5 supplements (and foods) for a stronger heart

February is National Heart Month. Although heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women worldwide, it is preventable. That makes heart-health supplements a big business, which brings a lot of marketing fluff with it. Here are five supplements that have actual evidence behind their effects and have been shown to help lower your risk for heart disease (remember to always consult with your physician before taking anything).


Nitrates

Nitrates and potassium are two of the reasons vegetables are so good for you. Nitrates, found in beets and a variety of leafy greens, are a reliable and effective way to increase nitric oxide synthesis in the body, which improves circulation and reduces blood pressure.

Eating a diet high in nitrates decreases your risk for hypertension and the problems associated with high blood pressure, such as myocardial infarctions and sexual dysfunction.


Garlic

Hydrogen sulfide is another compound that can reduce blood pressure. In fact, it even aids in the creation of new blood vessels. Garlic, whether part of the diet or ingested through supplementation, is a cheap and potent way to increase hydrogen sulfide’s signaling in the body. Like elevated nitric oxide levels, improved hydrogen sulfide signaling helps sustain reduced blood pressure, while also promoting the growth of new arterioles.

Studies show that garlic can also reduce arterial calcification, as well as lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, though this effect is less potent than its effect on hydrogen sulfide. Garlic is a good heart-health supplement because it can improve several parameters of heart health.


Vitamin K

A healthy artery is a flexible one. During arterial calcification, calcium adheres to the artery wall, increasing its stiffness. Arterial stiffness and “compliance” (the inverse of stiffness) are very reliable biomarkers of mortality from cardiovascular diseases.

In addition to providing benefits for bone health, Vitamin K (found in high doses in kale and natto) is one of the few dietary supplements that may be able to reduce arterial calcification. The optimum daily intake for vitamin K supplementation, characterized by heart health benefits, is higher than the amount food could reasonably provide. This is why vitamin K supplementation is recommended in addition to eating food rich in vitamin K.


Berberine

Insulin resistance can worsen cardiovascular health over time, since chronically elevated blood sugar levels can cause tissue damage and increased blood pressure.

Berberine, an AMPK activator (which means it draws glucose and lipids into a cell, allowing them to be used as energy) and comparable to the diabetes drug Metformin, is a very potent blood glucose–lowering agent that can be beneficial for people with glucose intolerance and diabetes. Berberine supplementation also reduces cholesterol and triglycerides.


Terminalia arjuna

Unlike the supplements above, which indirectly benefit the heart by improving and protecting blood vessels and other tissue, arjuna water extracts affects the heart directly. Although its exact mechanisms are unknown, Terminalia arjuna has a protective effect on cardiac tissue, shielding it from catecholamines or elevated glucose levels.

Human studies on Terminalia arjuna are limited by their small number of participants, but results show that the patients given arjuna experience a cardioprotective effect, especially in regard to left ventricle function.


Better heart health through food and supplementation

Adding more garlic, leafy greens, and beets to your diet is an easy first step to protect your heart and February is the perfect time to get started! Remember - supplementation comes after ensuring your nutrition is in check (and that you’re getting enough sleep).


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