Heart disease in Canada is a major problem, with 9 in 10 Canadians having at least one risk factor for heart disease or stroke. These include smoking, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. But we are doing something right! Since 1952, the cardiovascular death rate has declined by more than 75% as a result of several factors, one being prevention efforts. Diet, exercise, and heart-smart supplements are three pillars of foundational heart health.
Support your heart health every day with these simple things to keep your heart pumping and prospering!
1. Incorporate heart-healthy foods. A diet full of fresh vegetables and fruits (aim for 7 servings per day), low in saturated fats, no trans fats, high in omega-3 oils, high in fibre, and low in salt and sugar is one that will help prevent heart disease.
2. Get moving and get your heart pumping. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and control blood pressure. Strive to get 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week.
3. Monitor your blood pressure. High blood pressure can have almost no symptoms, so monitoring your own blood pressure is a great way to keep your heart health in check. You can find blood pressure monitors online, and some can even connect to your smartphone!
4. Limit alcohol and cigarette smoking. You may have heard that red wine is good for your heart, but be sure to enjoy it in moderation! Drinking more than one alcoholic beverage a day, along with smoking, can greatly increase your risk for heart disease.
5. Manage stress. Chilling out can be easier said than done, but chronic stress can raise your risk of heart disease and stroke. Acknowledging your stress levels and practising coping techniques such as mindfulness on a daily basis can help us cope with stressors.
6. Incorporate clinically proven and researched supplements for promoting healthy cardiovascular function:
- Omega-3 fatty acids can support a reduction in high blood pressure, lower triglyceride levels, raise HDL or good cholesterol levels, and reduce platelet aggregation. A recent 2019 study involving 8,000 patients with elevated triglyceride levels showed that despite the use of statins (a common class of cholesterol-lowering medications), the risk of ischemic events, including cardiovascular death, was significantly lower among the patients who received the omega-3 eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) compared to placebo.  Fish is the primary source of omega-3s, so make sure when you’re shopping for omega-3s, you choose one that is certified by International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS™) and is rigorously tested for purity through supplement verification organizations, like ISURA®.
- Garlic has been used for centuries as a culinary herb as well as for its heart-supporting properties. Recent studies have shown that garlic supplements are highly tolerated and may be considered a complementary treatment option for hypertension, elevated cholesterol, and immune support.  Look for a concentrated, enteric-coated, odourless garlic supplement that contains the active ingredient allicin in a stabilized form.
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10): It is an antioxidant that is crucial in highly energetic tissues, especially heart muscle, for creating cellular energy. Although the human body can make CoQ10, this process requires at least eight vitamins, trace minerals, and amino acids, making a deficiency in CoQ10 not uncommon. Ubiquinol, the reduced form of CoQ10, can more effectively increase blood levels of this CoQ10, and higher levels of ubiquinol compared to ubiquinone are a sign of better cellular protection. [3–5] Supplementing with ubiquinol can raise CoQ10 levels to support healthy heart activity.
- Vitamin K2: This vitamin is mostly touted for bone health because of its involvement in the transportation of calcium from the blood circulation to the bone matrix. This process also protects blood vessels from calcification because it helps prevent the formation of calcified plaque in the arteries, which is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular events. Be sure to look for a natural MK-7 form with a suggested daily dose of 120 mcg.
- Amino acids arginine and taurine: Both these aminos are conditionally essential, meaning that although the body can manufacture them, we may need more than it can produce on its own during times of illness, stress, and when consuming plant-based diets. L-arginine is a substrate for the enzyme nitric oxide synthase, which produces nitric oxide within endothelial cells. Nitric oxide helps relax smooth muscles, dilate blood vessels, and reduce the buildup of blood platelets. This, in turn, increases peripheral blood flow and lowers blood pressure, providing support for healthy heart function. [6,7] Taurine has numerous physiological roles that contribute to supporting cardiovascular function, including anti-inflammatory properties and blood-pressure-regulating activities. It directly affects blood vessel function by regulating potassium and calcium ion channels, and by activating hydrogen sulfide synthesizing enzymes. Taurine has also been used as an approved treatment for heart conditions in Japan since 1985. [8–10]
- Magnesium: According to one study, getting enough magnesium may help keep blood pressure under control.  Magnesium helps prevent blood vessels from constricting, which can increase blood pressure and has also been shown to improve blood flow. Magnesium can also act as a laxative, so to ensure you are absorbing magnesium when supplementing, choose a citrate or bisglycinate form.
- Quercetin: An apple a day really does keep the doctor away, particularly for people with high blood pressure. In addition to the 4.5 g of blood-pressure-lowering fibre you’ll get from each apple, you’ll also enjoy a healthy helping of quercetin, which has been deemed an effective antihypertensive, according to the results of a study conducted at the Complutense University of Madrid, School of Medicine.  The blood-pressure-lowering effect is more evident in subjects with certain comorbidities, such as metabolic syndrome, or in smokers.  Quercetin helps dilate blood vessels, decrease oxidative stress, and prevent platelets from sticking together. When taking a quercetin supplement, look for a LipoMicel form, which has been shown to be more absorbable in humans.