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February is heart month. Not only should we celebrate the emotional heart, but we also need to honour the health of our anatomical heart.

The heart, arteries, veins and blood make up the cardiovascular system. This system is primarily responsible for delivering oxygen and nutrients to our cells and removing wastes. The heart can pump 2500-5000 gallons of blood at 100,000 beats per day to accomplish these important tasks! The heart is a powerful little machine that needs daily support to ensure it remains healthy and active throughout our lives. According to Statistics Canada, heart disease is the second leading cause of death. Every 7 minutes someone will die from a heart attack or stroke. It is known as the silent killer because most problems go undetected until it becomes too late. The Heart and Stroke Foundation has recently put together the ‘Make Death Wait’ campaign to drive this message home. Check out their commercials on TV or find them on YouTube, it’s enough to scare you into action. But let’s focus on the positive, prevention is our best medicine. What can we do to keep our hearts beating to their fullest?

The term Heart Disease, in this context, is actually referring to the health of our arteries. Arteries can become clogged with a plaque build up that impedes blood flow and can arrest it altogether. When blood flow to the heart stops, a person suffers a heart attack. When blood flow to the brain stops, a person suffers a stroke. This plaque build up is called Atherosclerosis and is absolutely in direct relation to our diets and lifestyle. Meaning, it can be prevented and it can be reversed.

Studies have shown that diets low in essential fatty acids are at an increased risk for heart disease. Omega 3`s, whether from plant or animal sources, have a protective effect on the cardiovascular system. They can lower LDL cholesterol, lower triglyceride levels, lower blood pressure, and inhibit platelet aggregation. Add cold water fish to your diet such as salmon, sardines, or halibut. Take 1 tbsp of flax oil per day or choose a supplement that contains Omega 3`s. Krill oil is a great option because it is also a source of astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant that will protect the heart and arteries from free radical damage and inflammation.

Magnesium is an extremely important mineral for our heart’s health. It is well proven that people who die from heart attacks have lower than average levels of magnesium in their systems. This mineral can increase energy production within the heart muscle, it dilates arteries to allow better blood flow, and can improve heart rate. At the least, men should get 350mg and women should get 300mg of magnesium daily. Because it is so prevalent in our foods, it is easy to get our daily requirements. You can find magnesium in all green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Foods should be your number one choice for getting magnesium, however if you know your diet is lacking or if you need therapeutic amounts to treat cardiovascular disease, supplements are advisable. For high blood pressure or angina (chest pain) you can take 500 – 750 mg of magnesium daily. Choose a citrate or chelate form as they are better absorbed.

Garlic has been used successfully in reducing platelet aggregation, part of the early stages of atherosclerotic plaque. It is an excellent blood thinner, and will help to reduce high blood pressure. If you choose to increase the garlic in your diet make sure it is raw and consume it very quickly after crushing. The medicinal compounds, specifically the allicin, in garlic are very reactive and will diminish rapidly. Heating will also destroy these compounds. Some say that your stomach acid is too powerful and can also damage the allicin. There are many supplements available that try to outsmart nature, I still think it’s a wise choice to simply eat what mother earth gave us. However, if you choose to supplement, aged garlic extract may be the answer. It is rich in S-allyl-cysteine, a compound that shows a high bioavailability and strong antioxidant activity. This may be the more important ingredient to look for, rather than the allicin, in a garlic supplement.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), is a vital part of ATP production in our hearts. ATP is the energy currency in our cells that give our hearts the life force they need to pump blood through our bodies. By supplementing with CoQ10, studies have shown an increase in cardiac output and stroke volume. It is especially important to take extra CoQ10 if you are on Statin drugs to lower cholesterol, as these pharmaceuticals lower the body’s CoQ10 levels. It is sadly ironic that we would take a drug to protect our cardiovascular system and end up suffering a heart attack as a side effect. CoQ10 is not easy to get in the diet, it is found in organ meats such as liver, heart, and kidneys, and also to some extent in fish, red meat, and eggs. Make sure your animal sources are organic and free range as this will greatly increase the levels of CoQ10 in the product. If you choose to supplement there is a broad range, from 30mg to 300mg depending on individual needs.

Vitamin K2 is now in the spotlight as the missing ingredient in cardiovascular health. K2 ensures that the calcium we ingest through food or supplement gets into our bones rather than depositing in our arteries. Atherosclerotic plaque consists of calcium, fats, cholesterol, and other debris. It is clear now, in the scientific literature, that cholesterol and saturated fats are not the bad guys, it’s excess or displaced calcium. Taking a calcium supplement without adequate K2 levels in the body will increase our risk for heart disease. You can read more about this amazing research in the book “Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox” by Dr. Kate Rheaume-Bleue. Health Canada allows a maximum of 120mcg of K2 per serving of a supplement, look for something with atleast that amount. K2 is found  in animal products such as meat, eggs, and dairy. Make sure they are organic and grass fed as this greatly increases the K2 content. Green leafy vegetables are a great source of vitamin K1, while very good for you, it does not have the bone and artery protective benefits of K2.

Most of us don’t give much thought to our hearts, they unconsciously beat away inside our chests. February is here to remind us not to take them for granted. Our hearts need love, emotionally and physically. Take the time to appreciate this amazing muscle that pumps life throughout our bodies.

Happy Valentines Day!!

**If you are currently taking medication or have been diagnosed with heart disease, it is always wise to talk with your doctor or pharmacists before embarking on a new supplement program.

By Krista Boulding, RHN

February 13, 2015