Supplements as Part of a Heart-Healthy Regimen
Supplementation has become an ever-greater part of the collective psyche in the US. As dietary and lifestyle habits have changed, and more of us suffer from metabolic diseases due to excess weight, our understanding of bodily functions and vitamin and mineral interactions has improved. Are we on the right track, or have we taken it too far? Today, you can’t go to a big box store without seeing rows of supplements, from those we know well to obscure roots and herbs that we have difficulty pronouncing. With all the claims swirling around each of these supplements, do they have a place in maintaining cardiovascular health, or do they represent a Band-Aid for those looking for an easy way out?
The Answer Lies Somewhere Between the Two!
Americans have become far less healthy over the past several decades, and the result has resulted in, amongst other things, a decline in heart health. With as much as we know about the heart and the devices and medications developed over the past 20 to 30 years, one would have hoped that heart disease would no longer be the leading killer of Americans. However, that is not the case. Ultimately, except for congenital heart defects and certain other non-modifiable risk factors, the primary causative conditions leading to heart disease are within our control to change. High cholesterol, hypertension, and type two diabetes are all metabolic diseases linked to deficiencies in diet and exercise and typically stem from excess weight.
Simply put, lifestyle change promoting improved diet and exercise is the basis for continued heart health. Of course, we know that attaining a healthier lifestyle is not as easy as it seems, especially for those suffering from obesity. Regardless, there’s no getting around the importance of our overall health.
However, with this focus on our health come plenty of products and services aiming to take advantage of the frustration and desperation many of us experience due to our poor health. Sadly, there are far too many purported quick fixes, many of which are useless and some downright dangerous.
Is There a Place for Supplementation?
The short answer is yes. Supplementation can be essential when necessary, but a supplementation regimen must be started only under the supervision of a qualified physician. For starters, it is vital that you know what vitamins or minerals you are deficient in. Then, we must analyze if these vitamins and minerals can be gained in sufficient quantity by lifestyle changes alone – the ideal way to fix the problem. For example, vitamin D can be absorbed through exposure to the sun, while calcium can quickly be introduced through an improved diet.
We also know that some of our patients will not, or cannot, make the lifestyle changes they need to normalize their vitamin levels. As such, we may prescribe supplements. Some of the most common supplements we discuss include:
Omega-3 fatty acids. These are the highly nutritious fats found in oily fish, such as sardines or salmon. There is concrete data to suggest that omega-3s can improve heart health; however, we’re not entirely sure what the composition of this Omega-3s should be. For example, EPA has a solid study showing benefits, while a study looking at an EPA-DHA supplement showed no statistically significant benefit. So, as with most supplements, it’s best to get it from food.
Vitamin B12 is crucial for adequately functioning the nervous system, yet many Americans are deficient. Vitamin B-12 can also help the heart by reducing homocysteine. B12 injections may lower potassium levels and cause an arrhythmia, so the supplement should only be taken with your cardiologist’s oversight.
Vitamin D. It is estimated that upwards of a third of all Americans are deficient in vitamin D, and yes, it can be acquired so easily just by going out in the sun for a few minutes each day. This is crucial in regulating several physical and emotional functions. Specifically for the heart, normalized vitamin D levels may prevent chronic heart failure.
Fiber is an important part of any diet and acts as a metabolic scrub, clearing out the large intestine while scooping up fats before they enter the bloodstream and causing atherosclerosis.
Of course, it’s important to remember that the body is a very finely tuned machine, and no one supplement will solve your heart issues. However, supplements can help, and your cardiologist may suggest a multivitamin or a combination of individual vitamins and minerals improve your health. If you have any questions about supplementation or if your blood work comes back with a deficiency, we encourage you to contact us to understand how to get back on track.