstable molecules that result from everyday physical or physiological processes or come from our environment. They are unstable because they are missing an electron and they are looking to ‘steal’ one from another molecule, damaging them in the process. This ‘other molecule’ can be your DNA, other cells or cholesterol for example. Oxidative stress is strongly linked to cardiovascular disease through damage to LDL cholesterol and increased inflammation. Our body has many ways of protecting itself from free radical damage, but for this to be effective it needs several nutrients like vitamin E or C. Many plants contain very powerful antioxidants that have numerous health benefits.

One of the most researched for cardiovascular health is proanthocyanidins found in grapeseed and pine bark extracts. They help to maintain healthy blood vessels and capillary integrity and are up to 50 times more effective at scavenging free radicals than vitamin E and C.

The secret lies in colour and flavour. Plants produce different chemicals that protect them from predators, these are often pigments, so the brighter the colour the better it is for you. Great examples include bilberries or turmeric. Anthocyanosides in bilberries can help with elasticity and integrity of blood vessels making them stronger and less prone to the harmful effect of free radicals. On the other hand, curcumin found in the orange spice turmeric helps to support the immune system.

PhytoCell - Antioxidant Blend
     PhytoCell – Antioxidant Blend

Eating for your heart

The heart never stops, so providing a steady supply of nutrients and antioxidants from a healthy diet is key to optimum function. Foods that are specifically great for the heart include: pomegranate, beetroots and almonds. Beetroots not only contain many micronutrients, but are also a source in nitrates that help to maintain healthy blood pressure.

Increasing fibre intake from vegetables, flax seeds, chia seeds and grains such as quinoa or millet will help with healthy cholesterol excretion and blood pressure.

Amongst nuts, almonds prove to be true superfoods. A study from 2014 showed that a daily portion of 50g can reduce blood pressure and increase blood levels of vitamin E (2).

One heart friendly nutrient that is relatively difficult to obtain from diet is Coenzyme Q10. It is not considered as a vitamin because our body can make it, however the levels tend to decline with age.

Microcell CoQ10 200
              Microcell CoQ10 200

References
1. British Heart Foundation, 2014.
2. K. Choudhury, J. Clark, H. R. Griffiths. An almond-enriched diet increases plasma α-tocopherol and improves vascular function but does not affect oxidative stress markers or lipid levels. Free Radical Research, 2014; 48 (5): 599

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Heart Disease

Heart Disease: Simple Steps to Reduce Your Risk

Simple Steps to Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease

February is National Heart Month, a campaign run by the British Heart Foundation to raise awareness of the UK’s biggest killer. Heart disease is responsible for around 75,000 deaths in the UK each year, and many of these deaths are preventable.

The single biggest modifiable risk factor for heart disease is high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. One of the most common disorders in the UK, hypertension is defined as persistent raised blood pressure above 140/90mmHg.

Unfortunately hypertension, often referred to as ‘the silent killer’, typically has no outward symptoms. Around 13 million people in the UK suffer with hypertension, but 6 million of these remain undiagnosed (1).

Rule of 3: Everyday changes to protect your health

Taking control of our health means identifying those factors within our control and taking positive action to eliminate them. Unfortunately, dramatic lifestyle changes can feel overwhelming. While your GP can advise on medications, exercise and dietary changes to address heart health, there are simple changes you can begin to make every day to kick start healthy changes.

Here are three simple snacks and three supplements which have been shown to reduce blood pressure.

3 Simple Snacks

1. Snack on almonds and cashews

Replacing your usual savoury or sugary snacks with a handful of cashews or almonds will help to regulate blood sugar levels and blood pressure. These nuts are among the best sources of dietary magnesium, a mineral responsible for dilating blood vessels and preventing spasms in the heart muscle. They also help to lower cholesterol levels. Studies have found nut consumption to be linked with an 8.3% reduced risk of heart disease (2).

2. Drink Hibiscus tea

A cup of hibiscus tea before breakfast lowers both diastolic and systolic blood pressure by more than 10%. A recent study found that one cup of hibiscus tea each day for four weeks was as effective as the drug Captopril in reducing blood pressure (3).

3. Get juicing

A daily juice or smoothie containing nitrate-rich vegetables offers a simple way to help reduce blood pressure. Nitrate-rich vegetables such as beetroot and kale are important for healthy blood flow, and lower blood pressure by dilating blood vessels (4). Pomegranate enhances this effect by enhancing the activity of nitrates. Beets blend well with apples and berries, while kale blends well with tropical fruits such as pineapple or banana.

3 Key Nutrients for a Healthy Heart

1. Garlic

A recent meta-analysis provides evidence that garlic supplementation significantly reduces blood pressure in those with hypertension. In this study, doses ranged from 600mg to 900mg daily (5). The active component of garlic, called allicin, is destroyed during cooking, so supplements are a good choice for maximum benefit.

2. Fish oil

Several studies have linked fish oil supplementation with reduced blood pressure in those with hypertension (6). As well as lowering blood pressure, fish oil supplements reduce inflammation and platelet aggregation (‘sticky blood’). The American Heart Association recommends that those with coronary heart disease should take 1g of EPA plus DHA from fish oil supplements each day.

3. Magnesium

Diets high in sugar and low in plant foods tend to provide insufficient levels of magnesium. This is a concern because magnesium is important for the dilation of blood vessels. A recent meta-analysis found that magnesium supplementation does indeed lower blood pressure, but that larger studies are needed to confirm these findings (7). Those interested in supplementing magnesium have a number of options. Magnesium can be supplemented as a topical oil applied to skin, as magnesium salts in the bath or as a traditional oral supplement.

References
1. Blood pressure UK. http://www.bloodpressureuk.org/mediacentre/Bloodpressurenews/UKhighbloodpressurerisesbutmorediagnosed. Accessed 18/01/2016.
2. Hu FB, Stampfer MJ (1999) Nut consumption and risk of coronoary heart disease: a review of epidemiologic evidence. CurrAtheroscler Rep 1(3):533-40
3. Harrera-Arellano et L (2004) Effectiveness and tolerability of a standardised extract from Hibiscus sabdariffa in patients with mild to moderate hypertension: a controlled and randomised trial. 11(5):365-82
4. Kapil et al (2015) Dietary nitrate provides sustained blood pressure lowering in hypertensive patients: a randomised, phase 2, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Hypertension 65(2):320-7
5. Reid et al (2008) Effect of garlic on blood pressure: A systematic review and meta-analysis. B
6. Breslow (2006) n-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. Am J ClinNutr. 86(6):1477S-1482S
7. Jee et al (2002) The effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomised clinical trials. Am J Hypertension 15(8):691-6

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