Here’s some good news about heart health that may surprise you: Between 1999 and 2009, the rate of deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD) actually fell by nearly one-third, according to a 2013 report from the American Heart Association (AHA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health. Still, CVD accounts for nearly one in three deaths in the nation—about one death every 40 seconds. And given that top risk factors are on the rise, including obesity and diabetes, recent momentum on improving heart health is in danger of being lost, the report’s authors say.
You know the keys to better heart health: Eat a healthier diet, exercise more, and manage physical conditions early. All three are worthy goals year-round, not just during February’s American Heart Month. For extra support, consider these four supplements, all backed by current studies.
Not cholesterol, not saturated fat intake, but low magnesium levels are the greatest predictor of heart disease risk factors and symptoms—including hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart arrhythmia, angina, and heart attack—according to a 2013 review of CVD studies conducted over the past seven decades. A multitasking mineral, magnesium plays a key role in more than 700 enzyme reactions in the body, from energy production to cholesterol control; but up to 80 percent of Americans suffer from a deficiency, says Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, of the nonprofit Nutritional Magnesium Association.
Dean recommends a 1:1 balance of calcium (through food) to supplemental magnesium, along with low doses of vitamins D and K2. “The synergy of these four, plus vitamin A, delivers calcium to the bones and prevents its precipitation in soft tissues, such as breast tissue calcification,” she says. Divide doses and take with food; larger amounts may cause diarrhea.
Dose: 100 mg magnesium chelate daily; increase as tolerated to 600 mg in divided doses.
2. Omega-3 fatty acids
Found mostly in fatty fish such as salmon, herring, and sardines, omega-3s are thought to reduce chronic inflammation, which can damage blood vessels and lead to heart disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the beneficial components in fish and in omega-3 supplements such as fish oil, krill oil, and algae oil, “may decrease triglyc-erides, lower blood pressure, [and] reduce blood clotting.” Although the AHA generally recommends that people get adequate nutrients through food rather than supplements, the group makes one exception: omega-3 supplements for people with heart disease.
Dose: 1 gram combined EPA and DHA for people with documented heart disease; 2–4 grams EPA and DHA for people with high triglycerides.
3. Therapeutic enzymes
Therapeutic enzymes target disease-causing mechanisms in the immune, digestive, and nervous systems. Initial research on humans shows that the proteolytic enzyme nattokinase, derived from a traditional fermented soy food, may reduce blood-clotting risk, maintain healthy circulation, and lower blood pressure, says Steven Lamm, MD, internist and faculty member at NYU School of Medicine. Nattokinase also breaks down fibrin, a protein that forms in the blood after injury to stop excess blood loss, but which in large amounts can contribute to poor circulation and other cardiovascular issues, he adds.
Dose: 100 mg (2,000 FU) twice daily.
A compound found in blueberries, peanuts, red grape skins, Japanese knotweed, and other plants, resveratrol (often labeled “trans resveratrol”) fights the physical effects of aging; but a 2012 study of people with heart disease showed that taking resveratrol for a year also boosted heart health and reduced levels of critical inflammation markers by up to 26 percent. In addition, resveratrol strengthens mitochondria, which produce energy in the cells and are crucial to healthy heart function, says Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, coauthor of The Great Cholesterol Myth (Fair Winds, 2012).
Dose: 250 mg daily trans resveratrol, recommends Bowden.
Top cardio-friendly products
Doctor’s Best Best Nattokinase. This non-GMO formula packs 2,000 fibrinolytic units (FU) of nattokinase per capsule.
MegaFood Magnesium. Offers 50 mg magnesium per capsule in an organic spinach carrier.
New Chapter Wholemega Cardio. One dose provides 520 mg omega-3s combined with heart-supporting herbs.
Reserveage Organics Resveratrol Ultimate Antioxidant. Each capsule blends 100 mg trans resveratrol with other cardio champs.