Heart Support Report: The Right Supplements for Heart Health
Think cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a modern problem? Well, take heart in this nugget of information compliments of The Horus Study, which looked inside ancient Egyptian mummies. Guess what, they had clogged arteries too!
While it’s true that we have more pitfalls today when it comes to heart support, we also have vastly more information and resources at our disposal than Tutankhamun and Cleopatra had. In fact, we did our best to compile all the latest and best evidence on heart functions and supplements for heart health in this very article. So take a deep breath, get comfortable, and let’s attempt to unwind it all.
How your heart works
Of all the organs of the body, your heart is no doubt the workhorse. Beating over 80,000 times each day, pumping blood through about 100,000 miles of arteries, veins and capillaries. These are the veritable highways and roads, which are used to deliver oxygen and nutrients all over your body, as well as to haul away waste products. (1)
The heart itself is essentially a ball of muscle with four hollow chambers inside, two atria on top and two ventricles on the bottom. Circulated blood, largely depleted of oxygen, enters the right atrium through a couple of large veins called the vena cavae. Blood then flows to the right ventricle before exiting to the lungs via the pulmonary arteries.
In the lungs, your blood is replenished with oxygen from the air you breathe, then sent back to the heart where it enters the left atrium. In mirror image of what occurred on the right side, the blood then goes to the left ventricle. Finally, this oxygen-rich blood leaves the heart through a massive artery called the aorta, which branches off to regions all over the body.
On average the heart beats 60-100 times per minute. Each beat consists of a contraction of the atria and ventricles followed by a brief relaxation of the muscles. The contraction part is called systole and the relaxation diastole. Incidentally, the top number in your blood pressure reading denotes the pressure during systole (systolic blood pressure) and the bottom number is the pressure during diastole (diastolic blood pressure).
Precisely timed electrical impulses are conducted through circuits within the muscle, causing it to contract and thus pacing the heartbeat. Electrical disturbances affecting the heart are known as arrhythmias. (2,3)
Watch how the heart works in this VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHMmtqKgs50
Blood pressure: a delicate balance
The importance of maintaining blood pressure within a healthy range cannot be understated. If there’s too little pressure (hypotension), tissues and organs may be starved of oxygen and key nutrients, leading to disease. Consequently, too much pressure (hypertension) can cause severe damage to blood vessels and organs over time. As a result, the body has several innate mechanisms designed to tightly regulate blood pressure.
At the most basic level, blood pressure is a factor of how fast the heart pumps (heart rate or pulse), how much blood is ejected from the heart (stroke volume) and the resistance it meets once in the blood vessels (vascular resistance). As such, the three main ways blood pressure increases or decreases is by changing either the heart rate, the total blood volume or the size of the blood vessels. (4)
Internally, the heart rate is driven up or down by hormones, or chemical messengers. In times of need, or in response to certain physical factors, the body’s sympathetic nervous system releases epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine to quicken the heart rate, or else the parasympathetic nervous system releases acetylcholine to slow it down.
Physical factors that can affect heart rate include:
- Body position – Often a brief increase is seen when you stand up, as from a bed or chair.
- Emotions – Stress, anxiety and fear, as well as excitement and exhilaration, can raise your heart rate, while any type of pleasing or calming emotion can lower it.
- Air temperature – Higher temperatures may raise your heart rate slightly, by about 5-10 beats per minute.
- Body size – Generally if you are very large or obese, your heart rate will be slightly higher than average, but still within the normal range.
- Exercise – Almost always increases heart rate proportional to your exertion level. Though generally the more you exercise, the greater pumping capacity your heart develops over time, which actually serves to decrease your resting heart rate.
- Drugs – Many illicit drugs can raise heart rate, sometimes to a dangerous degree. Caffeine speeds the heart as well, with a little offering a nice pick-me-up but too much posing a threat. Of course numerous prescription medications have been developed to slow heart rate and thus decrease blood pressure.
- Heart healthy supplements – While most don’t have immediate effects, some of the best supplements for heart health (more to come on this) may help decrease your heart rate over time. (5)
By far the greatest impact on blood volume is made by the relative levels of sodium and water in the body. Blood is mostly water, while sodium and water tend to stick together — so it only makes sense that more water and sodium on board, the more blood. So how much of these you consume does make a difference. However, normally functioning kidneys will compensate with hormonal responses, either prompting the body to dump more sodium and water by way of urine, or retain them, maintaining a nice balance called homeostasis.
See how blood pressure works in this video:
Blood vessels are more active than you think
Your blood vessels are not merely a network of pipes for moving blood, but in fact a dynamic system. Tightening (vasoconstriction) or relaxing (vasodilation) of smooth muscle within the vessel walls is driven by a sort of “smart” lining on the inside called endothelium. This endothelium behaves very much like an endocrine organ, capable of releasing substances that stimulate either process and thus elevate or lower blood pressure.
While vasoconstriction can certainly be helpful — such as in a classic “fight or flight” situation — factors promoting vasodilation tend to get the most attention. After all, most people need more vasodilation in their lives, especially those suffering from chronic hypertension.
By far the most powerful and widely studied vasodilator is nitric oxide (NO). Through receptors in the endothelium, vessels are able to detect increased blood flow and produce their own NO in response, which tells the smooth muscle to relax. The amino acid L-arginine is used to make NO. Evidence shows consuming extra L-arginine can be effective in lowering blood pressure, which is why it’s considered one of the best heart supplements. This nutrient is also widely available in meats such as turkey, chicken and pork, as well as other protein foods like nuts and seeds. Dietary nitrates are another raw material that can boost nitric oxide in the body, the best source being green leafy vegetables such as arugula, spinach and lettuce, as well as celery, carrots and beets. (6, 7, 8)
A chronic lack of NO — on top other factors like aging, smoking and hypertension — can often lead to arterial “stiffness” where the vessels cannot dilate normally. Over time this may result in angina, heart attack or congestive heart failure (CHF). (9)
Owning a broken heart: cardiovascular diseases
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, responsible for taking almost 20 million lives each year. Just as tragic, if not more so, is the manner in which heart disease progresses — sometimes striking quickly but more often slowly draining the life from its victims.
Aside from congenital (from birth) heart defects, of which there are several, the cardiovascular system can break down in a number of ways during your lifetime. Here are some of the most common cardiovascular diseases (CVD) you should be aware of:
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
Arteries become narrower from buildup of plaque (atherosclerosis), a hard substance made of cholesterol, minerals and other compounds. This makes the arteries stiffer (less able to dilate) and restricts blood flow. Eventually an artery may become completely blocked. If blood flow to the heart itself is cut off, you have a heart attack. If the blockage occurs in arms or legs this is called peripheral vascular disease or peripheral arterial disease (PVD or PAD).
In recent years, more studies have highlighted the role of inflammation in CAD, and in fact having an inflammatory disease such as rheumatoid arthritis has shown to increase the risk of developing CAD. (10)
Myocardial Infarction (MI)
Commonly called a heart attack, there are several types and several causes, but the most common is caused by CAD. One in five is silent, causing minor damage to the heart muscle. Symptoms of MI include:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Pain in the jaw, neck, shoulders, arms or back
- Weakness, light-headedness, or fainting
- Shortness of breath
If you believe a heart attack is happening to you or someone else, call 911 immediately.
Often mistaken for reflux or indigestion, angina presents as pressure or pain in the chest, though it may also radiate to shoulders, arms, back, neck or jaw. Angina is a common symptom of CAD and may be classified as stable (happens only when under exertion or stress) or unstable (happens at rest). (11)
Aortic aneurysm and dissection
If a weakened vessel wall and/or excessive blood pressure causes a bulge in the aorta, this is called an aortic aneurysm. A resulting split in the vessel wall is known as a dissection. The aorta may also rupture completely — in either case, the condition must be treated immediately and surgery performed to save the person’s life. (12)
Abnormal heart beat that is too fast, too slow or mistimed. Two of the most common, and severe, types are ventricular fibrillation (V-fib) and atrial fibrillation (A-fib). In V-fib, an electrical disturbance causes the ventricles (lower chambers) of the heart to quiver, usually leading to a cardiac arrest or total collapse of the heart. In A-fib, the atria (upper chambers) of the heart beat out of synch with the ventricles. This does not present an immanent emergency, however makes the formation of blood clots in the heart much more likely. Symptoms of A-fib include:
- Heart palpitations
- Weakness and fatigue
- Lightheadedness and diziness
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
This is a general diagnosis, literally meaning “heart muscle disease.” Manifestations include enlargement of one or more heart chambers, as well as thickening, thinning or stiffening of the heart muscle. The cause of cardiomyopathy is not always clear, though factors such as genetics, history of heart attacks or hypertension, infections, pregnancy, alcoholism and cocaine abuse are known to be associated with the disease. (13)
Congestive heart failure (CHF)
Unlike a heart attack, CHF (also referred to as heart failure or HF) typically develops slowly over the course of years, and simply means the heart has become too weak to pump blood effectively. The classic risk factors for CHF include poor diet and lifestyle choices, lack of exercise and obesity. The first signs of CHF are typically breathing problems, especially with exertion or lying down, in addition to generalized weakness and swelling (edema) of the lower extremities. (14)
Rheumatic heart disease
A streptococcal bacteria infection can cause rheumatic fever, which in turn may damage the heart valves.
Learn 10 warning signs of possible heart trouble here:
Drugs that may cause heart problems
Heart failure incurred by way of toxicity is one of the least prevalent modes of the disease, yet one of the most preventable. Many drugs have heart failure among their potential adverse side effects — including several that are used to treat heart conditions in the first place. While this is good to know, keep in mind the incidence is usually quite small. In other words, the benefits of these drugs typically outweigh the risks.
The following are drugs known to have caused heart failure in a minority of cases:
Anti-cancer agents — Because many are designed to poison cancer cells, they tend to poison healthy cells also, heart cells included. These drugs include daunorubicin, doxorubicin, cyclophosphamide, paclitaxel, mitoxantrone, 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) and cytarabin.
Antiarrhythmic medications — In targeting heart tissue to help prevent atrial fibrillation and other conditions, these drugs (as a class) can weaken the heart over time, leading to congestive heart failure (CHF). Some of the most commonly used agents are amiodarone, flecainide, procainamide and sotalol.
Beta blockers – Slow the heart rate and reduce the force of contraction by targeting the hormone epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. Common variants of this drug class include acebutolol, atenolol, bisoprolol, metoprolol, nadolol, nebivolol and propranolol.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – Commonly taken for pain and inflammation, NSAIDs have been associated with fluid retention and the onset of CHF in several studies. Well-known drugs in this class include ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen.
Calcium channel blockers – Widely prescribed to treat angina (chest pain), these drugs reduce electrical conduction within the heart, decrease the contraction force of heart muscle and dilate arteries. Unfortunately they have also been shown to negatively affect left ventricular heart function, possibly contributing to the exacerbation of CHF. Medications include amlodipine, verapamil and diltiazem. (15)
If you have concerns about prescribed medication(s), always consult your doctor before stopping or making any changes on your own.
Recovering from heart disease
Your pace and total degree of recovery from heart disease depends on many factors, namely what kind of disease affected you, how severe it was/is, how long you spent in the hospital and whether or not you required surgery. Since heart attacks are often the nexus of different cardiovascular problems, much of the professional advice tends to start there. According to the American Heart association, the key to recovering from a heart attack can be remembered by the acronym ABC:
- Avoid tobacco
- Become more active
- Choose good nutrition
- Engage in family and social activities.
- Take a walk daily, preferably outside
- Join a cardiac rehab program (16)
In every case, but especially with congestive heart failure (CHF), it’s vital that you double-down on your dietary approach. Limit sodium and fluid intake per guidelines provided by your doctor and registered dietitian, while taking all medicines as prescribed. Failure to do so will almost invariably land you back in the hospital, maybe worse.
Following a heart-healthy diet
Reducing calories tends to promote weight loss, which improves cardiovascular risk factors if you’re overweight or obese. Studies show this occurs regardless of the specific dietary plan you follow, but here’s the key. The weight loss needs to be maintained in order to carry the heart health benefits forward — and thus, it stands to reason the diet needs to be maintained as well. (17)
Keep this top of mind when embarking on a change in dietary patterns. Ask yourself, can I eat this way for the rest of my life? If the answer is no, it’s reasonable to expect short-term weight loss and health benefits, but not necessarily long-term disease prevention.
Also, try to avoid dietary advice that speaks in absolutes. Many will tell you there are “good” foods and “bad” foods, and your diet must include all the good and eliminate all the bad. These diets tend to be difficult to maintain in the long term, and may omit key nutrients. Diets will always vary by cultural and personal preference — so rest assured there are several different paths to success, with lots of room for customization based on your own likes and dislikes.
In 2015, a panel of researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), among them numerous PhDs and registered dietitians (RDs), compiled an exhaustive report (nearly 600 pages long) on dietary patterns and their effect on human health, including cardiovascular disease. The purpose was to inform the USDA on what “dietary guidelines” they should pass on to the American public, based on the strength of all the evidence available. While some have criticized the USDA for being biased by various corporate interests, this report is one of the most comprehensive and well-vetted analyses of dietary intake ever undertaken, and thus cannot be ignored. (18)
According to the report, the evidence is “strong” that cardiovascular disease can be prevented with a dietary pattern that is:
Higher in (specific foods):
- Whole grains
- Low-fat dairy
- Nuts and legumes
Higher in (other):
- Unsaturated fats
Lower in (specific foods):
- Red and processed meat
- Refined grains
- Sugar-sweetened foods and beverages
Lower in (other):
- Saturated fat
Now, keep in mind that the terms “higher” and “lower” are based in the average consumption by the U.S. population. So depending on your own personal dietary patterns, you may not need to eat less or more of certain foods.
Is cholesterol back on the table?
Interestingly, on the subject of cholesterol the report says: “… available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and [blood] cholesterol.” Yet cholesterol remains a nutrient they recommend eating in limited amounts. A calculated hedge perhaps, given the ongoing heated debate about eggs — the classic high-cholesterol food that also happens to be very nutritious, not to mention plentiful and inexpensive.
Indeed, some recent studies have suggested that eating egg yolks (which contain all the cholesterol, as well as other fatty substances like choline) may cause inflammation within the blood vessels and thus promote CAD. (19)
Saturated fat – love it or hate it
Another hot button issue these days is saturated fat. Many promoting low-carbohydrate diets such as Atkins or Paleo say not to worry about these fats from the likes of butter, cream, pork and beef. To a certain extent they may be correct — that is, any negative effects may be offset by factors such as a) the overall caloric restriction, b) the increase in non-starchy vegetables and fiber, c) the relatively young age of the person, and/or d) the short duration of the diet.
That’s all well and good, but just understand the science is stacked up against saturated fat. According to that USDA advisory report, “strong and consistent evidence” shows that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats reduces the risk of adverse events and death from CVD. For every one percent of energy intake replaced as such, the incidence of CVD was reduced by two to three percent.
Sodium, potassium & their impact on blood pressure
What do apples, broccoli, oat bran, kidney beans and raw chicken have in common? They contain only trace amounts of sodium, as do most foods in their natural state. Instead, most of the sodium in our diets tends to come from:
- Restaurant food, especially fast food and pizza
- Processed meats – bacon, sausage, hot dogs, hamburgers, etc.
- Luncheon meats
- Salty snacks – chips, pretzels, nuts, etc.
- Frozen meals
- Canned soups and broths
- Sauces and marinades – soy, steak, barbeque, etc.
Sugar – less is more
Despite being widely reviled, the evidence against sugar — especially natural sugar from natural foods such as fruit — is much less robust. Moderate evidence from prospective cohort studies indicates that higher intake of “added” sugars, as from beverages like soda, is consistently associated with increased risk of hypertension, stroke, and CVD in adults.
Added sugar is also widely associated with increased body weight, however we don’t know if sugar itself is the culprit or merely the additional calories. (25)
The bottom line is that added sugars — whether from desserts, sodas, sports drinks or processed foods — do not provide our bodies with much nourishment at all, just extra energy most of us can do without.
The mediterranean diet
By no coincidence, the dietary pattern recommended by that USDA report — as outlined above — basically describes a Mediterranean diet. Of all the diets out there, its positive effects on cardiovascular health are by far the most thoroughly documented. (26)
Perhaps best of all, this high fiber, low saturated fat diet can be readily adapted for vegetarians, pescaterians or many other taste profiles, making it among the easiest to follow for life. And as a bonus, it’s also among the most beneficial diets for gut health (primarily due to the fiber), which as we’ll later discuss has its own distinct cardiovascular benefits.
Low carb diets
Significant weight loss reduces CVD risk across the board, regardless of diet, however some evidence shows a low carb, high protein, low saturated fat diet may be superior in terms of maintaining weight loss and heart health. In other words, a balanced approach with most fat from polyunsaturated sources, such as the olive-oil heavy Mediterranean diet, is preferable to an Atkins-style diet.
A large review of randomized controlled clinical trials and large observational studies concluded that low-carbohydrate diets not only decrease body weight but also improve cardiovascular risk factors. (27)
Evidence from this systematic review demonstrates that low-carbohydrate/high-protein diets are more effective at 6 months and are as effective, if not more, as low-fat diets in reducing weight and cardiovascular disease risk up to 1 year.
Compared with a low-fat diet, a low-carbohydrate diet program had better participant retention and greater weight loss. During active weight loss, triglyceride levels decreased more and LDL cholesterol levels increased more with the low-carbohydrate diet than with the low-fat diet. (28)
In a 2014 review, low carb diets led to more weight loss but no significant change in disease outcomes.
When compared with a moderate to low-fat diet, a low carb diet was actually shown to significantly increase cardiovascular risk factors including inflammatory markers in a 2018 study. The low fat diet had the opposite (positive) health effect. Also, those following the low carb diet were much more likely to abandon the changes after one year. (29)
Vegan & vegetarian diets
Be wary of those who assert that strict vegetarianism or veganism is the only path to avoiding heart disease. Their “heart” may be in the right place, but studies show that animal products can indeed be part of a cardioprotective diet.
That said, in a review four out of six studies suggested that a vegetarian diet pattern was associated with reduced incidence of ischemic heart disease (IHD) or CVD mortality. Another meta-analysis of seven
studies related to CVD mortality and vegetarian diet found that mortality from IHD was significantly lower in vegetarians than in non-vegetarians. (30)
Given that most vegetarian and vegan diets are congruent with the Mediterranean diet, minus the animal products, these positive results are to be expected.
Protect your kidneys, protect your heart
Your heart and kidneys are interconnected in some key ways, which means you want to keep both systems in good working order. In fact, not only do kidney disease and heart disease share two main causes — diabetes and hypertension — statistics show if you have kidney disease you’re more likely to get heart disease, and vice versa.
The primary function of the kidneys is to filter your blood, removing extra water and waste products and eliminate them from the body as urine. Under normal conditions, your kidneys will filter about eight quarts of blood every hour (almost two gallons), and blood pressure is extremely important to proper kidney function. Too little pressure (hypotension), often caused by dehydration or severe infection (sepsis), may not be adequate to perfuse the kidneys and result in an acute kidney injury (AKI) or outright kidney failure. Too much pressure on the other hand may damage the kidneys’ filtering structures (nephrons) over time, resulting in chronic kidney disease (CKD).
Perhaps by no coincidence then, your kidneys actually perform a major role in regulating blood pressure through a system of negative feedback and hormone production. In addition, they help to produce red blood cells and balance mineral levels in the blood, such as calcium, sodium, potassium and phosphorus. These minerals are used all over the body, including the heart itself. (31)
The good news is that following the diet and lifestyle advice for heart health will help you maintain healthy kidneys, as well. In particular, a diet relatively low in salt and fat, along with adequate hydration from clean water — while avoiding toxins from smoking, drugs and other chemicals — should keep things filtering along quite nicely.
More alternative ways to prevent heart disease
The great author Charles Dickens once said, “There is a wisdom of the head, and a wisdom of the heart.”
You can surely cite at least one example from your own life, when it seemed your heart took you in a certain direction, regardless of what your brain had to say. Of course, it wasn’t the physical organ in your chest that moved you, but something emotional, as if from a script written deep in your DNA.
When you consider all this, a strong connection between our physical hearts and our metaphysical ones seems perfectly logical. And because of this, it also makes perfect sense that calming, introspective activities such as meditation, yoga, tai chi and qigong (or chi gung, other spellings) would have potential benefits for cardiovascular health. Indeed, quite a lot of research bears this out. (32)
Research on bacteria (flora) in the human gut, often called the microbiome, is similar to the study of deep space, black holes and the like. We have made some incredible discoveries thus far, but it’s safe to say we’ve only scratched the surface.
Studies have been rapidly emerging on many aspects of the microbiome, including it’s possible effect on pathogenesis, aka disease. Given the fact that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, of course linking gut flora to CVD in hopes of saving lives is one of the major targets of research funding.
A recent review of the literature portends the many exciting developments in the field. (33)
Here are just a few of the discoveries that scientists have made:
- The microbiome in certain mice was seen to extract more caloric value from foods, leading to obesity.
- Gut flora metabolism of specific nutrients has been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular events. (102,103)
- Plant-based fibers and resistant starches may promote a gut microbiota favorable to heart health, but more research is needed in this area. (34)
- Elevated levels of the gut microbial metabolite trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) were associated with increased risks of major adverse cardiovascular events and all-cause mortality independently of traditional risk factors. TMAO is largely a byproduct of protein metabolism — from foods such as red meat, poultry, fish and eggs.
- The measure of artery stiffness was higher in women with a lower diversity of healthy gut bacteria.
- An increasing number of clinical trials suggest that probiotics (but not necessarily probiotic supplements) can decrease blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Physical exercise may increase diversity of gut bacteria.
- A key mechanism for why red meat consumption is highly associated with CVD involves gut microbes.
Learn more about the connection between gut bacteria and heart health in this VIDEO:
You hear it all the time. Diet and exercise … exercise and diet. They go together like a horse and carriage, and for good reason. According to a review published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, physical activity contributes to cardiorespiratory health and reduced risk for CVD — regardless of sex, ethnicity or age. In fact, the most active individuals were shown to have up to a 40% lower risk of developing heart disease than their sedentary counterparts.
Many other studies say the same thing. Exercise and other physical activity is associated with reduced mortality from cardiovascular disease.
The specific form of exercise doesn’t seem all that important. But if it makes you feel better — running, even slowly, and for limited periods of time, has been demonstrated to protect against heart disease. Walking has, too. (35)
Often considered a waste of time in our fast-paced lives, the rejuvenating and restorative power of adequate, quality sleep cannot be underestimated. Multiple studies have linked poor sleep habits with obesity, metabolic syndrome and CVD. By the way, most experts agree that seven hours of sleep per night is the optimal amount. (36)
Think brushing and flossing is merely a dental issue? Well think again. Multiple studies have shown that advanced gum disease (periodontitis or periodontal disease) is associated with systemic inflammation — with the same “signature” as is seen in CVD. Moreover, parallels have been drawn between toothbrushing habits and levels of inflammatory markers in the bloodstream, as well as hypertension and risk of stroke. Levels of bacteria in the mouth have also been positively correlated with CVD.
Heart supplements: your key to a happy heart
Before selecting what heart healthy supplements you will take, if any, it’s important to understand and address all the other diet and lifestyle areas we’ve discussed — first and foremost. After all, if you have too many CVD risk factors working against you, it’s likely no amount of heart supplements will overcome that. It’s also well-demonstrated that the preferred source of bioavailable nutrients is from foods.
With that said, here are the supplements with the greatest potential to be a part of your heart support team:
Due to its high nitrogen content and potential effects on blood pressure, beetroot juice has been a subject of interest among potential heart supplements in recent years. A 2017 review of studies found that subjects taking beetroot juice had significant drops in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. (37)
A similar review in 2013 had found the supplement only lowered systolic blood pressure, while a study in 2014 showed a very small decrease in overall blood pressure (not significant). (38)
Also known as ubiquinone, CoQ10 is a lynchpin of creating energy at the cellular level, while also functioning as an antioxidant and free radical scavenger. Therefore it has been an obvious subject of inquiry regarding how it may affect the highly energetic cardiac muscle and the prevention of CVD.
As a heart supplement in doses from 60 to 200 mg daily, CoQ10 has been shown to significantly improve exercise tolerance in those with heart failure, hypertension, ischemic heart disease and other cardiac illnesses.
Another comprehensive review found that CoQ10 may be helpful in treatment of hypertension, CHF, heart attack and atherosclerosis. (39)
Curcumin / Turmeric
Given the prominent role of both oxidative stress and inflammation in CVD, it’s logical that a super antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound like curcumin would be effective as a preventative tool. In some studies, curcumin has shown tremendous promise as an adjunct therapy following heart attack and bypass surgery — while in other research it has helped lower cholesterol and shown potential to protect against both atherosclerosis and heart arrythmias. (40)
Learn about more health benefits of curcumin in this VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPvCkEUi96c
Fiber / Psyllium Husk
A 2017 “umbrella review” of all published meta-analyses concluded that individuals consuming the highest amounts of dietary fiber intake can significantly reduce their incidence and mortality from cardiovascular disease.
Fiber supplementation in the form of psyllium husk has been generally shown to improve markers of metabolic syndrome including cholesterol, triglycerides, fasting glucose and blood pressure — as well as reduce overall risk of cardiovascular disease. (41, 42)
Grape Seed Extract
Similar to resveratrol, grape seed extract contains bioactive compounds called polyphenols that function as antioxidants. In particular, the type in grape seed extract has an affinity for collagen as found in blood vessels, and thus is believed to help strengthen the integrity of the vasculature. While numerous animal studies have suggested grape seed may deserve a place among heart healthy supplements, human trials have yielded mixed results. However, a recent meta-analysis of trials concluded that grape seed extract was indeed effective at lowering systolic blood pressure and heart rate in human subjects. (43)
We’ve already discussed the role of arginine in the management of blood pressure — by producing nitric oxide and thereby stimulating vasodilation.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there’s evidence that supplemental L-arginine can lower blood pressure in healthy people and those with pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs). There’s also research to suggest it can help with mild to moderate angina. (44)
This mineral is central to heart contractility and blood vessel function. It’s known to have vasodilatory, anti-inflammatory, anti-ischemic, and antiarrhythmic properties, so it only stands to reason that magnesium would qualify as one of the best supplements for heart health.
In a 2017 meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, the data suggested that magnesium supplementation significantly lowers blood pressure in individuals with insulin resistance, prediabetes or other noncommunicable chronic diseases.
Metabolic and experimental studies do tend to endorse magnesium as a beneficial regulator of blood pressure, however much of this evidence thought to be of below-average quality. (45)
Omega-3 Fatty Acids / Fish Oil
A 2018 review of the scientific literature found that Omega-3 fatty acids were one of only two nutrients proven to offer a “statistically significant reduction in risk” of CVD events or overall mortality (the other was Vitamin D). However, another review of 79 randomized controlled trials the very same year concluded that increasing EPA and DHA (as found in fish oil) has “little or no effect” on mortality or cardiovascular health. While a third comprehensive review found that intake of DHA and EPA “may be associated” with reducing CVD risk. Bottom line, there’s no obvious downside to Omega-3’s however the jury is still out on whether fish oil or the like deserves to be called one of the best heart supplements. (46, 47)
A powerful antioxidant, resveratrol is the so-called “secret sauce” found in red wine, thought to partially explain the “French Paradox” — whereby a high fat diet does not result in high levels of CVD. As you might expect, resveratrol has also gained popularity among heart health supplements. A recent study published in the journal Nutrition concluded such a regimen may be worthwhile, as subjects taking resveratrol had a significant reduction of both total cholesterol and triglycerides. These results are inconsistent with a previous (2013) review, however, which concluded that resveratrol was ineffective at lowering cholesterol levels. (48)
Vitamin D status has been linked to hypertension, myocardial infarction, heart failure and CVD mortality. This, and the fact that it’s one of the more difficult nutrients to get in adequate amounts from food, brings vitamin D to the forefront among heart health supplements.
Several mechanisms may be the key to vitamin D’s apparent CVD protective status. These include its suppression of vascular calcification, its anti-inflammatory properties, and its action as a negative endocrine regulator of the renin-angiotensin system (blood pressure regulation via kidney). (49)
Vitamin E as Tocotrienols
Tocotrienols are certainly less-known and less-studied than the common alpha-tocopherol form of vitamin E, however thus far they show much more promise as an effective heart support nutrient.
Tocotrienols have a demonstrated ability to reduce serum lipids, raise HDL cholesterol, and reduce both C-reactive protein (CRP) and advanced glycation end products (anti-inflammatory). (50)
Unfortunately very few randomized controlled trials have been conducted on tocotrienols, so most of its cardioprotective potential is yet unproven.
Prior to taking a nutritional supplement, it’s always a good idea to first consult with your doctor, as many supplements and medications can have unfavorable interactions with each other.