The “ticker” is the one muscle in the human body that none of us can afford to ignore. More so than any other organ human’s possess, the heart and its health are the most closely monitored, and for good reason. Cardiovascular disease is responsible for one in every four deaths, and is the number one killer of American men and women. So it is easily understandable why February is declared American Heart Month.
While it may seem obvious, it is important to understand just how crucial the heart is to our overall health. The heart itself is a muscular organ which, when stimulated by electrical impulses, expands and contracts to pump blood to the entire body. This muscular activity is the “heartbeat” we so commonly refer to. When beating, the heart first pumps blood to the lungs, where it picks up oxygen. It then pumps this oxygenated blood out to all of the tissues in the body. If the heart is malfunctioning, all the systems and tissues of the body become depleted of oxygen and become impaired.
Heart disease tends to be a fairly encompassing term with many different issues falling under its umbrella. Most of the complications caused by heart disease are a result of atherosclerosis, a narrowing of the blood vessels caused by plaque buildup. This narrowing restricts blood flow through the vessel and can lead to issues such as stroke or heart attack. In addition, heart disease can refer to heart failure (a decrease in the heart’s pumping efficiency), arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), or heart valve malfunctions.
While many factors can increase your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol), and smoking are, by far, the main culprits. Nearly half of all Americans have at least one of these three factors, and a large percentage are afflicted with two or more. Also contributing are diabetes, obesity, and excessive alcohol consumption.
The good news is, there are many steps that can be taken to prevent heart disease, as well as correct and improve existing conditions. As is the case with nearly all disease states, the best weapons available to fight cardiovascular disease are healthy diet and exercise. Exercise can serve to make your heart stronger and more efficient, lower your blood pressure, reduce high cholesterol, and decrease your weight. Likewise, eating a well-rounded, healthy diet can control weight as well as provide your body with the nutrients it needs to keep your heart at its peak operating efficiency.
Sometimes though, diet and exercise are not enough. For a variety of reasons such as genetic predispositions, issues like high cholesterol and elevated blood pressure can prove to be stubborn, and we need some outside help.
This is where both prescription drugs, and over the counter supplements can provide support. On the prescription front, there are many different options to choose from. Generally, prescription drugs help to manage the risk factors associated with heart disease such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Doctors may prescribe from an army of agents in these areas, each working in different manners and mechanisms with the goal of reducing your risk of complications such as stroke and heart attack. Additionally, your doctor may prescribe drugs that help to control and improve the efficiency of the heart’s pumping functions.
Many people however, choose to avoid prescription medication, if possible, and attempt to tackle cardiovascular issues with a more natural approach through nutritional supplementation. Individual circumstance and severity of disease state varies from person to person. However, in many cases, when paired with a healthy diet and exercise, this “natural” approach may prove to be an effective one. Much like prescription drugs, there exist a large number of nutritional options, each addressing different complications of heart disease.
When aiming to target high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, heart healthy omega supplements, as well as those containing red yeast rice are common. Today’s popular statin drugs were actually modeled from red yeast rice, and it, like statins, works to lower your body’s production of LDL. Omega supplements serve a dual purpose in both lowering triglyceride levels, as well as potentially reducing inflammation caused by plaque buildup in the arteries.
Being some of the most commonly used over the counter supplements, it is essential to note that not all omega products are equal in quality or effectiveness. Often derived from seafood sources, thus giving them the common name “fish oil”, each individual omega product contains different levels of the essential omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which give the fish oil its beneficial effect. Consumers must be vigilant in reading the label of the product closely, as many omega supplements may list a larger dosage of “fish oil” on the label, but in fact, the active omega-3’s (EPA and DHA) are minimal, and the bulk of the listed dosage consists of inactive omega-3’s poorly utilized by the body. The typical target dosage for EPA and DHA combined, in those patients with high cholesterol, is 1,500mg to 3,000mg.
Beyond the cholesterol arena, other supplements exist to help support a healthy blood pressure level. For instance, arginine is an amino acid, that when taken as a supplement, can help promote relaxation of the blood vessels. This relaxation, or vasodilation, helps to ease the flow of blood through the vessels and thus lower the pressure exerted on them.
Finally, other supplements serve to promote overall health of the heart. Coenzyme-Q10 is a powerful antioxidant in the body that plays a role in energy production. This may help to enhance the function and health of the heart muscle. Additionally, Co-Q10 is commonly given to patients on statin therapy, as these drugs deplete our body’s natural stores of Co-Q10. This depletion may lead to complications, such as muscle pain and fatigue, regularly associated with this family of drugs. Supplementing with Co-Q10 while taking a statin may help to limit these complications.
It is important to remember when buying any supplement to consult a health care professional well trained and familiar in their usage. Stores such as Pine Pharmacy in Williamsville specialize in providing these products, and ensuring their quality and safety.
Proper heart health is as essential to your overall well-being as any other aspect of your life. Be sure to take the time this month to pay attention to your “ticker”, it might just save your life.