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Supplement your way to better heart health?


`In managing my own AFIB, and on-again off-again high blood pressure, I started doing some research into common supplements that people take, or should take, and in some cases should NOT take, to help with their blood pressure, AFIB, blood thinning, etcetera.  While it’s true that I have successfully gotten off blood pressure meds before, I have also made some diet and lifestyle choices that landed me back on them and ended up with Atrial Fibrillation (AFIB).  I expect to come back off of blood pressure meds, but that will be a slow process and done when the time is right.  In the meantime, I want to make sure I eat right and take the right supplements to be as healthy as possible and want to share what I’ve learned with you.

              There are dozens of different supplements with claims to be good for our circulatory system and dozens of brands of each of those, resulting in hundreds of choices for the heart-health conscious consumer to choose from.  Magnesium, CO-Q-10, Potassium, Fish oils, Aspirin, L-Carnitine, Garlic, Red yeast rice, and the list goes on.  Much like the miracle cures that promised better MPG’s in the 80’s, I’m tempted to use them all and have perfect cardiovascular health!

              Knowing that there are so many, I’ll address the most common ones, what the hype is, what some studies say, and what the risks are.  Then I’ll summarize and tell you what I’m doing now. 

I won't discuss particular dosages or amounts of each supplement that I take or that you or anyone else should take,. That is too individualized and would have to part of a personalized discussion and plan. So, in no particular order:


  Magnesium:  According to the Univercity of Notre Dame, 75% of us do not get enough Magnesium [i].  Magnesium is essential to heart health and other studies suggest a possible association between a modestly lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) in men and increased magnesium intake. In one study of women, higher dietary intake of magnesium was associated with a lower risk of sudden cardiac death [ii].  “Magnesium is an electrolyte that helps to regulate your heart rate,” says cardiologist Tamanna Singh, MD. “When you have a deficiency of electrolytes, it can make your heart speed up.” Going on, she noted that “Magnesium affects how and when electricity moves through your heart, so having a magnesium deficiency, which is very common, can cause you to feel like your heart is beating out of sync at times [iii].” On top of all the good magnesium does for our hearts, it is also know to benefit sleep patterns (which also affect our heart), bowels, blood pressure and bone health.  Despite all the good that magnesium does, if you take too much, it can lead to diarrhea.  Longer term having too much can lead to nausea, vomiting, lethargy, muscle weakness, abnormal electrical conduction in the heart, low blood pressure and respiratory distress [iv].

 

Calcium: Calcium is the yang to magnesium’s yin.  Magnesium helps muscles relax following a contraction; calcium helps the muscles do that contraction [v]. It plays a central role in excitation-contraction coupling of muscles and has working relationships with magnesium, sodium, and potassium [vi].  There is plenty of good bioavailable calcium in kale, broccoli, bok choi and canned seafood like sardines, shrimp, and salmon.  See our blogs on healthy bones and dairy for other ideas.  If you stick to food sources you probably couldn’t overdo it, but if you take supplements, some risks of overdoing it include increased thirst or more frequent urination, muscle weakness or twitches and brain changes such as such as feeling tired, fatigued or confused.


Potassium: Potassium is found naturally in many foods and as a supplement. Its main role in the body is to help maintain normal levels of fluid inside our cells. Sodium, its counterpart, maintains normal fluid levels outside of cells.  A low potassium level can make muscles feel weak, cramp, twitch, or even become paralyzed, and abnormal heart rhythms may develop.  Diets that emphasize greater potassium intake can help keep blood pressure in a healthy range, compared with potassium-poor diets [vii]. It’s no secret that heart health starts with our blood pressure (among a couple of other things) and that high blood pressure is called ‘the silent killer’.  Too much potassium can cause Muscle fatigue, weakness, paralysis, abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) and nausea.


CoQ10: Coenzyme Q10 is an antioxidant made by the body, but that we make less of as we age.  Certain drugs (like statins for cholesterol) also lower our levels of it.  It has also been shown to improve symptoms in people with heart failure and might help reduce blood pressure, though findings are mixed.  Deficiencies of CoQ10 (mostly caused by statins) can cause muscle aches and cramps, so supplements may help with that. Overall, the biggest benefits from CoQ10 supplements are probably for people taking statins, but taking too much appears to be low risk for this supplement [viii].


Beets (or beet extracts): Beets are high in nitrates which research suggests improve cardiovascular health in several ways. Some studies show beet juice supplementation may lower blood pressure and increase blood flow.  They also increases blood oxygen levels, lengthening the time it takes to become fatigued, allowing people to stay active longer.[ix]  Beets are particularly rich in folate, a vitamin which is crucial for heart health, as well as manganese and  copper [x]. I’ve also heard multiple times that they are good at helping level out our blood sugar levels- an important point that’s been emphasized in my health coaching as well as functional nutrition courses.

Not everyone loves beets, but there are dozens of supplements and beet powders available so you can enjoy the benefits without having to have beets on your plate at EVERY meal.  Risks of too much could lead to low blood pressure, pink or red colored urine or stools, oxalate build up lowering calcium levels and leading to gout.   It would probably take a LOT of beets to do that, so as long as you don’t make beets your only food source, you probably wont be at any risk.

 

Vitamin D: Paying attention to your vitamin D levels could increase your heart health.  

It works with calcium and phosphorus to build and maintain strong bones, support muscle and nerve function, and is necessary for a healthy immune system.  Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity [xi], as well as chronic heart failure.  Very low levels are associated with even more negative health outcomes.  Unfortunately, studies have failed to show vitamin D supplements to be effective in reducing the risk of developing heart disease or dying from it, and getting too much can be harmful. Very high levels of vitamin D in your blood can cause high blood calcium levels and lead to nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, confusion, dehydration, kidney stones and cardiovascular events. In addition, cholesterol-lowering statins might not work as well if you take high-dose vitamin D supplements [xii].  The best way to get vitamin D is sunlight, but if you live in a climate that wont support that (like Maine in the winter), then consider a supplement, but at moderate doses.


Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s) are polyunsaturated fats that perform important functions in your body. Your body can’t produce the amount you need,  so we need to get them from the foods we eat, or supplements.  People generally get their omega-3s from fish oil caplets, though there are non-animal sources of omega-3’s.  These fatty acids have been linked to many health benefits, such as promoting brain and heart health, reducing inflammation, and protecting against several chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.  Unfortunately, just like with everything that is good for us, too much of a good thing can be bad.  In the case of omega-3’s it could lead to bleeding (fish oil is a natural blood thinner), low blood pressure, high blood sugar (despite the improvements to both of those when you take the right amount), diarrhea and stroke [xiii].

 

Beta Glucan and fiber supplements:  According to the Cancer Guide Research Foundation (CGRF), “Beta glucan is a type of soluble dietary fiber found in various natural sources, including yeast, mushrooms, and grains like oats and barley. It’s renowned for its potential health benefits, particularly its ability to bolster the immune system. Research suggests that beta glucan may also aid in managing cholesterol levels, thereby promoting heart health”.   It’s well known outside of CGRF that fiber is very important in our diet for many aspects of our health.  It would be hard for most people to eat a natural diet with too much fiber, but if you supplement and add too much you could experience bloating and gas, constipation and even intestinal blockage.  If you increase your fiber, make sure you increase your hydration as well.  Within reason, you can’t drink too much water.  

 

Red Yeast Rice: This can be found in Peking duck as well as Chinese medicine. When red rice is fermented with certain strains of yeast, it creates a very low-dose statin. Statin drugs are commonly prescribed for reducing high levels of LDL cholesterol.  According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, an analysis of red yeast rice supplements found that four out of eleven products contained a substance called citrinin, which can develop during the culturing process.  Citrinin has been found to cause kidney failure in animals and genetic damage in human cells [xiv].  The Mayo clinic says that “Red yeast rice is capable of lowering blood cholesterol levels and total blood cholesterol levels. While the supplement is generally considered safe, it might carry the same potential side effects as statin cholesterol drugs”. Once again, they point out that as a supplement, there's less assurance regarding quality and how much active ingredient is actually in the product.

Like with the risks of other supplements and taking too much, red yeast rice can cause mild side effects, including abdominal discomfort, heartburn, gas, headaches, and dizziness [xv].  Considering the dismal record of success that pharmaceutical statins have, along with their known horrific side effects, I think you’re not at any more risk with the red yeast rice.

 

Vitamin C:  Vitamin C is a robust antioxidant that boosts collagen production and helps the body repair damaged tissues. Collagen is a protein that supports healthy blood vessels, including those in the heart. One way vitamin C does this is by counteracting free radicals that damage cells. It also plays a key role in the body’s production of L-carnitine, a compound critical to metabolism and heart health.  Women need about 75 mg per day, and men need around 90 mg.  Should be easy to obtain if you eat the recommended five or more servings per day of fruits and vegetables – and if you do that, you be in with the people in the survey that linked that to a greater than 15 percent reduction in heart disease risk. I cant even count the number of articles I read about what a miracle vitamin C is and I have heard one functional medicine doctor state that when using vitamin C as a remedy he increases the dosage until the person has signs of potential bowel irritation from it, and then backs the dose off a little. While, like with any supplement, there are risk with too much vitamin C, they are very low and only at very high doses.  Counter to that, Vitamin C normalizes levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and promotes normal blood pressure. It does this by boosting production of a compound called nitric oxide that helps relax and open blood vessels, helping your blood flow smoothly and efficiently [xvi].

 

There really are a lot of options for ways to supplement our diets to give our bodies the best chance for a long healthy life.  It’s tempting to take one of everything and hope that lowers one’s cholesterol and blood pressure to keep the doctors happy until the next visit.  But too much of it can have negative consequences.  For example, someone who drank regularly and was also taking fish oil for the cholesterol benefits had blood vessels in their eye pop a couple of times almost back-to-back.  Since both of those thin the blood, it increased risk for things like popped blood vessels in the eye, or worse, to happen.  I’ve successfully weaned myself from blood pressure meds in the past by adding supplements and exercise to my diet.  I’ve also changed to a low sodium diet and then seen the improvements to my blood pressure temporarily disappear after just one restaurant prepared meal.  Currently, I eat a whole food, plant-based diet with occasional eggs and fish.  I add magnesium and CoQ10 for my blood pressure and cardiovascular health. I’m back within two pounds of my optimal weight and have been back out of AFIB for several weeks now, despite the cardiologist saying that after being in it for almost a year it would make me very unlikely to come out of it again without surgery.  

 

Exercise, eat right, supplement with what’s right for your diet and body, and you can avoid or overcome massive health problems.   If you want to talk about how a health coach or functional nutrition counselor could help with that, give us a call or send an email.

 

 



 

To your health,

Doug

 

Doug and Robin

Embracing Change Life and Health Coaching

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

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