How can individuals best protect their hearts now?
Wearing your heart on your sleeve. Hard-hearted. A heavy heart. In English, we have a lot of terms to describe the state of our emotional hearts. More importantly, though, is to consider the health of our physical hearts. Then words like palpitations, myocardium and pulmonary valve take greater precedence.
Cardiovascular health is an important field and one that is growing due to need as America sees an older generation living longer. Despite this positive change, there is still a great deal of concern over the state of heart—literally—of U.S. people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease remains the leading cause of American deaths in both men and women across ethnic and racial groups. People at higher risk include individuals with diabetes, those who are overweight or obese, are physically inactive, have an unhealthy diet, and those who use alcohol excessively.
Thankfully, there is good news. Knowing more about heart disease—and prevention—gives individuals a lesser chance of suffering from the disease. And many lifestyle choices may be able to prevent heart disease altogether. In recent years the American Heart Association (AHA) has recommended that people focus on seven areas to do so. Diet is the first. Including lots of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and nuts and seeds is highly encouraged. Exercise is second. Activity for adults should include two and a half hours of moderate or 75 minutes of strenuous movement weekly. Quitting smoking, managing one’s weight, cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure round out the recommendations.
Cardiovascular Health Now: What’s New?
This year, the AHA added an eighth lifestyle modification: getting the proper amount of sleep. Adults should aim for between seven and nine hours a night, a challenge for many. But what about individuals who are following all these guidelines and want to take additional preventative measures? Many promising and proven natural health products in the market currently may further enhance heart health.
According to Globe Newswire, with a 3.8 percent CAGR, the cardiovascular drugs market size is expected to see continued growth and is estimated to reach $63.96 billion (U.S.) by 2026. With that increased interest comes a lot of excitement for manufacturers and retailers in the natural health product space around cardiovascular health.
Brian Keenan, ND, LAc, education manager at Ayush Herbs in Redmond, WA, stated that awareness around two very different parts of the body is of great interest now in this field. “I’m excited about the growing understanding that the microbiome impacts all aspects of human health, and in this case, cardiovascular health,” said Dr. Keenan. “This is exciting because it continues to support the fact that gut health is foundational health, and its effects are long and lasting.” Specifically in cardiovascular disease, Dr. Keenan noted, it’s not uncommon for individuals to become frustrated with slow progress toward better heart health. With gut health, he pointed out, subjective improvements like less gas, bloating, etc., are usually obvious very quickly. “Now, it’s up to clinicians to educate their patients that this is the first benefit of healthy gut function and that cardiovascular benefits are just a matter of time,” he said.
Vice President of Marketing and Sales at Daiwa Health Development in Gardena, CA, Hank Cheatham, stated that he’s looking forward to new developments and further study in this field. “The cutting-edge cardiovascular supplements of the future will have strong scientific research supporting the ability to clean arteries, to remove plaque, to break-down calcium, to eliminate heavy metals and other toxins from the blood,” he said.
Cheatham added that successful products in the natural health market for cardiovascular health will provide effective, science-based methods to clear blocked arteries and promote good heart health. “Diet and exercise are touted as the true path to heart health, but without some method of cleaning arteries and the cardiovascular system, diet and exercise alone won’t be enough,” Cheatham said.
Dr. Stacey Smith, marketing and communications manager NORAM, of Gnosis by Lesaffre, with the U.S. headquarters in East Brunswick, NJ, pointed to two studies of interest regarding new developments in the area of heart health. First though, a bit of background.
While most dietary supplements designed to address cardiovascular health—those targeting cholesterol, blood pressure, blood fats, etc.—are often positioned as alternatives to pharmaceuticals, explained Dr. Smith. There is no pharmaceutical solution for atherosclerosis or the hardening of the arteries. “However, today new research shows that a vitamin and specifically vitamin K2 can significantly impact the progression and even regression of hardening of the arteries,” she said.
“We have also noticed more studies coming out identifying that certain pharmaceuticals actually impact the processing of certain vitamins and nutrients intended to naturally support cardiovascular health,” said Dr. Smith. Statins are an excellent example. “While statins are heavily prescribed to support cholesterol reduction, they actually inhibit the synthesis of vitamin K2, which naturally promotes the inhibition of arterial calcification by activating the K-dependent protein Matrix Gla Protein (MGP) already present in the body,” she explained. “So while we are taking one medication with the hopes of supporting our hearts, we are actually lending to potential damage and increased cardiovascular risk.”
Joe Brunner, president of Endurance Products Company in Sherwood, OR, stated that trends in self-care among individuals are creating interesting changes in the cardiovascular health marketplace. As a result of being more tuned into their health, Brunner stated that more consumers are seeking supplements they can trust, those backed by robust research, and which fit into a more holistic form of healthcare. “This new mindset has challenged more companies to up their game, starting with selecting research-backed ingredients—or doing the research themselves—developing formulas that are both safe and effective, manufacturing to high-quality standards, and importantly, working hand-in-glove with naturopaths and other health care practitioners who embrace a holistic approach to wellbeing.
“For me, it’s an interesting trend to watch,” said Brunner. “After all, it’s been our approach at Endurance Products Company since we started over 40 years ago.” Referring to himself as “old school,” Brunner noted that he doesn’t see a downside to this. Doing the hard work, investing in solid research, and delivering quality products is something that makes a difference, he said. “Whether it’s for heart health or another health condition, it’s what consumers have always deserved, but now they demand it.”
Tips for Improving Cardiovascular Health
Self-care might not be the first thing one thinks of when considering heart health, but the new focus in this area is encouraging, said Brunner, who said it’s “inspiring” to see more people take a lifestyle-first approach to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease. “They recognize diet and lifestyle habits matter in a big way, they know deprescribing from drugs that only manage symptoms is an option, and they are empowered to make the changes needed to get and stay healthy,” said Brunner. “It may seem simple, but it’s far from easy, which is why working with a like-minded doctor is essential. I can’t think of anyone better qualified than naturopathic doctors.”
There are a few different schools of thought about the best changes an individual can make to improve cardiovascular health. One naturopathic physician, Dr. Serena Goldstein, who is located in San Francisco, CA, believes that following a Mediterranean-type diet is best. The style of eating she recommends includes lots of green vegetables, wild-caught fish, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats like those from avocados. Along with that, she believes that small changes—adding in some extra exercise, eating more vegetables, drinking more water and getting involved with others who will support their goals—are important changes for individuals interested in improving their heart health. “Further, good relationships, stress management and proper sleep are also important to balancing hormones and neurotransmitters, all of which can contribute to heart health,” said Dr. Goldstein.
Brunner noted, “Our Endur-Acin supplement continues to be a favorite among naturopathic doctors and other integrative health practitioners who work with patients with cardiovascular issues.” He explained that the product features novel vegetable wax-matrix tablet technology that delivers “a surprisingly precise dissolution rate.”
He continued, “In fact, in one comparison study that included seven brands of extended-release nicotinic acid supplements, only our wax-matrix form—Endur-Acin—had a dissolution rate similar to the reference drug (Niaspan).”
Preventing Heart Disease: What’s Important Now?
Jacob Teitelbaum, MD (Kailua Kona, HI), explained that there are two “must haves” to prevent heart disease. These include a good multivitamin that’s high in B vitamins, folate and magnesium, and treating hypertension. “To treat angina or heart failure, the key is to increase cardiac muscle efficiency,” said Dr. Teitelbaum. He believes it’s important to include the above as well as coenzyme Q10. “I use the CoQ10 100 milligrams chewable by EuroMedica, as this contains gamma-cyclodextrin, which increases the absorption to the equivalent of about 750 mg of regular CoQ10 daily,” he noted.
Additionally, he recommends acetyl l-carnitine and ribose in differing amounts. “I have seen people who have been given a ‘death sentence’ of a few months to live by their cardiologist go from severe chronic heart failure to being quite healthy and living for many years using this regimen,” Dr. Teitelbaum explained. “This combination usually improves cardiac function dramatically in about six weeks. If more improvement is needed, I will add hawthorne and magnesium orotate.”
Dr. Goldstein concurred with some of these recommendations. In her practice, she begins with magnesium, methylated B complex, vitamin C, vitamin D3/K2—after checking a patient’s levels first—along with fish oil. At times she might also recommend a blend of adrenal-supportive herbs and nutrients, depending on her patients’ lifestyles and compliance with supplements. “… if they’re on the go, I tend to give pills, whereas if they like smoothies, I would recommend powders,” she noted.
According to Cheatham, Daiwa Health Development produces Plasmanex1, Daiwa Krill Oil, powered by Superba 2, and Daiwa Super Krill Oil, powered by Superba Boost, each of which provides benefits for heart health and cardiovascular function. While risk factors can be reduced with changes made to diet, physical activity and other modifications to one’s lifestyle, Cheatham noted that certain conditions, such as myocardial infarction (MI), have significant dangers and can result in death. “In addition to heart failure, other possible outcomes are stroke, thrombus formation that may lead to a lung blood clots—single or multiple—or a significant or massive pulmonary embolus, that may also be fatal. Although the above are partially modifiable, they can become a significant cardiovascular burden,” he said.
Trends in Cardiovascular Health: What Do Natural Practitioners Need to Know?
“The market is hungry for supplements that actually support a healthy rate and rhythm of the heart. Many supplements focus on vasculature, blood pressure support, antioxidant support, but not many appear to focus specifically on the heartbeat itself,” said Cheatham.
Dr. Goldstein said that “Naturopathic medicine and natural medicine can help with when it comes to heart disease, and work with the testing and risk factors from conventional medicine to truly help optimize the health of each patient.”
Dr. Keenan noted that his interest in arjuna (Terminalia arjuna), is great. “This herb has been used for millennia in India to support the heart and cardiovascular system. In the modern day, it has several research studies that demonstrate that it seems very useful in supporting heart tissue itself,” said Keenan. “From supporting the electrical conduction system of the heart to helping blood pressure, and even improving athletic performance. I have really been impressed with this herb and am surprised it hasn’t reached acclaim in the West.”
A recent Vitamin Retailer (Natural Practitioner’s sister publication) article, “CRN Reveals Data From 2022 Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements,” published in October 2022, found that three-quarters of Americans report using nutritional or dietary supplements. More than half of those surveyed, 52 percent, reported taking specialty supplements, including omega-3s, melatonin, fiber and probiotics.
Similarly, Dr. Smith noted that in a survey of 3,500 dietary supplement consumers via the Industry Transparency Center’s, “ITC Insight—2022 Supplement Consumer Survey,” found that 76 percent of participants have used vitamins, minerals, herbs or other dietary supplements to manage their health. More than half, 62 percent of those surveyed, she noted, reported using vitamin K2 supplements. “The 18 to 54 age group brackets showed an increase in the use of vitamin K2 compared to those 55 or older,” said Smith. She said that the “perceived effectiveness” of K2 was greater in the users surveyed compared to “regular users” which suggests, she said, that “…future growth is likely as people who do not currently use vitamin K2 regularly have a high perception of it.”
Another trend in cardiovascular health, explained Dr. Smith, is the interest in preventative health care in younger individuals. “Instead of people reaching their senior years, sadly discovering the impact age has had on their health and are then left with no choice but to begin taking pharmaceuticals to address those issues, consumers recognize they must be proactive about protecting their health so they can age healthily, including shoring up their cardiovascular system to carry them into their senior years,” she said. “They are seeking out heart-healthy supplements, including vitamins and minerals, that give them the opportunity to avoid pharmaceuticals, and recognizing that obtaining proper nutrition can make a significant difference.”
Throughout the pandemic and continuing now, the stress in the lives of Americans tends to be significant. This is bad news for hearts. “Stress, in all its flavors, continues to majorly impact health,” said Dr. Keenan. “The beauty of herbal products in particular is that they are uniquely poised to address both issues.” He noted that arjuna, mentioned above, is an excellent herb that may help individuals in stressful situations. “Another example might be an herb such as motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) which is known to slow the heart rate and promote contractility, but it is also an herb that relaxes tense muscles and minds,” said Dr. Keenan.
Cardiovascular health and the research around it continue to be an area of importance here in the U.S. As the leading cause of death in both men and women and across racial and ethnic groups, there’s good reason for concern. Still, it’s good to know that the outlook for cardiovascular health is bright. As more research, new ingredients, and further education about lifestyle modifications and potential natural treatments emerge, it’s hopeful that a decrease in heart disease will follow.
Healthy Take Aways
• According to the American Heart Association, lifestyle modifications are the first wall of defense against cardiovascular disease. A good diet, regular exercise, quitting smoking, managing diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol, and weight along with enough sleep are all important.
• Vitamin K2, magnesium, methylated B complex, vitamin C, vitamin D3, folate, CoQ10, as well as other natural vitamins and minerals may help improve cardiovascular function.
• Arjuna (Terminalia arjuna) an herb used for thousands of years in India, is thought to offer significant heart health benefits.
• Younger individuals are showing an increased interest in preventative measures to support their cardiovascular systems.
• Self-care can play an important role in cardiovascular health, one of the most important being stress management.