Your cardiovascular system is only as healthy as your arteries, the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood away from the heart to other parts of the body. When these arteries become damaged a condition called atherosclerosis blood flow can be impeded or even completely blocked, eventually leading to a heart attack or stroke. The culprit is plaque, a fatty substance made up of cholesterol, calcium, and cellular waste that builds up and causes arteries to stiffen and narrow.
Scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine have found that a diet high in saturated fat, sugar, and salt can have a detrimental effect on blood vessels. But, adopting a healthy diet based on whole foods can help protect your arteries and reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. Opt for a diet packed with antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, fiber and nutrient filled whole grains, healthful fats, and lean protein. Adding polyphenol-rich foods and beverages like dark chocolate, beet juice, grape juice, red wine, and hibiscus tea also supports healthy arteries. It’s also important to include foods high in heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids like cold water fish, flaxseed, and walnuts. In patients with peripheral artery disease (a type of cardiovascular disease) two tablespoons of flaxmeal lowered blood pressure around 10 mm Hg systolic and 7 mm Hg diastolic, after six months, according to the results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled study.
Exercise is critical for cardiovascular health. In fact, a study from the Cooper Institute in Dallas found that moderately fit people had half the death rates of their sedentary counterparts. Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week. It’s also important to manage your stress levels. And if you smoke, do whatever it takes to quit. Smoking is one of the leading factors in the development of atherosclerosis.
Aged garlic extract: lowers blood pressure, reduces inflammation, prevents the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol, and improves the elasticity of blood vessels. A double-blind controlled trial presented at the American Heart Association’s 2011 Scientific Session found that aged garlic extract also reduces coronary artery calcification, which contributes to reduced blood flow and less flexibility. Typical dosage: 600 to 900 mg per day.
Alpha lipoic acid: protects against free radicals that can damage the lining of blood vessels. According to scientists from Oregon State University and the University of Washington, alpha lipoic acid also helps to extinguish inflammation, prevents plaque formation in blood vessels, and lowers triglycerides. Typical dosage: 50 to 100 mg per day.
CoQ10: is a potent antioxidant that provides the mitochondria in heart cells with the energy they need to function properly. Without adequate levels, the heart muscle can become weaker and less efficient at pumping blood through the body. Since levels of this critical nutrient decline with age or with the use of statin drugs, supplementation is key. Typical dosage: 60 to 300 mg per day. Take with a small amount of fat to enhance absorption.
Fish oil: is an excellent source of the omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Numerous studies show that these two omega-3s help to reduce high blood pressure and triglyceride levels. They also modulate many of the mechanisms of atherosclerosis, including inflammation, blood clotting, and platelet aggregation (stickiness). Typical dosage: 1,000 to 3,000 mg daily.
L-Carnitine: is an amino acid that is critical to a healthy heart. Several studies even suggest that taking L-carnitine orally after a heart attack may reduce complications and mortality. It may also improve exercise tolerance in patients with angina, and the symptoms of congestive heart failure. Typical dosage: 500 to 1,000 mg daily.
Niacin: has been found in numerous clinical trials to raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels by up to 35 percent. Other studies suggest that niacin prevents cells from clumping together and sticking to arterial walls. Be aware, however, that niacin can cause flushing. And since therapeutic doses can affect liver function, it’s wise to take this supplement under a doctor’s supervision. Typical dosage varies.
Quercetin: is a powerful polyphenol found in green tea and many fruits and vegetables. Population-based studies have found that people with high intakes of quercetin tend to have lower rates of heart disease. One reason is that this antioxidant has the ability to prevent inflammation, dilate blood vessels, and reduce the buildup of plaque. In one preliminary study, quercetin reduced the size of atherosclerotic lesions by an impressive 52 percent. Typical dosage: 100 to 150 mg per day.