In order to choose vitamins and nutrients for heart health, let’s first understand the mechanisms at play when it comes to your heart. Insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar play a role, as does high blood pressure and the accumulation of plaque in the arteries. Lifestyle causes include stress, obesity, and smoking. Before evaluating supplements for heart health, it is important to address these lifestyle issues as extra vitamins, minerals, herbs and amino acids cannot help anyone overcome a rotten diet and a lack of physical activity.
Vitamins for Heart Health Could Assist in an Indirect Manner
Vitamin C has been associated with heart health, so much so that researchers conducted a thorough literature review of all the studies in 2016. One reason for this association is the numerous studies that show that intake of fruits and vegetables decreases the risk of heart disease. Many of the fruits and vegetables examined in these studies have a high content of Vitamin C. Is it the Vitamin C content that is providing the benefits? The researchers conducting the review say probably not. Maybe the benefit is less about these fruits and vegetables containing vitamins for heart health and is instead due to replacing processed foods with nutrient-dense fruits and veggies that do not contain compounds known to threaten our health.
The other reason for the attribution of Vitamin C to assisting heart health is its powerful capabilities as an antioxidant. Free radicals are implicated in numerous heart conditions. The researchers who conducted the 2016 review found little evidence that Vitamin C directly benefited the heart. They did find evidence that Vitamin C can help maintain healthy blood pressure and endothelial function. Since the endothelium is the membrane that lines the inside of the heart and blood vessels and blood pressure is commonly associated with heart health, it stands to reason that Vitamin C can have a favorable, albeit indirect, effect on the heart. The researchers’ meta-analysis also revealed that study subjects with the lowest plasma concentration of Vitamin C had higher risk of mortality.
Two members of the B vitamin family — B12 and B9 (folate) — work together to lower homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid that is not used in protein synthesis and the highest levels can be found in people who eat a lot of animal protein, but very few fruits and vegetables. These nutrients are not synthesized in the body and must be consumed in food. It’s easy to find them in meats, eggs, and dairy.
According to integrative medicine practitioner Burt Berkson, M.D., Ph.D., “Vitamin E works in the fatty regions of the body to prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, thus preventing injury to the artery wall.” Several foods contain Vitamin E, including vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens.
Nutrients for Heart Health are Also Found in Your Own Body
Glutathione, manufactured in your liver, helps to recycle Vitamin C and provides its own powerful antioxidant capabilities. It is also essential to maintain nitric oxide activity in the blood vessels, which helps keep arteries open. Animal studies have shown that a lack of glutathione can constrict blood vessels. Our bodies produce glutathione in the liver, but that production declines as we age. Certain foods, including cruciferous vegetables, are known to increase glutathione levels. It is also available as a dietary supplement, like our Lypo-Spheric™ Glutathione in which the antioxidant is encapsulated in liposomes to enhance absorption in cells.
Our bodies also produce Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), which our cells use for growth and maintenance (https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-coenzyme-q10/art-20362602). People with heart disease often have lower levels of CoQ10, which naturally decline as we age. Some studies have found that it associated with “reduction in major adverse cardiovascular events with CoQ10 supplementation” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27012265), but other researchers have stated that this warrants further investigation.
Then there’s Alpha Lipoic Acid. Manufactured in small amounts in our body, and available to a limited extent in food, this “universal antioxidant” has been known to enhance glutathione levels and may help to recycle antioxidant vitamins C and E. Alpha lipoic acid is also known to inhibit lipid peroxidation (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7516789). Like the B vitamins, alpha lipoic acid is critical to the conversion of food to energy and it is also known for its ability to promote insulin sensitivity, which makes it an attractive supplement for people looking to support weight management for heart health. And the operative word here is supplement, as higher doses of Alpha Lipoic Acid are difficult to come by in diet. Our Lypo-Spheric™ Alpha Lipoic Acid is encapsulated in essential phospholipids, which maximize absorption.
Carnitine is another naturally occurring compound with antioxidant and metabolic properties. It is also critical to converting food to energy, but it is unique in its specialization in transporting fats to the mitochondria for conversion to fuel. According to nutritionist Robert Crayhon, “the heart derives at least two-thirds of its energy from fat.” That’s the direct link. Fat metabolism is also important in an indirect manner as obesity is inextricably linked to heart health, and having a healthy metabolic system is essential to managing weight. Carnitine is found in animal-based foods, with the highest concentration in lamb. It is also easy to find as a dietary supplement, particularly in fitness-related supplements. We also offer a Lypo-Spheric™ supplement in the Acetyl L-Carnitine form.
We’ll repeat what we said at the outset. Nutrients and vitamins for heart health are not magic. They will not help you miraculously overcome a sedentary lifestyle filled with cigarette smoke and lack of exercise. Good nutrition should be used as part of an otherwise heart-healthy lifestyle.