The key components for maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system are healthy cholesterol levels as well as proper nutritional support of the heart muscle and blood vessels. There are several important nutrients that health-conscious consumers need to be aware of to support overall cardiovascular health.
COENZYME Q10 (CO-Q10)
Co-Q10 is a naturally occurring substance produced by the liver and vital for energy production at the mitochondria level of the body’s cells. Mitochondria are microscopic organs within a cell responsible for combining oxygen and the nutrients from food to produce the energy necessary to power the cell. The heart in particular contains an especially high concentration of mitochondria, and, conversely, Co-Q10.
Co-Q10 is a multi-faceted nutrient. A powerful antioxidant, it may help prevent damage to tissues in the body from free radicals. It also helps preserve vitamin E. Studies have linked vitamin E with helping to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol, which damages arterial walls. Cholesterol oxidation also may be associated with atherosclerosis—the build-up of fatty deposits within arteries, which is connected to an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
As we age, our Co-Q10 levels drop. Research also shows that Co-Q10 levels in people with heart disease are lower. Plus, those who are taking statin drugs (cholesterol-lowering medications) tend to experience lower levels of Co-Q10, since the same mechanism that inhibits cholesterol production also inhibits the body’s production of Co-Q10.
Fish oil contains high amounts of polyunsaturated fats called omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon, mackerel, tuna, and other types of cold-water fish are plentiful in omega-3s and come from the plankton which they—or the fish they eat—live on. Omega-3s from fish contain both EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA is the direct precursor for the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins E1 and E3 and may help prevent the blood vessel inflammation associated with atherosclerosis. DHA is of primary importance for the structural integrity of the membranes of the nervous system. DHA is essential for brain and visual development and crucial throughout pregnancy to support fetal brain growth and formation of the retina and visual cortex. As the most abundant fatty acid in the brain, adequate amounts of DHA are needed throughout infancy and adulthood for ongoing optimal function. Low levels of DHA may adversely influence behavior and mental performance, and deficiencies have been correlated with changes in disposition, memory loss, and visual and other neurological conditions.
The consumption of omega-3s supplements from fish has been associated with support of the cardiovascular health as well as the maintenance of neurological, ocular, joint, and skin health. Look for fish oils from cold-water fish and those that are rigorously tested for the absence of heavy metals and other environmental toxins.
Plant sterols and their esters are naturally occurring plant compounds that are similar in structure, yet slightly different from cholesterol. Plant sterols can be found in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, grains, and certain oils. Research shows that these compounds compete with the absorption of dietary cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract. Supplementation with plant sterols can significantly lower cholesterol levels and has been shown to work synergistically with other cholesterol-lowering therapies. Research has shown plant sterols, or sterol esters, to be so effective that numerous food manufacturers, such as those making orange juice and rice drinks, are now incorporating them into their products. Dietary supplements are also increasingly including plant sterols and using the health claim that has been allowed for products containing at least 800 mg of plant sterols daily.
If maintaining healthy cholesterol levels and cardiac function are concerns or a priority and the preference is to seek more natural solutions, then Co-Q10, fish oils, and plant sterols all have extensive research and anecdotal evidence to support their effectiveness.
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